Colonial Rule
 
Zambia was colonized in the 1890's by the British South Africa Company (BSA Co.) on behalf of the British Crown. The Company concluded a series of concessions with African Chiefs, but those tribes that resisted, such as the Ngoni under Mpezeni, were defeated on the battlefield. At first, the territory was administered as two separate units: North-Eastern Rhodesia and North Western Rhodesia.

However, in 1911, the two units were amalgamated to form Northern Rhodesia, which was administered by an administrator appointed by the BSA Co. The British High Commissioner based in Nyasaland supervised him initially, and later the High Commissioner based in South Africa supervised him.

Company rule ended in 1924 when, under the Devonshire Agreement, the Company ceded control of the territory to the British government. An all- powerful governor, appointed by the crown, ruled Northern Rhodesia assisted by a Legislative Council. The territory was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland from 1953 to 1963. The Federation was established despite overwhelming opposition from Africans in the three territories, who saw it as a vehicle for European domination.

Africans were denied the right to vote or to participate actively in government during the colonial period. Furthermore, they were subjected to racial discrimination in all spheres of life. This fuelled the struggle for self-determination and independence. The struggle for independence was led initially by Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula's African National Congress (ANC) and later by Kenneth Kaunda's United National Independence Party (UNIP).

 
Independence
Zambia attained its independence on 24th October 1964. The Independence Constitution provided for a multi-party republican form of government, a judicious bill of rights, an independent judiciary and separation of powers. Certain parts of the Constitution, such as the Bill of Rights and the guarantees of judicial independence could only be altered by national referendum. The form of government was a combination of the Westminster and American presidential systems. The President was elected directly by the people while the Cabinet and Deputy Ministers were chosen from members of the National Assembly. The ruling political party was UNIP and its leader, Kenneth Kaunda, became the first President of Zambia. UNIP and Kaunda were returned to power in the 1968 presidential and general elections. Opposition parties, such as the ANC, were constantly harassed, as their leaders were often detained or restricted under emergency regulations. Some, such as Nalumino Mundia's United Party (UP) and Simon M. Kapwepwe's United Progressive Party (UPP), were proscribed. A state of emergency was imposed by the last governor of Northern Rhodesia, Sir Evelyn Hone, on 27th July 1964, to enable the government to deal effectively with an uprising by a religious sect, the Lumpas, led by a self-proclaimed prophetess, Alice Lenshina. Almost 700 people lost their lives in clashes between the security forces and the Lumpa followers. Thousands of Lumpa followers fled to Congo Kinshasa (now called DRC). Although the uprising was suppressed within months the state of emergency was not lifted and continued in force until November 1991. The main justification for its retention was the geo-political situation in southern Africa. Countries under minority white rule surrounded Zambia and it provided rear bases for African Liberation movements that were fighting against oppression. After the various neighbouring countries got their independence, the justification shifted to the need to protect the economy against sabotage.

In the economic field, the government, starting in 1968, nationalized the major means of production, including the copper mines, in a bid to wrest economic power from foreigners and empower Zambian nationals. At the height of nationalization, the state controlled 80% of the economy. The period up to 1972 was known as the First Republic.

The Second and Third Republics
 
In December 1972, a one party state was introduced by legislative fiat, ostensibly to unite the nation and accelerate economic and social development. In reality, the government was responding to growing dissension within the ruling party that threatened to tear UNIP apart and brightened the chances of the opposition coming to power. A new constitution was drafted and was mainly based on the recommendations of the Chona Constitutional Review Commission, which had been appointed to recommend the modalities for the operation of the one-party state. It took effect in August 1973. Under that Constitution, UNIP was the only political party allowed to exist. The bill of rights was retained with necessary modifications particularly as regards freedom of expression, assembly and association, and freedom from discrimination on the ground of political opinion. It was an offence to attempt to create another political party or to express views in favour of another political party. Elections, especially presidential ones (where only one candidate was allowed), ceased to be competitive. The President's powers were enlarged and became virtually uncontrollable. Judicial independence was weakened as the Judicial Service Commission, which was responsible for administering the Judiciary, was politicised and dominated by presidential appointees, most of whom were non-lawyers.

The One Party Era, which was known as the Second Republic, was characterized by reduced political space as a result of a powerful executive presidency, a meek parliament, lack of an independent press and an almost non-existent civil society. There were massive violations of human rights during that period, especially detention without trial and torture of suspects. The economy collapsed during this period as a result of many factors, including:
- Mismanagement and corruption
- A steep fall in copper prices
- Misguided economic policies, which stifled private initiative and market forces
- Zambia's support for liberation wars in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Angola and Mozambique.

In 1990 the government was forced to concede to demands for the introduction of a multi-party democracy. The Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) led the fight for change. The collapse of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe inspired the advocates for change in Zambia. Moreover, owing to the collapse of the economy and lack of democracy the government had lost legitimacy. In December 1990 the Constitution was amended in order to allow for the formation of political parties. A new Constitution, based mostly on the recommendations of the Mvunga Constitutional Review Commission, was drafted and came into effect in August 1991. It ushered in the Third Republic.

In landmark elections that were held in October 1991, UNIP and its leader, Kenneth Kaunda, suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the MMD and its leader, Frederick Chiluba, the former President-General of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions. The new government won more than two thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, enabling it to pass laws and constitutional amendments.

 
(Resources: Country Insight and Democracy Factfile Zambia, SARDC, Harare, 2000; Websites: http://www.cia.gov)