Thinking Citizen Blog — Zambia — What should every thinking citizen know?

Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day

Today’ s Topic — Africa XII — Zambia — What should every thinking citizen know?

Zambia, located in south-central Africa, gets its name from the Zambezi River. Landlocked, it is a country rich in minerals, especially copper and cobalt. Formerly Northern Rhodesia, the country gained its independence in 1964. For 27 years thereafter it was ruled as a one-party state under the leadership of founding father Kenneth Kaunda, an ardent proponent of “African socialism.” His successors reversed his policies, but the country remains poor. The fertility rate is astronomical at 6.2 children per woman. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. Geography: Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo to the North, Angola to the West, Malawi to the East, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe to the South and East, Botswana and Namibia to the South.

2. Demography: 16 MM pop up from 1.9MM in 1951!!!! Fertility rate: 6.2 children per woman!!!! Overwhelmingly Christian: 75% Protestant, 20% Catholic. The official language (and that of education and business) is English but is the first language of only 2% of the population. 70 languages — mostly of the Bantu family, Bemba being by far the most common at 33.4% versus 14.7% for Nyanja and 11% for Tonga. Population concentrated between Lusaka (the capital) and the “copperbelt.”

3. Economy: most Zambians are subsistence farmers (60%). Rural poverty: 75%. Urban poverty: 27%. GDP per capita (nominal): $1342 versus $1172 for Tanzania, $6193 for South Africa, $2645 for Nigeria, $2151 for Kenya, $768 for Uganda, and $246 for South Sudan. Copper and cobalt account for 65% of exports. China is the major export partner (25%) versus 13% for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Principal import partner is South Africa (34%) versus the DRC (18%).

HISTORY: the Khoisan, the Bantu conquest, “Northern Rhodesia”

1. Original inhabitants were the Khoisan hunter-gatherers.

2. They were annihilated or “absorbed” by Bantu invaders starting about 300 AD and continuing for over 1000 years.

3. The stories of David Livingstone brought the attention of Europeans to the beautiful land in 1855 when he came upon and renamed the “Mosi o Tunya” (thundering smoke) falls after Queen Victoria. Livingstone’s vision was “to end the slave trade through the three Cs: Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization.”

NB: The country was ruled by Britain, first via the British South Africa Company, then through direct government control from 1900 to independence in 1964. The name changed several times. For simplicity, think of it as “Northern Rhodesia.” Cecil Rhodes (above) was the mining mandate and ardent imperialist after whom the country was named. (The Rhodes Scholarship program is funded by his estate.)

POST-INDEPENDENCE — from socialist one-party state to multiple parties, open economy

1. Kenneth Kaunda (above), was the Founding Father of Zambia. He led the struggle for independence but then refused to relinquish power for 27 years (1964–1991). He banned all other parties in 1973, nationalized foreign companies, and was a champion of “African socialism” a la Nkrumah in Ghana, Nyerere in Tanzania, and Mobutu in Zaire. His abuse of power and disastrous economic policies led to his ouster in 1991 and the revocation of his citizenship in 1999. But his citizenship was restored the following year and he lives on at 96!!!!!

2. Kaunda’s successors brought multi-party democracy and opened up the economy.

3. The current President is Edgar Chagwa Lungu (1956 — ). A lawyer by training, he had his license to practice law suspended in 2010 for professional misconduct. He won the 2016 election for a five-year term by winning 50.2% of the vote in the first round — narrowly avoiding a runoff. The result was challenged in court, but the case dismissed. Since then his regime has been described as “increasingly repressive” and his anti-LGBT rhetoric has been extreme. Will he stand down after his second full term in office? We’ll find out.

This is the twelfth in a recent series of posts on African countries. Prior posts covered: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (5/4), the Republic of the Congo (5/11), Cameroon (5/18), Chad (5/25), Niger (6/1), Burkina Faso (6/8), Mali (6/15), Mauritania (6/22), Senegal (6/29), Kenya (7/6) and Tanzania (7/13). In 2019 there were posts on South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Sudan, and Algeria.


Demographics of Zambia

Economy of Zambia

Kenneth Kaunda

Edgar Lungu

Zambia’s court clears Lungu for a third term


Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought.

The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.