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U.S. Department of State

Background Notes: Zambia, September 1997

Released by the Office of Southern African Affairs, Bureau of African Affairs

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Official Name: Republic of Zambia



Area: 752,614 sq. km. (290,585 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Texas.
Cities: Capital--Lusaka (pop. 982,000). Other cities--Kitwe (348,000), Ndola (500,000), Livingstone (83,000), Kabwe (381,000).
Terrain: Varies; mostly plateau savanna.
Climate: Generally dry and temperate.


Nationality: Noun and adjective--Zambian(s).
Population (1995): 9.1 million.
Annual growth rate: 3.2%.
Ethnic groups: More than 70 tribal groups.
Religions: Christian, indigenous beliefs.
Languages: English (official), about 70 local languages and dialects, including Bemba, Tonga, Nyanja, Lozi, Luvale, Ndembu (Lundu), and Kaonde.
Education: Years compulsory--7. Attendance--Less than 50% in grades 1-7. Less than
20% of primary school graduates are admitted to secondary school. Literacy--73%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--107/1,000. Life expectancy--52.9 yrs. male; 55 yrs.
Work force: Agriculture--60%. Industry and commerce--40%.


Type: Republic.
Independence: October 24, 1964.
Constitution: 1991 (as amended in 1996).
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), cabinet. Legislative--unicameral National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court, high court, magistrate courts, and local courts. Ruling political party: Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD).
Suffrage: Universal adult.
Subdivisions: Nine provinces subdivided into districts.
Flag: Green field with small vertical stripes (red, black, orange) in lower right corner and orange eagle above stripes.


GDP (1995): $3.3 billion.
Annual growth rate: 0%.
Per capita GDP: $350.
Natural resources: Copper, cobalt, zinc, lead, coal, emeralds, gold, silver, uranium, hydroelectric power, fertile land.
Agriculture: Products--corn, tobacco, cotton, soybeans, groundnuts, sugar cane, livestock, and horticultural products.
Industry: Types--mining, transport, construction, foodstuffs, beverages, chemicals, textiles, fertilizers.
Trade (1995): Exports--$1,164 billion: copper, cobalt, lead, and zinc. Major markets--Japan, Italy, France, China. Imports--$1,290 billion: crude oil, manufactured goods, machinery, transport equipment, foodstuffs. Major suppliers--South Africa, U.K., Japan, U.S., Germany.
Official exchange rate (June 1996): 1,245 Kwacha=US$1.
Major donors: U.K., Japan, Germany, EC, Netherlands, U.S. and the Nordic countries. After the completion of the three-year Rights Accumulation Program (RAP) in December 1995, Zambia qualified for and embarked on an Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) with the International Monetary Fund. Other donors include 17 UN system organizations and at least 25 multilateral and non-governmental organizations.


Zambia's population comprises more than 70 Bantu-speaking tribes. Some tribes are small, and only two have enough people to constitute at least 10% of the population. Most Zambians are subsistence farmers. The predominant religion is a blend of traditional beliefs and Christianity.

Expatriates, mostly British (about 15,000) or South African, live mainly in Lusaka and in the copperbelt in northern Zambia, where they are employed in mines and related activities. Zambia also has a small but economically important Asian population, most of whom are Indians. The country is 42% urban.


The indigenous hunter-gatherer occupants of Zambia began to be displaced or absorbed by more advanced migrating tribes about 2,000 years ago. The major waves of Bantu-speaking immigrants began in the 15th century, with the greatest influx between the late 17th and early 19th centuries. They came primarily from the Luba and Lunda tribes of southern Zaire and northern Angola but were joined in the 19th century by Ngoni peoples from the south. By the latter part of that century, the various peoples of Zambia were largely established in the areas they currently occupy.

Except for an occasional Portuguese explorer, the area lay untouched by Europeans for centuries. After the mid-19th century, it was penetrated by Western explorers, missionaries, and traders. David Livingstone, in 1855, was the first European to see the magnificent falls on the Zambezi River. He named the falls after Queen Victoria, and the Zambian town near the falls is named after him.

