In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Zambia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Geography, Environment, and Ecology
  • Zambia and the Southern African Region
  • Languages
  • Art, Music, and Performance

African Studies Zambia
David M. Gordon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0068


Zambia was formed in 1964 with the political independence of the British colony of Northern Rhodesia. Competition between British, Belgian, German, and Portuguese interests led to the establishment of Northern Rhodesia’s borders in the late 19th century. The colonial territory unified a range of African polities and peoples who lived on the savanna woodland plateau that separated the northern drainage basin of the Zambezi River and the southern drainage basin of the Congo River. For the first two decades of the 20th century, the British South African Company (BSAC) ruled Northern Rhodesia. In 1924, just as rich copper deposits in the center of the country were discovered, the British Colonial Office took over the administration. The first publications about Zambia emerged from colonial concerns with the functioning of indirect rule in rural areas, the perceived problem of “detribalization,” and the administration of a growing number of urban workers. These problems received sophisticated attention by a school of liberal colonial anthropologists, mostly attached to the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute (RLI). In 1953 Northern Rhodesia joined with Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia to form the Central African Federation (CAF), which fell apart with Zambian and Malawian independence in 1964. Soon after independence, a tradition of historical scholarship highlighted African resistance to colonialism, pointed to earlier precolonial political and economic achievements in the region, and detailed the failures of European settler colonialism. Scholarship about the urban Copperbelt pioneered an approach to the study of migrant labor and the interactions between rural and urban economies. By the late colonial period, scholars also wrote about the spread of Christianity, the public and political engagements of Christian movements and churches, and the relationship between Christianity and other beliefs in forces attributed to an invisible world. After independence, Kenneth Kaunda and the United National Independence Party (UNIP) attempted to dominate Zambian politics and, to deal with challenges, declared a one-party democracy in 1972. During the 1990s and 2000s, scholarship focused on how Zambians resisted and challenged UNIP authoritarianism and constructed an alternative civil society. In 1991 the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) of Frederick Chiluba defeated Kaunda and UNIP in the first multiparty elections since 1972. The MMD introduced neoliberal policies, including the privatization of key state assets and industries. Recent scholarship identifies problems and popular discontent with such neoliberal policies. Between 1964 and 1990, Zambia hosted numerous organizations from neighboring countries and from South Africa who were campaigning for liberation from colonialism and apartheid. Due to the overall success of these struggles, by the 1980s Zambia was bordered by eight independent African countries: Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Much scholarship views Zambia within this regional context.

General Overviews

The most complete survey of Zambian history up to the 1970s is Roberts 1976. Gann 1964 provides unmatched detail for the political and administrative features of the colonial period. There are currently no surveys of the postcolonial period after 1976, although Taylor 2006 introduces aspects of late-20th-century Zambian culture.

  • Gann, Lewis H. A History of Northern Rhodesia: Early Days to 1953. London: Chatto and Windus, 1964.

    A detailed history of colonial administration and politics until the achievement of the Central African Federation in 1953. Useful for the history of the colonial administration but weak in other areas.

  • Roberts, Andrew. A History of Zambia. New York: Africana, 1976.

    A survey of precolonial and colonial Zambian history until the late 1960s, based on the most influential literature to the 1970s. Considers social, economic, and political changes. With substantial focus on the precolonial period, this remains the most accessible survey of Zambian history.

  • Taylor, Scott. Culture and Customs of Zambia. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

    An introductory overview of diverse aspects of Zambian culture, useful for tourists, aid workers, or those seeking a basic introduction to aspects of Zambian culture.

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