The African tribes living in the region between the Zambezi and Lake Tanganyika are first reached by outsiders in 1798. In that year a Portuguese trading party, pushing north from Tete on the Zambezi, reaches the capital of a chief near Lake Mweru. Half a century later this is the region which Livingstone explores, from his journey down the Zambezi in 1855 to his death near Lake Bangweulu in 1873.
By this time the most important African kingdom is in Barotseland, now known as the Western Province of Zambia. During the 19th century there has been protracted warfare between the Barotse tribes in this area (subsequently known as the Lozi) and the Kololo, intruders from the south.
The Kololo reach the Zambezi during the 1820s, after being pushed north from their homeland in south Africa by the aggressive Zulu expansion of this period. Their leader is Sebetwane, who in 1838 conquers the Barotse. He rules them peacefully and greatly impresses Livingstone, who meets him briefly in 1851.
After Sebetwane’s death the Barotse recover control of their territory. It is their ruler, Lewanika, who in 1890 negotiates with a new intruder from south of the Zambezi – Cecil Rhodes. They reach an agreement which suits both parties. Lewanika, impressed by the way his neighbour in Bechuanaland has acquired British protection, wants the same for himself – while for Rhodes this step forms part of a long-held ambition.
Cecil Rhodes: AD 1871-1891
In the last quarter of the 19th century the driving force behind British colonial expansion in Africa is Cecil Rhodes. He arrives in Kimberley at the age of eighteen in 1871, the very year in which rich diamond-bearing lodes are discovered there. He makes his first successful career as an entrepreneur, buying out the claims of other prospectors in the region.
In the late 1880s he applies these same techniques to the gold fields discovered in the Transvaal. By the end of the decade his two companies, De Beers Consolidated Mines and Gold Fields of South Africa, dominate the already immensely valuable South African export of diamonds and gold.
Rhodes is now rich beyond the reach of everyday imagination, but he wants this wealth for a very specific purpose. It is needed to fulfil his dream of establishing British colonies north of the Transvaal, as the first step towards his ultimate grand vision – a continuous strip of British empire from the Cape to the mouth of the Nile.
The terms of incorporation of both Rhodes’s mining companies include clauses allowing them to invest in northern expansion, and in 1889 he forms the British South Africa Company to fulfil this precise purpose. Established with a royal charter, its brief is to extend British rule into central Africa without involving the British government in new responsibility or expense.
The first step north towards the Zambezi has considerable urgency in the late 1880s. It is known that the Boers of the Transvaal are interested in extending their territory in this direction. In the developing scramble for Africa the Portuguese could easily press west from Mozambique. So could the Germans, who by an agreement of 1886 have been allowed Tanganyika as a sphere of interest.
Rhodes has been preparing his campaign some years before the founding of the British South Africa Company in 1889. In 1885 he persuades the British government to secure Bechuanaland, which will be his springboard for the push north. And in 1888 he wins a valuable concession from Lobengula, whose kingdom is immediately north of the Transvaal.
Lobengula is the son of Mzilikazi, the leader of the Ndebele who established a new kingdom (in present-day Zimbabwe) after being driven north by the Boers in 1837. Fifty years later, in 1888, Lobengula grants Rhodes the mining rights in part of his territory (there are reports of gold) in return for 1000 rifles, an armed steamship for use on the Zambezi and a monthly rent of £100.
With these arrangements satisfactorily achieved, Rhodes sends the first party of colonists north from Bechuanaland in 1890. In September they settle on the site which today is Harare and begin prospecting for gold. In support of Rhodes’s scheme, the government declares the area a British protectorate in 1891.
The growth of the Rhodesias: AD 1890-1900
The population of settlers rapidly increases in the territory adminstered by Rhodes’s British South Africa Company. There are as many as 1500 Europeans in the region by 1892. More soon follow, thanks partly to developments in transport.
The railway from the Cape has reached Kimberley in 1885, at a fortuitous time just before the start of Rhodes’s ambitious venture (one of the stated aims of his company is to extend the line north to the Zambezi). Trains reach Bulawayo as early as 1896. Victoria Falls is the northern terminus by 1904. Meanwhile the territory has been given a name in honour of its colonial founder. From 1895 the region up to the Zambezi is known as Rhodesia.
During the early 1890s the company has considerable difficulty in maintaining its presence in these new territories. Lobengula himself tries to maintain peace with the British, but many of his tribe are eager to expel the intruders. The issue comes to a head when Leander Jameson, administering the region for Rhodes, finds a pretext in 1893 for war against Lobengula.