In 1888, Cecil Rhodes, spearheading British commercial and political interests in Central Africa, obtained a mineral rights concession from local chiefs. In the same year, Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively) were proclaimed a British sphere of influence. Southern Rhodesia was annexed formally and granted self-government in 1923, and the administration of Northern Rhodesia was transferred to the British colonial office in 1924 as a protectorate.

In 1953, both Rhodesias were joined with Nyasaland (now Malawi) to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Northern Rhodesia was the center of much of the turmoil and crisis that characterized the federation in its last years. At the core of the controversy were insistent African demands for greater participation in government and European fears of losing political control.

A two-stage election held in October and December 1962 resulted in an African majority in the legislative council and an uneasy coalition between the two African nationalist parties. The council passed resolutions calling for Northern Rhodesia's secession from the federation and demanding full internal self-government under a new constitution and a new national assembly based on a broader, more democratic franchise. On December 31, 1963, the federation was dissolved, and Northern Rhodesia became the Republic of Zambia on October 24, 1964.

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. Abroad, three of its neighbors--Southern Rhodesia and the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola--remained under white-dominated rule. Rhodesia's white-ruled government unilaterally declared independence in 1965. In addition, Zambia shared a border with South African-controlled South-West Africa (now Namibia). Zambia's sympathies lay with forces opposing colonial or white-dominated rule, particularly in Southern Rhodesia. During the next decade, it actively supported movements such as the Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC), and the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO).

Conflicts with Rhodesia resulted in the closing of Zambia's borders with that country and severe problems with international transport and power supply. However, the Kariba hydroelectric station on the Zambezi River provided sufficient capacity to satisfy the country's requirements for electricity. A railroad to the Tanzanian port of Dar Es Salaam, built with Chinese assistance, reduced Zambian dependence on railroad lines south to South Africa and west through an increasingly troubled Angola.

By the late 1970s, Mozambique and Angola had attained independence from Portugal. Zimbabwe achieved independence in accordance with the 1979 Lancaster House agreement, but Zambia's problems were not solved. Civil war in the former Portuguese colonies generated refugees and caused continuing transportation problems. The Benguela Railroad, which extended west through Angola, was essentially closed to traffic from Zambia by the late 1970s. Zambia's strong support for the ANC, which had its external headquarters in Lusaka, created security problems as South Africa raided ANC targets in Zambia.

In the mid-1970s, the price of copper, Zambia's principal export, suffered a severe decline worldwide. Zambia turned to foreign and international lenders for relief; but as copper prices remained depressed, it became increasingly difficult to service its growing debt. By the mid-1990s, despite limited debt relief, Zambia's per capita foreign debt remained among the highest in the world.


Zambia was the first British territory to become a republic immediately upon attaining independence. The constitution promulgated on August 25, 1973, abrogated the original 1964 constitution. The new constitution and the national elections that followed in December 1973 were the final steps in achieving what was called a "one-party participatory democracy."

The 1973 constitution provided for a strong president and a unicameral National Assembly. National policy was formulated by the Central Committee of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the sole legal party in Zambia. The cabinet executed the central committee's policy.

In accordance with the intention to formalize UNIP supremacy in the new system, the constitution stipulated that the sole candidate in elections for the office of president was the person selected to be the president of UNIP by the party's general conference. The second-ranking person in the Zambian hierarchy was UNIP's secretary general.

