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Kenneth Kaunda  

Andy DeRoche

Born in 1924 in the British colony of Northern Rhodesia, Kenneth Kaunda served as Zambia’s first president between 1964 and 1991. From his initial days in office, Kaunda and his government successfully expanded and integrated the education system at all levels. He attempted to diversify the economy, with some success on the industrial side, but made little progress in agriculture. When threatened by a new opposition party in 1971, he transformed Zambia into a one-party state, which it remained for the rest of his presidency. A precipitous drop in global copper prices and simultaneous jump in oil costs in the mid-1970s sabotaged the Zambian economy, forcing Kaunda to seek aid and loans from all quarters. His efforts attracted a significant amount of assistance for his nation, but nonetheless widespread poverty and inflation wracked Zambia by the early 1980s and were key factors in Kaunda’s 1991 ousting from power. Kaunda’s most striking moves as president were in diplomacy, where he took a firm stand against neighboring Rhodesia’s attempt to unilaterally declare independence from Great Britain. To allow Zambian participation in sanctions against Rhodesia, Kaunda established very positive relations with China, who in turn funded and built a railroad linking the Copperbelt to the port of Dar Es Salaam. Working closely with Western officials such as Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher, Kaunda contributed considerably to the process leading to a settlement in late 1979, ending the war in Rhodesia, which then gained independence as the majority-ruled nation of Zimbabwe. Kaunda continued the struggle against racism in the southern African region through the 1980s, assisting significantly in the battle against apartheid in South Africa. After widespread protests erupted in 1990, he announced that a multiparty election would take place in October 1991. When he was soundly defeated, he accepted the results and left power, thus giving democracy a boost in southern Africa. During his last two decades, he focused on fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He died in Lusaka in June 2021 at the age of 97.

Article

Women in Zambia  

Iva Peša

The history of women in Zambia is dynamic, complex, and varied. In the precolonial period, women held a range of influential positions in society. Through agricultural production, pottery, ritual, and healing, they performed valued tasks complementary to those of men. Descent was most commonly traced matrilineally, affording a woman’s lineage much power over labor, offspring, land, and wealth. The colonial period changed the position of women profoundly. Christianity and colonial policies advocated for an ideal of a nuclear family with a male breadwinner. Concomitantly, commercialization and labor migration made women’s positions more precarious. In rural areas, women struggled to prepare fields because of the absence of men’s labor, whereas in urban areas women were officially only allowed residence as “wives” of male workers. Yet a story of increasing female marginalization and subordination would be far from complete. Moreover, such a narrative obscures everyday gendered contestations. Some women in the colonial and postcolonial periods made a profitable livelihood by selling crops; others moved to town and engaged in trade or brewed beer. Such activities became particularly significant in the wake of economic decline during the 1980s and 1990s. The HIV/AIDS pandemic all too often made women the heads of their households. The history of women in Zambia is, thus, far from singular. Studying its variety reveals Zambian women’s agency and power, even in conditions not of their own choosing.

Article

The Copperbelt of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo  

Iva Peša

The Central African Copperbelt, a region which straddles the boundary between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, holds exceptionally rich and high-grade copper deposits. These deposits have been worked from as early as the 6th century ce. Still, the commencement of large-scale industrial resource extraction at the start of the 20th century, spurred by imperial rivalry between Belgian and British interests, initiated fundamental processes of change. The Copperbelt urbanized rapidly, as the mines attracted thousands of migrant workers from hundreds of miles away. The social, cultural, economic, and political lives of these new urbanites have attracted much attention from colonial administrators and mining officials, as well as from generations of social scientists and historians. These observers have tended to depict the Copperbelt’s history in terms of stark dichotomies, as part of a transition from rural to urban; from subsistence agriculture to industrial wage labor; from extended kinship to nuclear families; or even from “tradition” to “modernity.” The protracted economic crisis which held the Copperbelt in its sway between 1975 and 2000 painfully revealed the boom-and-bust nature of copper mining. This period of “decline” made scholars question earlier modernization frameworks. Examples showing how kinship ties have been creatively reworked, how gender roles have constantly been subject to negotiation, and how economic precarity was part of urban life throughout the 20th century, suggest that Copperbelt scholarship should abandon narratives of “transformation” and exceptionalism. The Central African Copperbelt, instead, exemplifies African history’s rich complexity.