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The Commonwealth



Did you know:

The Commonwealth Youth Programme Africa Centre is based in Lusaka.

Kalusha Bwalya, born in Mufulira in 1963, was African Footballer of the Year in 1988.

Zambia is one of seven landlocked Commonwealth countries, all of which are in Africa.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1964
Population: 14,539,000 (2013)
GDP: 2.0% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: World ranking 141
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT plus 2hr
Currency: kwacha (ZK)


Area: 752,614 sq km
Coastline: none
Capital city: Lusaka
Population density (per sq. km): 19\

Zambia is a landlocked, fertile and mineral-rich country on the Southern African plateau. It is bordered by: (clockwise from the north) the United Republic of Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia (via the Caprivi Strip), Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The country comprises ten provinces (from south to north): Southern, Western, Lusaka, Central, Eastern, North-Western, Copperbelt, Northern, Muchinga (whose creation was announced in October 2011) and Luapula.

Main towns:

Lusaka (capital, pop. 1.45m in 2010), Kitwe (Copperbelt Province, 527,800), Ndola (Copperbelt, 495,800), Kabwe (Central, 214,700), Chingola (Copperbelt, 178,400), Mufulira (Copperbelt, 141,300), Livingstone (Southern, 133,800), Luanshya (Copperbelt, 132,300), Kasama (Northern, 111,500), Chipata (Eastern, 109,500), Kalulushi (Copperbelt, 100,900), Mazabuka (Southern, 95,600), Chililabombwe (Copperbelt, 72,000), Mongu (Western, 71,800), Choma (Southern, 58,500), Kapiri Mposhi (Central, 56,800), Kansanshi (North-Western, 51,900), Kafue (Lusaka, 46,500), Mansa (Luapula, 45,100), Monze (Southern, 40,800), Sesheke (Western, 33,400) and Mpika (Northern, 31,100).


There are 91,440 km of roads, 22 per cent paved, and 1,273 km of railway (not including the Tazara Railway). Roads can be hazardous during the rainy season. There is access to the Mozambican port of Beira (also to Maputo) via Livingstone and the Zimbabwe railway system; to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, via the Tazara Railway; and to Durban in South Africa, also via Livingstone and the Zimbabwe railway system. In 2003 a South African consortium was granted a 20-year licence to manage Zambia Railways.

The western route to the sea, the Benguela Railway (through the Democratic Republic of Congo to the Angolan port of Benguela) was closed in 1975 due to upheavals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) and Angola. However, by 2007 restoration of the route was in progress following a grant, of up to US$300 million received by Angola from China. Since 2000, plans have been under way for a new rail route from Lusaka to Blantyre in Malawi, giving access to the port of Nacala in Mozambique.

There are international airports at Lusaka (26 km east of the city) and Mfuwe (in the South Luangwa National Park), and more than 100 other airports and airstrips throughout the country.

International relations:

Zambia is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Non-Aligned Movement, Southern African Development Community, United Nations and World Trade Organization.

Zambia hosts the headquarters of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa in Lusaka.


Most of Zambia is high plateau, deeply entrenched by the Zambezi river (and its tributaries, the Kafue and Luangwa) and the Luapula river. The Zambezi flows to the south, turning eastwards to make the border with Zimbabwe. In the north are three great lakes: the Tanganyika, Mweru and Bangweulu. The man-made Lake Kariba stretches along the southern border. The Mafinga Mountains form part of a great escarpment running down the east side of the Luangwa river valley. The country rises to a higher plateau in the east.


Tropical, but seldom unpleasantly hot, except in the valleys. There are three seasons: a cool dry season April–August; a hot dry season August–November; and a wet season, which is even hotter, November–April. Frost occurs in some areas in the cool season. Rainfall is 508–1,270 mm p.a.


The most significant environmental issues are: deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification; health risk posed by inadequate water treatment facilities; threat to big game populations by poaching; and air pollution and resulting acid rain in the areas surrounding mining and refining operations in Copperbelt Province.


Forest – mostly savannah bushveld – covers 66 per cent of the land area, having declined at 0.3 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. The high eastern plateau consists of open grassy plains with small trees and some marshland. Arable land comprises five per cent of the total land area.


Zambia has a wealth of wildlife, including big mammals and numerous species of antelopes. There are 19 national parks and 34 game management areas, about one-third of the country’s area. South Luangwa has one of Africa’s largest elephant populations. Kafue National Park has the largest number of antelope species of any African park, including the rare red lechwe, an aquatic antelope. It is also a home of the fish eagle, Zambia’s national emblem. Decline in animal numbers has been slowed by the government’s commitment to wildlife conservation, and the enforcement of measures against poaching and weapon-carrying in the conservation areas. There are 233 mammal species, of which ten are thought to be endangered (2014).


