Zambia is a landlocked country in southern Africa, with a tropical climate and consists mostly of high plateau, with some hills and mountains, dissected by river valleys. At 752,614 km2 (290,586 sq mi) it is the 39th-largest country in the world (after Chile) and slightly larger than the US state of Texas. The country lies mostly between latitudes 8° and 18°S, and longitudes 22° and 34°E.
The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west.
Two of the Zambezi’s longest and largest tributaries, the Kafue and the Luangwa, flow mainly in Zambia. Their confluences with the Zambezi are on the border with Zimbabwe at Chirundu and Luangwa town respectively. Before its confluence the Luangwa River forms part of Zambia’s border with Mozambique. From Luangwa town the Zambezi leaves Zambia and flows into Mozambique, eventually flowing into the Mozambique Channel.
The Zambezi falls about 100 metres (328 ft) over the 1.6 km (0.99 mi) wide Victoria Falls located in the south-west corner of the country, subsequently flowing into Lake Kariba. The Zambezi Valley which runs along the southern border is both deep and wide. From Lake Kariba going east it is formed by grabens and like the Luangwa, Mweru-Luapula, Mweru-wa-Ntipa and Lake Tanganyika valleys, is a rift valley.
The north of Zambia is very flat with broad plains. In the west the most notable being the Barotse Floodplain on the Zambezi which floods from December to June, lagging behind the annual rainy season (typically November to April). The flood dominates the natural environment and the lives, society and culture of the inhabitants and those of other smaller floodplains throughout the country.
In Eastern Zambia the plateau which extends between the Zambezi and Lake Tanganyika valleys is tilted upwards to the north and so rises imperceptibly from about 900m (2,953 ft) in the south to 1,200m (3,937 ft) in the centre, reaching 1,800m (5,906 ft) in the north near Mbala. These plateau areas of northern Zambia have been categorised by the World Wildlife Fund as a large section of the Central Zambezian Miombo woodlands ecoregion.
Eastern Zambia shows great diversity. The Luangwa Valley splits the plateau in a curve north east to south west, extended west into the heart of the plateau by the deep valley of the Lunsemfwa River. Hills and mountains are found by the side of some sections of the valley, notably in its north-east the Nyika Plateau (2,200m/7,218ft) on the Malawi border which extend into Zambia as the Mafinga Hills, containing the country’s highest point, Kongera (2,187m/7,175ft). The Muchinga Mountains, the watershed between the Zambezi and Congo drainage basins, run parallel to the deep valley of the Luangwa River and form a sharp backdrop to its northern edge although they are almost everywhere below 1,700m (5,577ft). Their culminating peak Mumpu is at the western end and at 1,892m (6,207ft) is the highest point in Zambia away from the eastern border region. The border of the Congo Pedicle was drawn around this mountain.
Zambia’s capital city is Lusaka and is located in the south-central part of the country. The population of almost 12 million people is concentrated mainly around the capital Lusaka in the south and the Copperbelt to the northwest. Most of the population are Christian (75%) and some Muslim and Hindu (25%). The official language is English and there are about 70 indigenous languages like Bemba, Kaonda, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Tonga and Nyanja which is most widely spoken.
Zambia has a tropical climate which is modified by altitude. There’s one rainy season which lasts from November to April. Zambia’s terrain is mostly high plateau with some hills and mountains. Its lowest points are the Zambezi and Luangwa Valley under 500 m and its highest point is in Mafinga Hills in the north east of the country standing at 2,301 m.
The area of modern Zambia was inhabited by Khoisan hunter-gatherers until around AD 300. In the 12th century, major waves of Bantu-speaking immigrants arrived during the Bantu expansion. Among them were the Tonga people (also called Ba-Tonga, “Ba-” meaning “woman”) who were the first to settle in Zambia and are believed to have come from the east near the “big sea”.
The Nkoya people also arrived early in the expansion, coming from the Luba-Lunda kingdoms located in the southern parts of the modern Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Angola, followed by a much larger influx, especially between the late 12th and early 13th centuries. In the early 19th century the Nsokolo people settled in the Mbala district of Northern Province. During the 19th century the Ngoni and Sotho peoples arrived from the South. By the late 19th century most of the various peoples of Zambia were established in the areas they currently occupy. The arrival of Europeans was just yet another such influx.
The earliest account of a European visiting the area was Francisco de Lacerda in the late 18th century followed by other European visitors in the 19th century. The most prominent of these was David Livingstone who had a vision of ending the slave trade through the “3 Cs” (Christianity, Commerce and Civilization).
He was the first European to see the magnificent waterfall on the Zambezi River in 1855, naming them “Victoria Falls” after Queen Victoria – he described them thus: “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”. Locally the falls are known as “Mosi-o-Tunya” or “(the) thundering smoke” (in the Lozi or Kololo dialect). In 1888 the British South Africa Company (BSA Company) led by Cecil Rhodes, obtained mineral rights from the Litunga, the Paramount Chief of the Lozi or Ba-rotse for the area which later became North-Western Rhodesia.
North-Eastern Rhodesia and North-Western Rhodesia were administered as separate units until 1911 when they were merged to form the British Colony of Northern Rhodesia. In 1923 the BSA Company ceded control of Northern Rhodesia to the British Government after the government decided not to renew the Company’s charter.
During the 1920s and 1930s advances in mining spurred development and immigration. The name was changed to Zambia upon independence in 1964. The prime minister Kenneth Kaunda became the first head of state. Zambia was governed by Kenneth Kaunda of the socialist United National Independence Party (UNIP) from 1964 until 1991.
In June 1990 riots against Kaunda accelerated but he survived an attempted coup and in 1991 agreed to re-instate multiparty democracy (having instituted one party rule under the Chona Commission of 1972) and following multiparty elections Kaunda was removed from office.
From 1991 to 2002 Zambia was governed by president Frederick Chiluba of the social-democratic Movement for Multi-Party Democracy during which the country saw a rise in social-economic growth and increased decentralisation of government. Levy Mwanawasa was the third President of Zambia. He presided over the country from January 2002 until his death in August 2008. He is credited with having initiated a campaign to rid the country of corruption and increasing standards of living from the levels left by Frederick T.J. Chiluba. Rupiah Banda became president in 2008. Michael Sata defeated Banda’s re-election bid in September 2011, but passed away in October 2014 before the end of his term. Edgar Lungu was chosen to succeed him and was re-elected for another term in August 2016.
At independence, despite its considerable mineral wealth, Zambia faced major challenges. Domestically there were few trained and educated Zambians capable of running the government and the economy was largely dependent on foreign expertise. There were over 70,000 British in Zambia in 1964 who were of great economic importance.
In the mid-1970s the price of copper, Zambia’s principal export, suffered a severe decline worldwide. In Zambia’s situation the cost of transporting the copper great distances to market was an additional strain. Zambia turned to foreign and international lenders for relief, but as copper prices remained depressed it became increasingly difficult to service its growing debt, particularly as much aid was syphoned off into Swiss bank accounts. By the mid-1990s, despite limited debt relief, Zambia’s per capita foreign debt remained among the highest in the world.
In the 2000s the economy stabilized, attaining single-digit inflation in 2006–2007, real GDP growth, decreasing interest rates and increasing levels of trade. Much of its growth is due to foreign investment in Zambia’s mining sector and higher copper prices on the world market. All this led to Zambia being courted enthusiastically by aid donors and saw a surge in investor confidence in the country.
In 2010 the World Bank named Zambia as one of the world’s fastest economically reforming countries. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has its headquarters in the capital Lusaka.
The Bradt Guide