Facts and Figures
Zambia is landlocked in the tropics of southern Africa, distant from both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. It is at the northern edge of the region referred to as 'southern Africa', while sharing many similarities with its neighbours in East and Central Africa.
Zambia is shaped like a giant butterfly, and covers about 752,610km2. That is slightly smaller than the UK and France combined, and slightly larger than California plus Nevada. In comparison with its neighbours, it is almost double the size of Zimbabwe, but only two-thirds that of South Africa.
Most of Zambia is part of the high, undulating plateau that forms the backbone of Africa. The plateau's altitude is typically 1,000–1,600m above sea level. It is deeply incised by great valleys: the Zambezi, the Kafue, the Luangwa and the Luapula.
There are several large lakes on Zambia's borders: Tanganyika and Mweru in the north, and the man-made Kariba in the south. Lake Bangweulu, and its swamps and floodplain, dominate a large area of the interior.
Zambia's climate can be split into three periods. From December to April it is hot and wet, with torrential downpours often in the late afternoon. From May to August it is dry, and becomes increasingly cool. From September to November it remains dry, but gets progressively hotter. Zambia's climate is generally moderate; only in the great valleys does it feel oppressive.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Zambia is a large country, with many large national parks, and game management areas (GMAs) where conservation and sustainable utilisation of the native wildlife is encouraged.Miombo
woodland – a mixture of grassland dotted with trees and shrubs – makes up about 70% of Zambia's natural environment, with mopane
woodland dominating the lower-lying areas. The native fauna is classic big game found throughout East and southern Africa. Amongst the predators, leopard do exceptionally well here; lion are common but cheetah are not. Wild dog are uncommon, though seem to have increased in numbers in recent years, and there are many smaller predators. Zambia's antelope are especially interesting for the range of subspecies that have evolved. Giraffe, wildebeest, waterbuck and, especially, lechwe are notable for this – each having subspecies endemic to the country.
With rich vegetation and lots of water, Zambia has a great variety of both resident and migrant birds: over 750 species in total. Wetland and swamp areas attract some specialised waterfowl, and Zambia is on the edge of the range for both southern African and East African species.
Zambia has a population of about 10.5 million. The vast majority are of black African (Bantu) descent, though there are significant communities whose ancestors came from Europe and India.
Zambia is a large country, so its population density – around 14 people per km2 – is about half that of Zimbabwe, a third that of South Africa, or about a quarter the population density of Kenya. Like much of sub-Saharan Africa, Zambia's population growth rate is somewhere between about 1.5% and 2.9% per annum (the range reflects confusion between sources on the impact of AIDS).
The capital, Lusaka, is home to about 10% of the country's population, whilst the four main towns of the Copperbelt – Kitwe, Ndola, Kabwe and Mufulira – are home to almost 1.5 million people. Thus, the rural areas generally have a low density, and the country retains large tracts of wilderness.
Zambia's urban population is about 40% of the total, which has reduced in the last few years due to a 'return migration' of people moving back to the land. The difficulty of life in the cities is often cited as one of the root causes.Language
English is the official language in Zambia, and most urban Zambians speak it fluently. In the rural areas it is used less, though only in truly remote settlements would there be problems communicating in English.
The main vernacular languages are Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja and Tonga – though more than 72 different languages and dialects are spoken in the country.
The majority of Zambians are Christian, having been gradually converted since the first missionaries arrived in the 19th century. There is also a significant proportion of both Muslims and Hindus, originating in the Asian communities who settled whilst Zambia was under British rule. At the same time, traditional African beliefs are widely adhered to – even by Zambia's Christians.
Zambia's first Stone-Age, hunter-gatherer inhabitants were supplanted by Bantu groups from the north, who arrived with their Iron-Age culture in the first few centuries ad. Cecil Rhodes' powerful British South Africa Company took these groups under British rule in around 1890.
In 1924, the British colonial office took over the territory officially. in 1953 Northern Rhodesia, as Zambia was known, was joined to Nyasaland (Malawi) and southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) to form the Central African Federation – though much administration still relied on the British.
