Zambia Modern History

By | January 30, 2023

Zambia is a country located in Eastern Africa. With the capital city of Lusaka, Zambia has a population of 18,383,966 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Zambia became independent from the British colonial power in 1964. The country’s first president was Kenneth Kaunda, who led the Socialist-oriented United National Independence Party (in English abbreviated to UNIP).

While UNIP had great popular support, there were strong contradictions within the party that often had its roots in conflicts between different ethnic groups. When former Vice President Simon Kapwepe formed a new party dominated by the Bemba people in 1971, the UNIP government felt threatened. Kapwepe’s party was banned the following year, and Zambia became a one-party state. By constitutional amendments in 1978, all organized opposition was banned in practice.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Zambia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Kaunda has long maintained its popularity and proved to be a good politician. Through constant government transformations and relocations of officials, he prevented other people from acquiring a power base. Kaunda was re-elected president at every election until 1988. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Zambia.

By the end of the 1980s, however, dissatisfaction with Kaunda had grown strongly as a result of the country’s economy being in crisis. As one of the so-called front states, Zambia had to pay a high price – financially and humanely – for the support for liberation movements in what is today Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Namibia and South Africa. Zambia was subjected to sabotage and attacks by the white minority-led governments, and had to change its export routes, which weakened the economy.

Hard times

The severe economic crisis began in the early 1970s, when world market prices for Zambia’s most important export commodity, copper, fell sharply while oil prices rose. The country’s mining industry started to lose. Unemployment rose and food prices went up. Strikes and demonstrations succeeded. In 1981, several union leaders were arrested, among them the union leader Frederick Chiluba, who would later become Zambia’s president.

The government was forced to implement a series of economic austerities, which hit the majority of the population hard. From 1986 to 1987, the capital of Lusaka and the mining districts in the north were shaken by violent demonstrations against sharply raised food prices. The price increase on maize, among other things, was one of the requirements set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to grant Zambia new loans.

Following a failed coup attempt in 1990, followed by prolonged social unrest, the ban on political organizations was lifted. Later that year, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was formed with Frederick Chiluba at the forefront. Another eleven political organizations were founded in the following months.

After pressure, Kaunda agreed to prepare for general elections. In June 1991, a proposal for a new constitution was presented, and in October free elections were held. Contrary to what had been feared, the election of foreign overseers was described as fair. Chiluba won the presidential election with just over 75 percent of the vote. Kaunda accepted the loss. MMD won a broad majority in the new parliament.

Political contradictions

Chiluba turned out to be following the international lenders’ demands for financial cuts. It collided with election promises of increased prosperity for the people. Soon internal political problems also arose. Vice President Levy Mwanawasa was injured in a car accident, which was alleged to have been a planned murder attempt. The relationship between MMD and UNIP was icy, and bitter accusations hailed between the parties. In September 1992, Kaunda resigned formally as the leader of UNIP.

In the summer of 1994, UNIP and six other opposition parties came together in one front. At the same time, Kaunda announced that he wanted to run in the 1996 presidential election. UNIP re-elected Kaunda in 1995 as party leader.

The same year, a report was submitted by the special commission Chiluba had appointed in 1993 to investigate human rights violations committed during Kaunda’s years in power. The report showed that torture and other human rights violations had also taken place in cells during the presidential palace. Human rights violations were generally common in Zambia.

Obstacle to Kaunda

To prevent Kaunda from running in the presidential election, the government drafted an addition to the Constitution that a person could not be president for more than two periods. The extension also included other barriers that were directly aimed at Kaunda. Despite criticism from the outside world, the new constitutional amendment was approved in May 1996.

The opposition front, which included UNIP, boycotted the elections held in November that year. Chiluba won the presidential election while MMD won the parliamentary election. Victory margins were almost as devastating as five years earlier.

However, the political situation remained unstable. In October 1997, a group of officers conducted a coup attempt, but they were overpowered after only a few hours. Two days later, an emergency permit was introduced. Kaunda was arrested and accused of having known about the coup attempt in advance. In March 1998, Chiluba withdrew the state of emergency following pressure from donors. Later, 59 soldiers were sentenced to death for participating in the coup attempt, but executions were never executed.

When Kaunda was released in the summer of 1998, he resigned as President of UNIP. But just over six months later, he declared that he once again intended to enter politics. This time, too, he encountered a patrol. In April 1999, Kaunda was deprived of his Zambian citizenship on the grounds that his parents were of foreign origin. Thus, Kaunda could not stand in any election.

Kaunda’s son is murdered

Another blow against Kaunda was the murder in November 1999 of his son Wezi Kaunda. The police wrote off the murder as a robbery when Wezi had been robbed of his car, but the Kaunda family considered it to be evidence of a political murder. Kenneth Kaunda finally left active politics in the spring of 2000, after regaining his citizenship. His son Tilyenji Kaunda took over the party leader post in UNIP in the early 2000s.

From 2000, the contradictions began to increase within the ruling MMD. Chiluba wanted to run for a third term in the December 2001 presidential election, but he was stopped by the rules he himself created to stop Kaunda in 1996. According to the constitution, the president was allowed to be re-elected only once. A number of ministers were dismissed for protesting against Chiluba’s plans to change this rule in the constitution. The plans were shelved after extensive criticism from the outside world. The ministers who had been fired formed a new party, the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD).

Throughout the MMD’s power holdings, there was a tension between the party and the Catholic Church, due to the Church’s criticism of MMD’s undemocratic methods. At times the tone was very fresh.

Mwanawasa becomes new president

Instead, Chiluba chose to appoint its former vice president, Levy Mwanawasa, as the MMD’s presidential candidate. Mwanawasa was considered to have no political base of its own, and the opposition within the party top was sharpened and several dissatisfied members of government formed new parties.

Mwanawasa was proclaimed hardly a winner in the presidential election. According to the electoral authorities, he won with 29 percent of the vote over Anderson Mazoka from the United National Development Party (UPND) who received 27 percent.

In the parliamentary elections held at the same time, MMD became the new largest party but did not get its own majority. The election results triggered violent demonstrations in Lusaka and the opposition refused to acknowledge MMD’s victory. The election was rejected by EU observers. Despite this, Mwanawasa took office as president in January 2002.

After the election victory, Mwanawasa immediately showed that he was standing on his own legs. He cleaned out Chiluba’s supporters within the government as well as the defense and security police. Mwanawasa quickly launched a comprehensive campaign against the severe corruption in the state administration. In 2003, Chiluba was indicted on 264 counts for bribery and fraud. Other politicians in Chiluba’s immediate circle were indicted for similar crimes.

Mawanawasa strengthens its power

In 2003, Mwanawasa incorporated several opposition politicians into his government. The president stated that he did this to unite the Zambians, but his opponents felt he wanted to divide and weaken the opposition. By the end of the year, MMD had achieved its own majority in the National Assembly after winning a series of filling elections.

In May of that year, Mwanawasa announced that the constitution would be revised. He therefore appointed a commission which was given this task. The opposition parties and other organizations demanded that the constitutional amendments, which included how the president was elected, should come into force before the 2006 elections. But Mwanawasa ruled that the changes could not be implemented until 2008 at the earliest and that they must be approved in a referendum before they could take effect.

The political parties began preparing early for the presidential and parliamentary elections in September 2006. In March of the same year, the three major opposition parties – UPND, FDD and UNIP – joined forces in an election union, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), with the aim of launching a joint presidential candidate. Popular UPND leader Anderson Mazoka, who was given as UDA candidate, passed away in May. Hakainde Hichilema replaced Mazoka as leader of the UPND and also became the opposition alliance UDA’s presidential candidate.

MMD also ran into difficulties when Mwanawasa suffered a stroke in March. However, the president quickly returned to work and announced in August that he was running for re-election.

Sata challenges

Mwanawasa’s main challenger was Michael Sata from the Patriotic Front (PF). Sata had previously been a combative but popular mayor of Lusaka. Among other things, the populist Sata promised to close down the judicial process against Chiluba. However, Mwanawasa benefited from steadily improving the country’s economy during his term.

Election day passed quietly, but unrest erupted when the Election Authority announced that Mwanawasa had won. The final election result gave Mwanawasa 43 percent of the vote, against 29 percent for Sata and 25 percent for Hichilema from UPND. In the parliamentary elections held at the same time, MMD once again became the largest party with 72 seats, ahead of PF which received 44 seats and UDA with 27 seats.

The corruption trial against Chiluba came on time and the tours became more and more complicated. Eventually the process was run both in the UK and in Zambia. In May 2007, Chiluba was convicted in the absence of a court in London for stealing the equivalent of $ 46 million from the Zambian state. He was obliged to repay the money, but that never happened. In 2009, Chiluba was cleared of all charges by a Zambian court, which found that it was not possible to prove that part of Chiluba’s wealth came from state funds.

Mwanawasa dies – historical shift in power

In June 2008, President Mwanawasa suffered a new stroke and died almost two months later. In a filling election to the presidential post, Vice President Rupiah Banda of the MMD triumphed over PF’s Sata. Election observers from neighboring countries rejected the opposition’s accusations of electoral fraud on the part of the ruling party. After the election, Banda carried out a government transformation and kicked one of its main rivals, Finance Minister Ngandu Magande. Banda was then elected new MMD leader.

In September 2011, a historic shift of power occurred, with the opposition winning both the presidential and parliamentary elections. The MMD had then held the government for 20 years. PF leader Sata defeated Banda by a wide margin in the presidential election. Many first-time voters were attracted by Sata’s promises of more jobs and better finances. International observers approved the election.

In the parliamentary elections, PF became the largest party with 60 seats, but it did not get its own majority in the assembly. A good second was MMD with 55 seats, while UPND received 29 seats. After a series of filling elections, PF gradually increased its representation in Parliament to about half of the mandate.

The change of power in 2011 showed that Zambia’s political system – despite its shortcomings – had managed to make a peaceful change of president and government. It was something that several of Zambia’s neighboring countries had failed.

Sensitive to criticism

In office, President Sata, called “King of the Kings” because of his sharp tongue, toned down his earlier criticism of China, which had become an important trading partner and investor.

The Sata government initially pursued an expansionary economic policy. Among other things, it introduced subsidies on maize. However, falling copper prices and lower tax revenues contributed to a growing government budget deficit. In 2013, Sata was forced to abolish the subsidies on maize and fuel, which triggered popular protests. And despite good economic growth, unemployment remained high.

Both opposition parties and human rights groups criticized Sata for harassing opponents and for not tolerating criticism. He had promised to fight corruption when he took office, but in some cases the purpose of the fight against corruption seemed to be a way of silencing critics. In 2013, for example, former President Rupiah Banda was indicted for bribery. Journalists who reported on alleged corruption were arrested, as were opposition politicians who criticized Sata’s rule.

President Sata dies

During the 2011 election campaign, Sata had promised the Lozi people group that the autonomy they had in the former British protectorate Barotseland in western Zambia would be restored, in accordance with an agreement from the independence. As president, however, Sata withdrew from this promise, citing that the country could be split if other peoples were to pursue similar demands.

Nor did the Sata government clarify the ambiguities surrounding the revision of the constitution – a process that began in 2003. The president considered that it would suffice to make certain constitutional amendments while various civic groups, congregations and others wanted to do a more comprehensive review and that a new constitutional proposal would be approved. in a referendum.

On October 28, 2014, President Sata passed away at a hospital in London, four days after Zambia celebrated 50 years as an independent state. The president, who turned 77, did not attend the celebration. During the past year, Sata’s growing health problems had become increasingly noticeable, but it was a sensitive topic to touch in public.



Ex-president arrested

Former President Frederick Chiluba is arrested by police and charged with corruption.


Twenty soldiers are pardoned after the death sentence

Over 40 soldiers are sentenced to death for participating in a coup attempt in 1997. All are later pardoned.



New President assumes office

Levy Mwanawasa from the ruling party The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) is installed as president after winning the 2001 presidential election.


The ex-president is deprived of prosecution immunity

Parliament repeals former President Frederick Chiluba’s prosecution immunity. Chiluba is suspected of embezzling large sums of state funds.

Zambia Modern History