In December 1990, at the end of a tumultuous year that included riots in the capital and a coup attempt, President Kaunda signed legislation ending UNIP's monopoly on power. In response to growing popular demand for multi-party democracy, and after lengthy, difficult negotiations between the Kaunda government and opposition groups, Zambia enacted a new constitution in August 1991. The constitution enlarged the National Assembly from 136 members to a maximum of 158 members, establishing an electoral commission, and allowed for more than one presidential candidate who no longer had to be members of UNIP. The constitution was amended again in 1996 to set new limits on the presidency (including a retroactive two term limit, and a requirement that both parents of a candidate be Zambian-born.) The National Assembly is comprised of 150 directly elected members, up to 8 presidentially appointed members and a speaker. Zambia is divided into nine provinces, each administered by an appointed governor.

The Supreme Court is the highest court and the court of appeal; below it are high court, magistrate's court, and local courts.

Principal Government Officials

President--Frederick Chiluba
Vice President--Godfrey Miyanda
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Lawrence Shimba
Ambassador to the United States--Dunstan W. Kamana
Ambassador to the United Nations--Peter L. Kasawda

Zambia maintains an embassy in the United States at 2419 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-265-9717).


The major figure in Zambian politics from 1964 to 1991 was Kenneth Kaunda, who led the fight for independence and traditionally bridged the rivalries among the country's various regions and ethnic groups. Kaunda tried to base government on his philosophy of "humanism," which condemns human exploitation and stresses cooperation among people but not at the expense of the individual.

Kaunda's political party--the United National Independence Party (UNIP)--was founded in 1959 and was in power under Kaunda's direction from 1964 to 1991. Before 1972, Zambia had three significant political parties--UNIP, the ANC, and the United Progressive Party (UPP). The ANC drew its strength from western and southern provinces, while the UPP found some support among Bemba-speakers in the copperbelt and northern provinces. Although not strongly supported in all areas of the country, only UNIP had a nationwide following.

In February 1972, Zambia became a one-party state, and all other political parties were banned. Kaunda, the sole candidate, was elected President in the 1973 elections. Elections also were held for the National Assembly. Only UNIP members were permitted to run, but these seats were sharply contested. President Kaunda's mandate was renewed in December 1978 and October 1983 in a "yes" or "no" vote on his candidacy. In the 1983 election, more than 60% of those registered participated and gave President Kaunda a 93% "yes" vote.

Growing opposition to UNIP's monopoly on power led to the rise in 1990 of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). The MMD assembled an increasingly impressive group of important Zambians, including prominent UNIP defectors and labor leaders. During the year, President Kaunda agreed to a referendum on the one-party state and, in the face of continued opposition, dropped the referendum and signed a constitutional amendment making Zambia a multi-party state. Zambia's first multi-party elections for parliament and the presidency since the 1960s were held on October 31, 1991. MMD candidate Frederick Chiluba resoundingly carried the presidential election over Kenneth Kaunda with 81% of the vote. To add to the MMD landslide, in the parliamentary elections the MMD won 125 of the 150 elected seats and UNIP the remaining 25. However, UNIP swept the Eastern Province, gathering 19 of its seats there.

By the end of Chiluba's first term as president (1996), the MMD's commitment to political reform had faded in the face of re-election demands. A number of prominent supporters founded opposing parties. Relying on the MMD's overwhelming majority in parliament, President Chiluba pushed through a series of constitutional amendments in May 1996 that eliminated former President Kaunda and other prominent opposition leaders from the 1996 presidential elections. In the presidential and parliamentary elections held in November 1996, Chiluba was re-elected, and the MMD won 131 of the 150 seats in the National Assembly. Kaunda's UNIP party boycotted the parliamentary polls to protest the exclusion of its leader from the presidential race, alleging in addition that the outcome of the election had been predetermined due to a faulty voter registration exercise. Despite the UNIP boycott, the elections took place peacefully, and five presidential and more than600 parliamentary candidates from 11 parties participated. Afterward, however, several opposition parties and non-governmental organizations declared the elections neither free nor fair. As President Chiluba began his second term in 1997, the opposition continued to reject the results of the election amid international efforts to encourage the MMD and the opposition to resolve their differences through dialogue.