Archaeological findings at Kabwe indicate that Zambia was inhabited around 10,000 BCE. More complete records date from the arrival of the Luba and Lunda peoples during the 14th to 15th century, from what are now the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. The Bemba are descendants of the Luba and the Lozi of the Lunda. The Ngoni peoples came north from South Africa to eastern Zambia. David Livingstone, the British missionary and explorer, travelled through Zambia in the mid-19th century. He was followed by British settlers in the 1880s and 1890s. Arab slave-trading flourished in the territory throughout the 19th century, until it was ended by the British in 1893.

In 1889, the British South Africa Company received a Royal Charter to explore, develop and administer the territory. In 1924 the company ceded administrative control of Zambia, called Northern Rhodesia, to the British Crown and serious exploitation of the country’s main resource, copper, began. The capital moved from Livingstone to Lusaka in 1935. The Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, with its own constitution, existed from 1953 to 1963.

In the mid-1950s Kenneth Kaunda founded the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC), a breakaway from the more conservative African National Congress (ANC), to fight for civil and voting rights for the African population. ZANC was quickly banned by the colonial authorities, and Kaunda arrested. During his internment, his followers evaded the ban by remoulding the ZANC as the United National Independence Party (UNIP), taking the name from the main platform of its programme. Kaunda became chairman of the UNIP on his release in 1960. In turn, the UNIP was outlawed but it had caught the popular imagination and political demonstrations spread across the country. The UK accepted the demands and, in January 1964, introduced a new constitution giving the country internal self- government, and organising elections. UNIP emerged as the majority party and proceeded towards independence; the Republic of Zambia became independent and a member of the Commonwealth on 24 October 1964.

United National Independence Party

Within a decade of independence, economic conditions worsened. Demand for copper was already beginning to fall and there was tumult in Southern Africa. Landlocked Zambia was badly affected by all the major conflicts of the period. The closure of the border with Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia (under the sanctions programme aimed at Ian Smith’s illegal regime), disrupted exports. Civil war broke out in Angola and, in 1975, the Benguela railway was closed. Mozambique’s long battle against the Renamo dissidents began shortly after its independence in 1975; rail and oil lines were targets for attack. Sanctions against South Africa also affected Zambia’s trade and transport. Refugees from these troubled countries and Namibia (engaged in the independence war with South Africa) were given sanctuary in Zambia.

The UNIP government of Kenneth Kaunda created a one-party state (lasting from 1973 until 1991) in an unsuccessful attempt to strengthen national unity. A coup plot in 1980 involved local business leaders and the Governor of the Bank of Zambia. Several trade union leaders, including Frederick Chiluba, were detained during a wave of strikes in 1981, unions now having become the main focus of opposition to UNIP. Popular discontent was fuelled by the effects of IMF-backed recovery programmes. From 1986, demonstrations (sometimes violent) against food price increases began to take a more political form, leading to demands for a more democratic system of government.

Restoration of multiparty democracy

In July 1990, the 17-year ban on organised opposition groups was lifted. Three days later, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was founded. The elections in October 1991 gave a substantial majority to the MMD and its presidential candidate, Frederick Chiluba. However, continuing discontent with economic conditions and the effects of severe drought led to a new wave of strikes within a year. A breakaway group of nine MMD MPs formed the National Party in August 1993.

In March 1994 the government appointed a commission to rewrite the constitution and a draft new constitution was submitted to the President in June 1995, the commission recommending that it should be approved by a national referendum. The government argued that it should instead be adopted by the National Assembly before the elections that were due in November 1996. The Assembly did so in June 1996, despite international criticism and the suspension of some aid. Among controversial government amendments to the constitution were clauses that specified that a President could serve a maximum of two five-year terms, thus disallowing the candidacy of Kenneth Kaunda, former President for 27 years and presidential candidate of the opposition UNIP. UNIP also objected to clauses debarring any person from candidacy whose parents are not or were not Zambian citizens (Kaunda’s parents came from Malawi).

Most of the opposition parties boycotted the November 1996 elections (UNIP because its leader was debarred under the new constitution). There was a landslide victory for the MMD. But because of the boycott, many leading opposition parties did not have any seats in the National Assembly. Turnout was 56 per cent of those registered to vote, although it is estimated that only 50 per cent of those eligible were registered. The MMD won 131 of the 150 Assembly seats, and Chiluba won 73 per cent of the presidential vote. The largest opposition party was then the National Party, with five seats.

A Short History of Zambia

History Of Zambia

Learn more about Zambia on The Commonwealth site
Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

Zambia Handbook (2002) (pdf0

Handbook of Zambia
By Defense Technical Information Center (1979) (pdf)

African Native Zambia Tribe and different cultures
National Geographic Documentary

Zambia Tourism

Luxury and beauty of Zambia

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

Return to our Commonwealth Page


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