Zambia was originally inhabited by hunter-gatherer Khoisan people. About 2000 years ago, Bantu people migrated from the Congo basin and gradually displaced them. From the 14th century, more immigrants came from the Congo, and by the 16th century, various dispersed groups consolidated into powerful tribes or nations.

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 were proclaimed a British sphere of influence.

The terms of incorporation of Rhodes' mining companies included clauses allowing them to invest in northern expansion. In 1889, Rhodes formed the British South Africa Company. The territory of Northern Rhodesia was administered by the British South Africa Company from 1891 until it was taken over by the United Kingdom in 1923. During the 1920's and 1930's, advances in mining spurred development and immigration. The name was changed to Zambia upon independence in 1964. After independence, Zambia adopted a left-wing economic policy. Private companies were nationalized and incorporated into state-owned conglomerates.

In 1972, Kenneth Kaunda, the country's first president, outlawed all opposition political parties. The world copper market collapsed in 1975 hurting the Zambian economy. It had been the third-largest miner of copper in the world after the United States and Soviet Union. In 1991, With a soaring debt and inflation rate, riots took place in Lusaka, resulting in a number of killings.

Mounting domestic pressure forced Kaunda to move toward multi-party democracy. Kaunda was defeated by Frederick Chiluba in national elections on October 31, 1991. Chiluba called for sweeping economic reforms, including privatization and the establishment of a stock market. He was re-elected in November 1996. Chiluba declared martial law in 1997 and arrested Kaunda following a failed coup attempt.

In 2001, Chiluba contemplated changing the constitution to allow himself to run for another presidential term. After protests, he relented and selected Levy Mwanawasa, a former vice president, as his successor. Mwanawasa became president in January 2002. Opposition parties protested over alleged fraud. In June 2002, Mwanawasa accused the former president of stealing millions while in office. Chiluba was arrested and charged in February 2003.

Although Zambia faced the threat of famine in 2002, the president refused to accept any international donations of food that had been genetically modified, which Mwanawasa considered "poison." In August 2003, impeachment proceedings against the president for corruption were rejected by parliament.

In September 2006 presidential elections, incumbent Levy Mwanawasa was re-elected. President Mwanawasa suffered a stroke in June 2008 and died in Paris in September.

Vice President Rupiah Banda took over as acting president and was elected president in October, defeating Michael Sata. Sata said the vote was rigged.

Under President Banda, the Task Force on Corruption was abolished and President Chiluba and his wife were acquitted in their criminal cases.

Rupiah Banda was defeated by Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) in presidential elections held on September 20, 2011. In parliamentary elections, the PF won 60 of 150 elected seats. Sata announced his cabinet, which included Guy Scott, vice president; Chishimba Kambwili, foreign minister; Geoffrey Mwamba, defense minister; Alexander Chikwanda, finance minister; and Kennedy Sakeni, home affairs minister.