Close-up aerial photo of Zambezi River at the junction of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Image by Brian McMorrow from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED).

Zambia, a landlocked country situated at the crossroads of Central, Southern, and East Africa, boasts a landscape of vast geographic diversity, coupled with a rich history and cultural heritage. With its abundant land, Zambia stands out as a peaceful country, devoid of a modern history of war or significant socio-political conflict. This peaceful coexistence has become an integral part of Zambian lifestyle and existence today.

The name “Zambia” is drawn from the Zambezi River, with “Zambezi” possibly meaning “the grand river.” The country shares borders with eight African countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the northeast, Malawi to the east, Mozambique to the southeast, Zimbabwe and Botswana to the south, Namibia to the southwest, and Angola to the west.

Zambia has a population of over 20 million, with a land area of  752,617 square kilometres (290,587 square miles). Lusaka is the country’s capital and largest city. Seven languages, including Bemba, Nyanja, Lozi, Tonga, Kaonde, Luvale, and Lunda, are officially recognized as Zambia’s regional languages. While English is the most commonly used second language, only 2 percent of the population speak English as their native language. As reported by Translators without Borders, the most widely spoken languages are Bemba (spoken by 35 percent of the population), Nyanja or Chewa (20 percent), Tonga (12 percent) and Lozi (6 percent).  

A Brief history of Zambia

Excavated archaeological evidence reveals that the Khoisan and Batwa peoples were the initial inhabitants of modern Zambia until around AD 300. At that point, migrating Bantu communities started settling in the region, leading to the displacement or assimilation of the Khoisan and Twa groups. The arrival of these Bantu-speaking communities not only marked a significant demographic shift but also contributed to the cultural and linguistic diversity of Zambia as they intermingled with the existing population during their migration and settlement.

After the decline of Great Zimbabwe, the Mutapa Empire arose, founded by one of Great Zimbabwe’s princes, Nyatsimba Mutota. Dominating the region, including substantial parts of Zambia, from the 14th to the 17th century, the empire faced challenges that led to its eventual collapse. Factors such as the slave trade and Portuguese invasions during the 16th and 17th centuries played a significant role in the downfall of this once-powerful empire.

Zambia experienced further influences from migrants of the Zulu Kingdom in the south and the Luba and Lunda Kingdoms in the north. These migrations resulted from colonial and African powers displacing local residents, particularly around the Zambezi River. The arrival of these migrants added to the cultural and ethnic diversity of Zambia.

In the 1880s, British companies, such as the British South Africa Company, began acquiring mineral and economic concessions from local leaders in the region. Over time, this company gained control and established the area as the protectorate of Northern Rhodesia in 1911. The British government assumed administrative control from the British South Africa Company in 1924. During the 1920s and 1930s, significant advancements in mining activities led to increased British economic ventures and colonial settlement.

Zambia gained independence from the British government in 1964, transitioning from Northern Rhodesia to Zambia under the leadership of its first President, Kenneth Kaunda. Independence presented both new opportunities and challenges for the country. While colonial rule enforced compliance and cooperation through oppression, the newly formed government faced the complex task of unifying Zambia’s 73 ethnolinguistic groups into a single nation. 

After years as a one-party state, Zambia transitioned to a multi-party state in 1991. The country's commitment to democracy is evident through nine Presidential elections and the governance of four different political parties. Notable among them are the United National Independence Party (UNIP, 1964–1991), Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD, 1996–2011), Patriotic Front (PF, 2011–2021), and currently, the United Party for National Development (UPND). The current President, Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND, was elected in August 2021, defeating the then-incumbent President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front.

The promise of a better tomorrow

In the decade leading up to 2011, Zambia experienced significant economic growth and achieved the status of a lower-middle-income nation. However, since 2011, Zambia's economic development has been consistently declining. According to the World Bank, Zambia has high levels of poverty and inequality compared to other countries around the world. The World Bank stated that more than 60 percent of the country’s population earn less than the international poverty line of USD 2.15 per day.  In addition to the declining economy, the country grapples with chronic malnutrition, with a rate of 35 percent.

While grappling with these challenges, Zambia remains resilient, and its people harbour hope for a brighter future. The country's peaceful legacy, cultural richness, and commitment to democratic governance form the foundation for navigating the complexities of the present and shaping a promising tomorrow for generations to come.

Read our Special Coverage below to learn more:

Stories about Zambia's past, present, and future