Zambia

Institutionalization of Ethnic Categories

Key Dates
Details/Documentation

Sources

Key Dates

  • 1888: Northern Rhodesia becomes a British colony
  • 1964: Zambia gains independence

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Details/Documentation

Race

As in other British colonies in southern African, race was institutionalized under colonial rule, but clearly to a lesser degree than in the more extreme cases (i.e. South Africa, Southern Rhodesia). Since independence, we find almost no use of race categories in state institutions.

Race information was not collected systematically on the census prior to independence, and census data was mainly collected for non-Africans, though this in itself reflects a source of category institutionalization in our framework. Race was not enumerated in the 1969 census, and in subsequent censuses, the respondent’s race was indicated only if the question of ethnic tribe question could not be answered.

Under colonial rule, institutions made clear distinctions between Europeans and Natives or Africans, though again not to the extent found in the extreme cases of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. For example, Africans were not allowed to participate in legislative councils. The state maintained different alcohol laws across the European/African divide (Ambler 1990). However, we have not found evidence of any extreme forms of job reservation, pass laws, etc.

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Language

We categorize the institutionalization of language and broad ethno-cultural categories as weak throughout the colonial and independence periods because of limited and inconsistent use. As shown in appendix 1, Posner (2004) and the EPR dataset identify different sets of politically relevant ethnic groups, which suggests a higher level of ambiguity created by such institutions.

Posner (2003: 132) notes that four languages: Bemba, Nyanja, Tongo and Lozi were made official for the purposes of instruction under a 1927 colonial edict, and this was surely important, as he argues, for linguistic consolidation and the political relevance of those language groups. On the other hand, since independence, English was declared the national language (persisting in article 1 of the 1991 constitution) and has been the primary mode of instruction in Zambian schools since 1965 (Linehan 2004: 2). By the mid-1990s, amidst dissatisfaction with the quality of education, perhaps because of the English mode of instruction, education policy made room for instruction in local languages, but now there were 7 official Zambian languages of instruction (Linehan 2004: 8).

We also do not find other evidence of rigid institutionalization of ethno-linguistic categories. While the colonial-administered census enumerated Africans by language in the 1931 census, there was subsequently no language question on the 1946 census; and in none of the censuses or official sample surveys of the 1950s do we find a language question.

After independence, the state varied from decade-to-decade in its approach to ethnicity. The 1969 census asked about language but not ethnic group; the 1974 census asked about ethnic group, but not language; the 1980 census asked about ethnic group, and about both “Mother tongue,” and “language of communication”; in 1990, the census again asked about ethnicity, and “language of communication,” but discontinued “mother tongue,” and finally in the 2000 census, which again asked about ethnicity, the questionnaire asked for “Predominant language,” and “second language.” All of this is consequential because as Wimmer, Cederman, and Min (2009) and Posner (2004, 2005) highlight, in Zambia, some ethnic groups are identifiable by language spoken, others by attachment to an ethno-cultural group. In our framework, these changes reflect weak institutionalization of categories.

Ethnic politics tended to be played more informally. For instance, the Nyanja may have been informally favored by the British under colonial rule (Levinson 1998: 179).

However, one important source of institutionalization of an ethnic category was the granting of autonomy to Barotseland – claimed as a Lozi homeland — particularly in the 1900 Lewanika treaty under British rule. While Barotseland never achieved the protectorate status of other territories in the region (Bechuanaland, for example), the British were fairly consistent in recognizing the autonomy of the Barotse/Lozi rulers. As Zambia was becoming independent, there was some question about whether Barotseland would emerge as its own independent state, but Lozi and nationalist elites negotiated incorporation into a unitary state. (Minorities at Risk Project 2009).

Continuing calls for greater Lozi/Barotseland autonomy, which have been rejected by the government, have been a source of tension (Chilaizya 1995).

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Religion

Questions asking about religious categories were on the 1931, 1946, and 2000 censuses only.

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Caste

None found

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Indigenous

None found

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Other ethnic, including tribe

None found

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Sources

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