With five Maxim machine guns, Jameson easily fights his way into Lobengula’s kraal at Bulawayo. Lobengula flees, bringing to an end the Ndebele kingdom established by his father. There is a strong tribal uprising against the British in 1896-7, but thereafter Rhodes’s company brings the entire region up to the Zambezi under full control.
But Rhodes has ambitions far beyond the Zambezi. In 1890 he arrives in Barotseland (the western region of modern Zambia) to secure a treaty with Lewanika, the paramount chief of the region. With this achieved, Rhodes comes to a new agreement in 1891 with the British government. His company will administer the area from the Zambezi up to Lake Tanganyika (the present-day Zambia).
From 1900 the territory is divided into two protectorates, Northwestern and Northeastern Rhodesia, each of them separately administered by Rhodes’s company. In 1911 they are merged as Northern Rhodesia, with the colony’s first capital at Livingstone (appropriately named, since it is near Victoria Falls).
Northern Rhodesia: AD 1911-1953
Northern Rhodesia proves an unexpectedly rich province owing to the discovery of minerals. Lead and zinc are found in 1902 at Broken Hill (now Kabwe), and the first hint of vast wealth is revealed in 1909 on the border between Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. This region, later known as the Copper Belt, turns out to contain the world’s largest reserves of copper outside the American continent.
In 1924 the British South Africa Company hands over the administration of Northern Rhodesia to the British government, but the company is allowed to retain the mineral rights in the colony.
The Copper Belt brings increased European involvement in Northern Rhodesia, where efforts to encourage agricultural settlement have been largely unsuccessful. In 1911, when the two parts of the region are merged as Northern Rhodesia, there are about 1500 Europeans in the company’s territory. In 1924, when Northern Rhodesia becomes a crown protectorate and exploitation of the Copper Belt begins, there are some 4000. By the early 1950s there are about 40,000 – nearly all of them involved with copper.
Although the Europeans represent less than 2% of the population, the political system of Northern Rhodesia is based on white supremacy. And the settlers hope to keep it that way.
By the 1950s the political future of all African colonies is under intense discussion. Among the European population of the two regions first settled by Rhodes’s company there is a general assumption that sooner or later Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia will merge to form a single independent nation.
But this is resisted by the Africans, now beginning to find a political voice. Black opposition is strongest in the northern colony, with its much smaller white minority. Here, from the African point of view, the danger of union seems all too evident. Northern Rhodesia will be overshadowed by the strong European culture of Rhodesia, postponing perhaps indefinitely the ideal of independence under black majority rule.
Federation: AD 1953-1963
Confronted with conflicting demands, and aware of its responsibilities for Nyasaland as well as the two Rhodesias, the British government imposes in 1953 an awkward compromise in the form of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. This is to be a self-governing colony, with its own assembly and prime minister (first Lord Malvern, and from 1956 Roy Welensky).
The intention is to derive the greatest economic benefit from the larger unit while minimizing political tension between the three parts of the federation, each of which retains its existing local government.
The federated colonies are at differing stages in their political development. All they have in common is an almost complete absence of any African voice in the political process.
Rhodesia has been a self-governing colony for three decades, but with no African suffrage (a tiny ‘B roll’ of African voters is added to the electorate in 1957). Northern Rhodesia has a legislative council with, since 1948, two seats reserved for African members. At the time of federation there are no Africans on Nyasaland’s legislative council. Two years later, in 1955, places are found for five members.
The intended economic benefits materialize during the early years of the federation, helped by a world rise in copper prices, but this is not enough to stifle increasing political unrest – particularly as British colonies elsewhere in Africa win independence (beginning with Ghana in 1957).
In the early 1960s African politicians in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland win increasing power in their legislative councils. The pressure grows to break up the federation. In March 1963, by which time all three colonies are demanding independence, the British government finally concedes. The federation is formally dissolved on 31 December 1963.
The steps towards independence: to AD 1964
In retrospect the progress towards independence in Northern Rhodesia (achieved in 1964 under the new name of Zambia) can be seen to span nearly twenty years. The first African political party is the African National Congress, formed in 1948 by members of welfare societies established during World War II in mining communities and rural districts.
Ten years later, under the federal government of 1953-63, the demands of the ANC are too timid for a radical younger generation, determined by now to achieve an independent African state. Kenneth Kaunda leads a group which in 1958 splits from the ANC and founds the Zambia African National Congress.
