The area of modern Zambia was inhabited by Khoisan hunter-gatherers until around AD 300, when technologically-advanced migrating tribes began to displace or absorb them. In the 12th century, major waves of Bantu-speaking immigrants arrived during the Bantu expansion. Among them, the Tonga people (also called Batonga) were the first to settle in Zambia and are believed to have come from the east near the “big sea”. The Nkoya people also arrived early in the expansion, coming from the Luba-Lunda kingdoms located in the southern parts of the modern Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Angola, followed by a much larger influx, especially between the late 12th and early 13th centuries. In the early 18th century, the Nsokolo people settled in the Mbala district of Northern Province. During the 19th century, the Ngoni and Sotho peoples arrived from the south. By the late 19th century, most of the various peoples of Zambia were established in the areas they currently occupy.
The earliest account of a European visiting the area was Francisco de Lacerda in the late 18th century, followed by other explorers in the 19th century. The most prominent of these was David Livingstone, who had a vision of ending the slave trade through the “3 C’s” (Christianity, Commerce and Civilization). He was the first European to see the magnificent waterfalls on the Zambezi River in 1855, naming them Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria. Locally the falls are known as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” or “(the) thundering smoke” (in the Lozi or Kololo dialect). The town of Livingstone, Zambia’s Tourist Capital near the falls, is named after him. Highly publicized accounts of his journeys motivated a wave of explorers, missionaries and traders after his death in 1873.
In 1888, the British South Africa Company, (BSA Company) led by Cecil Rhodes, obtained mineral rights from the Litunga, the king of the Lozi for the area which later became North-Western Rhodesia To the east, King Mpezeni of the Ngoni resisted but was defeated in battle and that part of the country came to be known as North-Eastern Rhodesia. The two were administered as separate units until 1911 when they were merged to form Northern Rhodesia. In 1923, the Company ceded control of Northern Rhodesia to the British Government after the government decided not to renew the Company’s Charter.
That same year, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which was also administered by the BSA Company, became self-governing. In 1924, after negotiations, administration of Northern Rhodesia was transferred to the British Colonial Office. In 1953, the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland grouped together Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Malawi) as a single semi-autonomous region. This was undertaken despite opposition from a sizeable minority of Africans, who demonstrated against it in 1960-61. Northern Rhodesia was the centre of much of the turmoil and crisis characterizing the federation in its last years. Initially, Harry Nkumbula’s African National Congress (ANC) led the campaign that Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) subsequently took up.
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. The federation was dissolved on 31 December 1963, and in January 1964, Kaunda won the first and only election for Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia. The Colonial Governor, Sir Evelyn Hone, was very close to Kaunda and urged him to stand for the post. Soon afterwards there was an uprising in the north of the country known as the Lumpa Uprising led by Alice Lenshina – Kaunda’s first internal conflict as leader of the nation.
Northern Rhodesia became the Republic of Zambia on 24 October 1964, with Kaunda as the first president.
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. There were 70,000 Europeans in Zambia in 1964. Three neighbouring countries – Angola, Mozambique and Southern Rhodesia – remained under colonial rule. Southern Rhodesia’s white-ruled government unilaterally declared independence in November 1965. In addition, Zambia shared a border with South West Africa (Namibia) which was administered by South Africa. Zambian sympathies lay with forces opposing colonial or white-dominated rule, particularly in Southern Rhodesia (subsequently called Rhodesia). During the next decade, it actively supported movements such as UNITA in Angola; the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU); the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa; and the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO).