The indigenous hunter-gatherer occupants of Zambia began to be displaced or absorbed by more advanced migrating tribes about 2,000 years ago. The major waves of Bantu-speaking immigrants began in the 15th century and came primarily from the Southern Congo and Northern Angola. They were joined in the 19th century by Ngoni peoples from the South. By the latter part of that century, the various peoples of Zambia were largely established in the areas they currently occupy.
Except for an occasional Portuguese explorer, the area lay untouched by Europeans for centuries. After the mid-19th century, it was penetrated by Western explorers, missionaries, and traders. David Livingstone, in 1855, was the first European to see the magnificent waterfalls on the Zambezi River. He named the falls after Queen Victoria, and the Zambian town near the falls is named after him.
In 1888, Cecil Rhodes, spearheading British commercial and political interests in Central Africa, obtained a mineral rights concession from local chiefs. In the same year, Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively) were proclaimed a British sphere of influence. Southern Rhodesia was annexed formally and granted self-government in 1923, and the administration of Northern Rhodesia was transferred to the British colonial office in 1924 as a protectorate.
Northern Rhodesia achieved a peaceful independence and became the Republic of Zambia on October 24, 1964. Kenneth Kaunda was the first President of the Republic of Zambia, which in those days was a single party State.
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.
Conflicts with Rhodesia resulted in the closing of Zambia's borders with that country and severe problems with international transport and power supply. However, the Kariba hydroelectric station on the Zambezi River provided sufficient capacity to satisfy the country's requirements for electricity. A railroad to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, built with Chinese assistance, reduced Zambian dependence on railroad lines south to South Africa and west through an increasingly troubled Angola.
In the mid-1970s, the price of copper, Zambia's principal export, suffered a severe decline worldwide. Zambia turned to foreign and international lenders for relief, but as copper prices remained depressed, it became increasingly difficult to service its growing debt. By the mid-1990s, despite limited debt relief, Zambia's per capita foreign debt remained among the highest in the world.
In December 1990, at the end of a tumultuous year that included riots in the capital and a coup attempt, President Kenneth Kaunda signed legislation ending his party's monopoly on power. In response to growing popular demand for multi-party democracy, and after lengthy, difficult negotiations between the Kaunda government and opposition groups, Zambia enacted a new constitution in August 1991. The constitution enlarged the National Assembly from 136 members to a maximum of 158 members, established an electoral commission, and allowed for more than one presidential candidate who no longer had to be a member of the ruling party (UNIP).
The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) won the election in '92 and their leader Frederick Chiluba became Zambia's second President. Chiluba attempted to amend the country's constitution towards the end of his second term in office in order to gain a third term as President. This was an ill-disguised attempt to hold onto power which was thwarted and his successor Levy Mwanawasa won the General Election and was sworn into office in January 2002. Mwanawasa held onto power until August 2008 when he died in office. Following his death, Zambian vice president Rupiah Banda succeeded him to the Office of the President until emergency elections were held later in the year. Banda won with a narrow margin over opposition leader Michael Sata.
In September 2011, Rupiah Banda lost re-election to Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front, which brought to end 20 years of rule by the MMD. Zambians were proud of the peaceful handover of power to President Sata, which was attended by the remaining living Zambian Presidents; outgoing President Banda and former President Kenneth Kaunda.