Zambia is one of Sub-Saharan Africa's most highly urbanized countries. About one-half of the country's 9.1 million people are concentrated in a few urban zones strung along the major transportation corridors, while rural areas are underpopulated. Unemployment and underemployment are serious. Per capita annual incomes are currently at about one-half their levels at independence, and at $350, place the country among the world's poorer nations. Social indicators continue to decline, particularly in measurements of life expectancy at birth and maternal and infant mortality. The high population growth rate of 3.2% per annum makes it difficult for per capita income to increase. The country's rate of economic growth can support neither rapid population growth, nor the debilitating effects on maternal and child health resulting from it.

Agriculture provides the main livelihood for half of Zambia's population. Maize (corn) is the principal cash crop as well as the staple food. Other important crops include soybeans, cotton, sugar, sunflower seeds, wheat, sorghum, millet, cassava, tobacco and various vegetable and fruit crops. Zambia has the potential for significantly increasing its agricultural output; currently, only 20% of its arable land is cultivated. In the past, the agriculture sector suffered from low producer prices, difficulties in availability and distribution of credit and inputs, and the shortage of foreign exchange.

The Zambian economy has historically been based on the copper-mining industry, which has accounted for a significant portion of the gross domestic product (GDP), from one-third to one-half of government revenues and more than 90% of Zambia's foreign-exchange earnings. Due to a decline in world copper prices starting in the mid-1970s, lack of investment to increase productivity and output, naturalization and mismanagement, and limited technical expertise, the copper-mining base of the economy has eroded over time. Average annual output was nearly 700,000 tons in the early 1970s. This dropped to just over 300,000 tons in 1995.

After independence in 1964, and particularly beginning in the 1970s, Zambia relied heavily on socialist-style planning and administrative controls to manage its economy; on the public sector--especially parastatal enterprises--to undertake investment and generate economic growth and employment; and on international borrowing to finance public sector investments and to support levels of consumption that proved to be unsustainable. As a result, in late 1991, the Zambian economy faced many problems: basic goods and services were in short supply; the money supply was growing rapidly because of the manner in which the government's domestic debt was financed; military expenditures were rising while social sector expenditures were declining; tax compliance was low, the budget deficit was large and increasing; many parastatal companies were heavily indebted and suffered crippling losses; private investment had collapsed; business and consumer confidence had eroded; external debt was not being services; a parallel market in foreign exchange was flourishing; asset holders were transferring their capital out of the country and switching to foreign currency for local transactions; the country's physical infrastructure was rapidly deteriorating; and Zambia had neither food reserves nor the financial resources to deal with natural disasters and emergencies.

The present Chiluba government came to power after democratic, multi-party elections in November 1991, committed to an economic recovery program which included restoring Zambia's economic growth prospects by stabilizing the economy, moving toward external viability, promoting the private sector based on free market principles, delinking government from business activities more efficiently carried out by the private sector, a sharp reduction in the size of the public sector through a comprehensive program of privatization and parastatal reform, and reversing the decline in Zambia's social sector's delivery systems and infrastructure. Since these economic reforms began, Zambia has suffered droughts (three years out of the five) and falling copper production combined with the recurrent episodes of macroeconomic instability, these conditions have meant that the improvements in economic incentives have yet to result in economic growth, in fact, real GDP in 1995 was lower than it was in 1991. Nonetheless, positive effects are emerging.

The Zambian Government has implemented far-reaching market-oriented reforms. To begin with, the government has liberalized markets, and almost all prices are now market-determined. In particular, the government freed all agricultural prices and has steadily reduced its role in maize and fertilizer marketing. In 1991, virtually all marketed maize was handled by the government, whereas now nearly all marketing is carried out by the private sector, to the benefit of both producers and consumers. The same is true in the milling sector. The government has undertaken a privatization and parastatal reform program to reduce its direct role in commercial activities.

