The Republic of Zambia attained independence in 1964 under the leadership of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, who became the country's first president. Post-colonial responses were driven by concerns for social justice but falling commodity prices and economic mismanagement resulted in a long period of economic decline.
Market-oriented reforms in the 1990s contributed to higher rates of economic growth. Nevertheless, equitable growth remains a major need if Zambia is to make sustainable progress in reducing poverty. In 1991, after nearly two decades of one party rule, multiparty democracy was introduced.
The country is a landlocked and Least Developed Country (LLDC) that is sparsely populated by more than 70 ethnic groups. Zambia has an estimated population of 11.5 million people. Children and young people below the age of 18 comprise slightly more than one half of the total population.
The development challenges facing the country are plenty, and development is being significantly undermined by the mutually re-enforcing “triple threat” of a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS, chronic and acute food insecurity and poverty.
The pandemic of HIV infection and the large numbers of people living with AIDS constitute Zambia’s single most important development challenge.
In the years leading up to the 1990s, macroeconomic instability, incomplete policy implementation, and inefficient state-owned enterprises had a negative effect on the economy. This was compounded by a collapse in copper prices, oil price shocks, and a continuing contraction of food production. As a result, per capita income fell by nearly 5 percent annually between 1974 and 1990. However, since 1991 the government has initiated a series of ambitious market-orientated reforms and sought to improve macroeconomic management.
In recent years, spurred by growth in the copper, agriculture, tourism and construction sectors, Zambia’s economic performance has improved and the economy is enjoying modest growth of around 5% per annum.
Zambia reached the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) completion point in April 2005, which means that Zambia will not need to pay back around 6.6 billion that it had previously borrowed from other countries and international banks. This means that money that would have been used to pay back loans is now available to the Government to spend on health and education and other priority sectors. It is also hoped that this will send a powerful signal to foreign as well as domestic investors that the country is on a sound macroeconomic footing and is a viable and credible investment destination.
Despite the introduction of a free basic education policy, school enrolment is still compromised by poverty, lack of school places and the long distances that children in rural areas have to walk to school.