Kaunda deploys this organization in a campaign of civil disobedience against the prevailing policy of federation. His activities soon land him in gaol. While he is there, a new and more militant party is formed – UNIP, or the United National Independence Party.
When Kaunda is released from prison, in January 1960, he is elected president of UNIP. In a wave of enthusiasm the new party acquires 300,000 members within six months – causing it, and Kaunda as its leader, to be recognized by the British authorities as the main political voice of Northern Rhodesia’s African population.
When a conference on the future of Northern Rhodesia is held in London, in December 1960, Kaunda and other UNIP leaders are prominent among the African delegation. They emerge with agreement on a political process scheduled to lead towards independence.
In elections in October 1962 UNIP emerges as the party with the largest number of seats in the legislative council (fifteen out of thirty-seven). In coalition with the ANC, the African members now have control of the Northern Rhodesian council. But they face strong opposition from the federal government in Salisbury and, initially, from the white population of Northern Rhodesia.
During 1963 Kaunda works patiently to reassure his European opponents that their interests will be respected in an independent African state. Early in 1964, after the dissolution of the federation, elections are held on the basis of universal adult suffrage. UNIP wins a clear majority and receives some 30% of the European votes.
Kaunda, taking charge as executive president of the new nation (independent from October 1964), begins a career of almost three decades in that position.
Kaunda: AD 1964 – 1991
In the early years of independence Zambia’s economy flourishes. The mineral rights of the British South Africa Company now accrue to the state. And copper prices rise dramatically, largely because of the needs of the Vietnam War. But the economy takes a serious downturn during the 1970s. There is a major collapse in the price of copper in 1975, while the cost of imported oil soars.
Even more significant is the damage caused by Zambia’s proximity to Rhodesia. With the declaration of UDI by Ian Smith, in 1965, Zambia becomes the frontline state in Africa’s struggle against this act of white supremacy.
Kaunda takes a lead in opposing the Smith regime – a stance which includes offering safe havens to guerrilla forces operating across the borders against Rhodesia, but which also invites armed retaliation by Rhodesian forces.
Even more significant is the economic consequence of being a land-locked neighbour of a nation which the international community is trying to isolate, after the imposition of UN sanctions on Rhodesia in 1968. Rhodesia has in the past been Zambia’s main trading partner. It has also been the route by which Zambia’s copper travels to the sea at Beira. Now an expensive railway link has to be constructed, with a massive Chinese loan, to the distant port of Dar es Salaam.
These difficulties cause Kaunda to impose a state of emergency. With regular renewals by parliament, this evolves gradually into a state of normality. Kaunda’s rule becomes increasingly authoritarian. Political opponents are harassed. In 1973 a new constitution turns Zambia into a one-party state.
By the late 1980s the economy is in such a decrepit state that there are food riots in several towns. Finally, in 1991, the national assembly withdraws the ban on political parties other than UNIP. Multiparty elections are held in October of this year. Their startling result gives Kaunda and Zambia undeniable credit, rare in Africa at this time, for high electoral standards.
Chiluba: from AD 1991
In the 1991 elections Kaunda’s party, UNIP, is left with less than one sixth of the seats in the national assembly. A massive majority (125 out of the 150 seats) is won by MMD, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy. The MMP candidate, the trades union leader Frederick Chiluba, easily defeats Kaunda in the race for the presidency.
The 1990s remain a time of great difficulty for Zambia. Copper suffers a further decline in value. Efforts to reform the bloated civil service inherited from Kaunda are painful and not entirely successful. And the MMP begins to lose its early reputation for a serious commitment to democracy and human rights.
This is seen in particular in the continuing career of Kenneth Kaunda, who makes it plain that he hopes to regain his presidency. Strenuous efforts are made to prevent his standing against Chiluba. Before the 1996 presidential election an amendment is added to the constitution requiring candidates to have parents who were native Zambians (Kaunda’s were born in Malawi).
In 1997 an opposition rally is fired on by police and Kaunda is slightly wounded. Later in the same year he is accused of having abetted an abortive military coup. He is placed under house arrest, but is released in June 1998 when all charges are withdrawn. In November 1999 Kaunda’s son Wezi, prominent in UNIP, is assassinated (why or by whom is not known).
Meanwhile in 1996 Chiluba is re-elected to the presidency for the second of the two consecutive terms allowed in the constitution.
And the MMP increases its majority from 125 to 127 seats in the national assembly.