Largely peaceful internal pressure, including the voices of several influential British residents, eventually led to Zambia gaining its independence in 1964, when it joined the Commonwealth.
The economy is currently in a poor state, with a huge national debt and no practical means to pay it off. Copper exports account for around 55% of the country's foreign exchange, a percentage which has reduced in recent years, but which still leaves the country highly dependent upon the price of copper on the world's markets. Zambia's inflation rate declined to 17% at the end of 2003, its lowest level for over 20 years.
The currency here is the Zambian kwacha (Kw), which is subdivided into 100 ngwee. This has been devaluing steadily, in line with the country's inflation rate. From 2001 to 2004, the exchange rate for US$1 rose from around Kw3,610 to about Kw4,758. (In mid-2004, £1 is about Kw8,700.) Most of the prices in this guide are in US$ and, for those which are in kwacha, I have assume a notional rate of around US$1 for Kw5,000 and converted them accordingly for ease of reference.
The chief of state and the head of government is the president, who appoints cabinet ministers from members of the National Assembly, a chamber of 150 elected representatives.
Zambian citizens of 18 years and over are eligible to vote, and the country is split up into nine provinces for administration purposes: Central, Copperbelt, Eastern, Luapulu, Lusaka, Northern, Northwestern, Southern and Western.
The judicial system was set up according to a British model, based on English common law and customary law. Legislative acts receive judicial review in an ad hoc constitutional council.
Kenneth Kaunda became Zambia's first president at independence in 1964. In 1972 he declared a one-party state, but his popularity slid with the country's economy until popular pressure forced relatively peaceful democratic elections in 1991. These were won by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), led by Frederick Chiluba. He worked with the IMF to liberalise the economy, though many measures were hard for the more impoverished Zambians Chiluba started with a zeal for political and economic reform, but this faded as elections loomed in 1996. Although the results of these were challenged, he remained in power for a further term. Only considerable pressure from within the MMD, and civil society, ensured that he complied with the constitution's maximum of two terms per president.
Eleven parties contested the elections in December 2001; many alleged serious irregularities. The MMD's candidate, Levy Mwanawasa, was narrowly declared as the victor, although three of the opposition parties challenged the results in the High Court. Mwanawasa has since launched an anti-corruption campaign in 2002, which resulted in the prosecution of former President Chiluba and many of his supporters. Opposition parties currently hold a slim majority of seats in the National Assembly. The next elections are due in December 2006.
Copper is easily the country's most important natural resource, with cobalt second. Amethyst, fluorite, feldspar, gypsum, lead, zinc, tin and gold also occur in small quantities, as well as a variety of gemstones.
Other, less traditional, exports are now on the increase, including timber, fresh vegetables and cut flowers. In the UK it's now quite normal to find mangetout and other vegetables from Zambia in the larger supermarkets.
Zambia has never had many tourists, although the numbers grew steadily through the latter half of the 1990s and early 2000s. Visitors to Africa have increasingly been seeking out more remote corners. They come for the wildlife and to stay in remote bush camps, realising that top wildlife guides, like those found here, are few and far between.
Until around 2000, Zambia's annual visitor influx could still probably have been counted in the thousands. Since then, the increase has been accelerated by the rapid demise of Zimbabwe's tourism industry, which has been wrecked by the country's political turmoil. In 2001 two large, new hotels opened near Livingstone, and with them the town's infrastructure and flight connections have improved. Thus in the last few years, Livingstone has begun to take over the mantle as regional tourism capital, formerly held by its fading neighbour, the Zimbabwean town of Victoria Falls.
Most visitors to Zambia still come on pre-arranged short trips, staying at established small lodges in the parks. Independent travellers remain fairly rare. Those on a budget should be well prepared, although once in the country, they will realise that their novelty value in the rural areas ensures them a warm welcome; this alone makes Zambia a fascinating destination.
Currently very few visitors drive themselves around; experience and self-sufficiency are pre-requisites for successful trips. I hope that this guide will encourage the adventurous and capable to venture out on their own, beyond Zambia's most famous parks, as it's a great country to drive around if you're well prepared.