With donor assistance, and when the budget allows, rehabilitation of the country's infrastructure has become a renewed priority. Some roads are being repaired, some schools and hospitals are being refurbished and resupplied, water systems are being upgraded, and the telecommunications system is being readied for privatization. There has been far-reaching liberalization of financial markets. In 1992, interest rates were decontrolled and the kwatcha allowed to float. A treasury bill auction was introduced in 1993. Reform of the banking sector began in 1992, and weak commercial banks have been allowed to fail. Market-oriented methods of implementing monetary policy--where the central bank influences the supply of money and the price and availability of credit--were introduced in 1993 and are being developed further. Fiscal policy has been strengthened with the aim of enhancing efficiency and bringing more macroeconomic stability. Zambia is moving toward a more outward, export-oriented trade policy. All domestic and external trade, except petroleum products, has been left to the private sector, resulting in a greatly improved availability of consumer and producer products in the market. However, despite these reforms, the response of output to date has been uneven.

During the early 1990s, reacting to positive political developments in South Africa and Namibia, Zambia relaxed its restrictions on using South African ports. A new transportation route opened up through Namibia to Walvis Bay, which is of growing importance for Zambia's external trade. Zambia also is participating with its neighboring countries, under the aegis of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), in its efforts to strengthen, restructure, refurbish, rehabilitate, and improve the transportation infrastructure of Southern and Eastern Africa so as to reduce the region's economic dependence on the vulnerability of events in South Africa.


Zambia is a member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the front-line states, Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which is headquartered in Lusaka.

President Kaunda was a persistent and very visible advocate of peaceful change in South Africa, supporting liberation movements in Angola, Namibia, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa. Many of these organizations were based in Zambia during the 1970s and 1980s.

President Chiluba has settled for a much lower profile internationally. His government has played a very constructive regional role sponsoring Angola peace talks that led to the Lusaka accord. Zambia has provided troops to UN peacekeeping initiatives in Mozambique, Rwanda, and Angola. Zambia was the first African state to cooperate with the International Tribunal investigation of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.


The Zambian Defense Force (ZDF) consists of the army, the air force, and Zambian National Service (ZNS). The ZNS, while operating under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible primarily for public works projects. The ZDF is designed primarily for internal defense.


Bilateral relations between Zambia and the United States improved dramatically with the 1991 election of President Chiluba on a platform of economic and political reform. The U.S. made extensive new aid commitments based on that commitment to reform. As the 1996 elections approached, that commitment to democratic development weakened steadily. When President Chiluba signed into law constitutional amendments eliminating his best known opponents from the presidential elections, the U.S. reduced its aid to Zambia.

The United States has a substantial foreign assistance program in Zambia. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) pursues a strategy aimed at promoting an open and democratic climate with a market-based economic recovery and improved health care.

Although health sector activities dominate two-thirds of the USAID portfolio, activities focused on agriculture, democracy and governance, privatization and participation in economic reform, are important elements of USAID program success. In addition to support for development projects, the United States also has provided considerable emergency food aid during periods of drought through the World Food Program (WFP).

A country agreement inviting the Peace Corps to work in Zambia was signed by the U.S. and Zambia on September 14, 1993. The first group of volunteers was sworn in on
April 7, 1994. By mid-May 1996, 50 volunteers were working in Luapula, Northern, Eastern, and Lusaka provinces in three project areas--community health education, water and sanitation, and law lectures at Unza.

Principal U.S. Officials

Ambassador--Arlene Render
Deputy Chief of Mission--Stevenson McIlvaine
Political Officer--Edward G. Stafford
Economic/Commercial Officer--Andrew Chritton
Peace Corps Director--Mark Vander Vort
USAID Mission Director--Walter North
Consular Officer--William L. McCulla

The U.S. embassy in Zambia is at the corner of Independence and United Nations avenues (P.O. Box 31617), Lusaka (tel. 260 1 250955; fax 260-1-252225).


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on immigration practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information:

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://1997-2001.state.gov.

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.


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