Zambia History, Language and Culture

History of Zambia

The original inhabitants of Zambia were nomadic San hunter-gatherers. The first people to introduce agriculture and copper mining were Bantu settlers who started arriving in the 4th century.

In 1855, Dr David Livingstone became the first British explorer to visit Zambia and ‘discovered’ the Victoria Falls (so-named in honour of Queen Victoria) on his famous exploration of the Zambezi River. The town of Livingstone was later named after him, and would serve as the capital for a time.

Cecil Rhodes and the British South African Company colonised Zambia in 1889, then in 1924 the company ceded administrative control to the British Crown, whereupon it became the colony of Northern Rhodesia and serious European exploitation of Zambia’s main natural resource, copper, began.

The colonial authorities ceded independence in 1964 and the country was re-named Zambia. The pre-independence elections were won by Kenneth Kaunda's United National Independence Party. Zambia soon became involved in the war in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Kaunda closed the southern border and gave safe haven to cadres from Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU party and its associated guerrilla army, ZIPRA.

Relations with the Zimbabweans improved after Zimbabwe became independent in 1980 and Kaunda's foreign policy focused elsewhere. However, a decline in global copper prices caused economic decline in Zambia throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Meanwhile, Kaunda became a major regional statesman. He played a significant part in the initiatives leading to independence in Namibia and South Africa and, in the 1990s, chaired both the Organisation of African Unity and the 'front-line' group of Southern African states confronting the South African apartheid regime.

During 1990, domestic unrest, sparked by price rises, developed into demands for a more democratic system of government. The principal opposition, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) led by Frederick Chiluba, won a substantial majority in the ensuing 1991 election, which marked an end to single-party rule.

In the years since, Zambia’s inherently peaceful democracy has prevailed despite the occasional scare. In January 2015, Edward Lungu became the latest Zambian president, after his predecessor Michael Sata died in office.

Did you know?
• Iron and copper have been mined in Zambia for over 2,000 years.
• Zambia’s is one Africa’s most urbanized countries.
• In 2015, the Global Peace Index rated Zambia the most peaceful country in Africa.

Zambia Culture


Around 30% of the population is Christian (Protestant and Roman Catholic), a smaller number are Muslim and Hindu, and a small minority have traditional animist beliefs.

Language in Zambia

English, Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, Lozi, Lunda, Kaonde and Luvale are the official languages. Zambia also has over 70 local dialects.

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