Understanding Zambia: History and Reflections Pt. II

In January’s segment on Zambia and Zambian History, I wrote about Zambia’s development as a country under colonial rule, and simplified its path through its transition to independence. In this section I’d like to talk more about the next phase of Zambian History – particularly it’s evolution as a free country, and some of it’s better known projects.

The modern free nation of Zambia was born in 1964, and as one of its first acts, it took political control of its chief natural resources, most noteably copper. However, nationalization didn’t occur immediately, and in fact Kenneth Kaunda assured investors and owners that the mines were too complex and too essential to nationalize. Although these first actions, which echoed with fears of nationalization, were primarily economic (Roberts, 1976:222), the political atmosphere and desire to be free and independent with sovereignty and self-determination cannot be disregarded. the actions impact on the mining sector and Zambia’s future was certain.

As Zambia continued down its path to freedom, Kaunda was quick to recognize the importance of the mines and copper production. His relations with the sector were cordial, and as mentioned earlier when nationalization started, he avoided the mining sector entirely. It wasn’t until two years into the nationalization process that Kaunda moved to nationalize the mines, and the results were exceptionally successful for the state in the beginning. However, continued investment in the mines and in infrastructure did not occur, and the mining sector lagged behind. It was used primarily as a source of income to fund the social policy agenda and the programs of the new socialist state. ZCCM became a provider of social welfare, urban development, healthcare, schools and goods (Roberts, 1976: Gewald, 2010). It can be argued that this period of time, with lagging or non-existent investment in the mining sector while rents were absorbed for social programs was the start of copper’s shift from boon to curse (Fraser et al, 2010).

Nevertheless, political lessons from the nationalization period of the 1970s through the 80s and 90s with their massive copper crashes, and coppers resurgence in the 2000s combined with new regionalism (Telò, 2007), pressures from the EU, and shadow regionalization (Soderbaum, 2007) shaped the future of copper mining in Zambia. As the state recovered from nationalization, and privatization occurred under the MMD, the story becomes one of frustration, corruption, and loss. The boom and bust nature of Zambia’s reliance on copper, and the frustration found in the political situation continues today. The Wallstreet Journal in their article on Kitwe, delve into the issue in more depth (http://www.wsj.com/articles/mining-collapse-cripples-africas-dreams-of-prosperity-1457104328)

Copper today remains more than an economic boon for Zambia, Copper dominates almost every aspect of the Zambian economy, and it is paramount in daily life. It has strong socio-cultural ties, a long history tied to societal status, and continues its role as a boon of good fortune for the country. The national football team, known affectionately as Chipolopolo, or the copper bullets, even plays in the color. It is such a vital part of the Zambian identity, that when designing the flag for the Republic, Kenneth Kaunda included it as one of the primary colors. Kenneth Kaunda was careful in his design for the future of the republic, and included many rich symbolisms in the national anthem, the flag, and the ensign. The flag is a forest green with an orange-colored African fish eagle in flight over a rectangular block of three vertical stripes in the lower right-hand corner, those stripes are colored, from right to left: orange, black, and red. Green stands for the nation’s rich forests, red for blood shed in the nation’s struggle for freedom, black for the Zambian people, and orange for the land’s natural resources and mineral wealth – copper (Flags of the World 2016).

Zambia’s economic and trade policies have been strongly influenced by the political atmosphere of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It joined forces with its neighbors and created strong informal regional ties as it sought to combat the apartheid system to the south (Jacobs, 1993), and expanded its trade networks north and to the east during the 70s, inviting Chinese investment in the creation of the TAZARA railway which would allow it access to the deepwater port in Dar Es Salaam. The railway was built to circumvent Rhodesia and South Africa, whom were ruled by oppressive white governments (Austin et al, 1996:287). TAZARA created a route from the Copperbelt to the sea without having to transit white-ruled territories. However, this was not in the economic interests of Zambia, and the damage done to the mining sector by nationalization was compounded. From 1952 before independence, Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners conducted an evaluation of a similar project, the Northern Rhodesia-Tanganyika railway. They concluded that TAZARA would not be economically feasible. This conclusion was primarily related to low agricultural export, and that existing railways through Mozambique and Angola were adequate for carrying the vital copper export (Hall et al, 1976:31-32). Two further reports, including a World Bank report in 1964 concluded that the rail line was infeasible (Wolfe, 1970).

Regardless, the railway was started in 1970, and began operation in 1975 (Altorfer-Ong, 2009), during the same period, Zambia welcomed the Tan-Zam highway, an alternative project funded by the west to counter and compete with the communist intervention in the country through the funding and collaboration on the railway (Altorfer-Ong, 2009:26).

I’ll talk a little bit more about the Politics of this era in my next segment on Zambia.


Altorfer-Ong, A. (2009). Tanzanian ‘Freedom’ and Chinese ‘Friendship’ in 1965: laying the tracks for the TanZam rail link. LSE Ideas (London School of Economics (LSE), pp.655–670.

Austin, G., Robinson, T. and Shambaugh, D. (1996). Chinese Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice. The China Journal, (36), p.287.Hall, R. and Peyman, H. (1976). The Great Uhuru Railway. London: Gollancz, pp.31-32, 88.

Flags of the World,. 2016. “Zambia”. Flagspot.Net. https://flagspot.net/flags/zm.html.

Fraser, A., and Lungu, J., (2006). For Whom the Windfalls? Winners and losers in the privatisation of the Zambia’s copper mines. http://www.revenuewatch.org/documents/windfalls_20070307.pdf, accessed on 18 Jan 2016.

Fraser, A. and Larmer, M. (2010). Zambia, mining, and neoliberalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gewald, J. (2010). African Miners and Shape-Shifting Capital Flight: The Case of Luanshya/Baluba. In: A. Fraser and M. Larmer, ed., Zambia, Mining, and Neoliberalism Boom and Bust on the Globalized Copperbelt, 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.155-183.

Haglund, D. (2010). From Boom to Bust: Diversity and Regulation in Zambia’s Privatized Copper Sector. In: A. Fraser and M. Larmer, ed., Zambia, Mining, and Neoliberalism Boom and Bust on the Globalized Copperbelt, 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.91-126.

McGroarty, P. and Parkinson, J. (2016). Mining Collapse Cripples Africa’s Dreams of Prosperity. [online] WSJ. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/mining-collapse-cripples-africas-dreams-of-prosperity-1457104328 [Accessed 8 Apr. 2016].

Soderbaum, Fredrik. 2007. “African Regionalism And EU-African Interregionalism”. In European Union And New Regionalism, 1st ed., 185-203. Aldershot, England: Ashgate.

Telò, Mario. 2007. European Union And New Regionalism. Aldershot, England: Ashgate


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