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Assessment for Bemba in Zambia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Bemba in Zambia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 24 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Zambia Facts
Area:    752,614 sq. km.
Capital:    Lusaka
Total Population:    10,307,000 (source: CIA World Factbook, 2003, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Bemba are unlikely to engage in sustained protest or rebellion in the near future. As the dominant ethnic group in Zambia, the largest risks for contentious action arise from various intragroup tensions and contested ascendance to the chief positions in some areas. For example in 2002 Chief Mukwikile incited a mob to beat James Myeleka who tried to assume the throne. This intragroup tension threatens the group's cohesiveness. To further add to the problem of highly contested seats of power within the group is the fact that the government will sometimes recognize a chief who is different from the one whom the villagers recognize. At the 2001 Women for Change Worshop, Makasa was denied entrance because while he was the government-recognized chief, the Bemba Royal Establishment recognized Chileshe Mwamba as chief. However, the advantaged political position of the Bemba diminishes their risk of rebellion and protest.

Analytic Summary

The Bemba in Zambia live mainly in the northeast and in the copper belt (GROUPCON = 2). They have migrated throughout the country over time to pursue economic interests (MIGRANT = 3), so they are also found in other parts of the state. The Bemba are one of four historical kingdoms in Zambia (TRADITN = 1). They have their own language, Bemba (LANG = 1), but they do not have different social customs than the majority of Zambians (CUSTOM = 0).

Zambia was colonized by the British in 1899 and gained independence in 1964. The United National Independence Party (UNIP) led by Kenneth Kaunda came to power at independence. It was considered a Bemba party despite the fact that Kaunda tried to hold the country together by de-emphasizing ethnic ties. UNIP stayed in power with Kaunda as party and state president until 1991 when multi-party elections were held for the first time. Frederick Chiluba, a Bemba, was elected from the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD). He has been widely criticized for favoring fellow Bemba in his cabinet and many non-Bemba perceive the north to have a political hold on the country (ATRISK3 = 1).

The Bemba do not suffer from any demographic disadvantages, and as the politically advantaged group, they do not suffer from any form of discrimination (POLDIS03 = 0, ECDIS03 = 0) or repression. Therefore, they have limited grievances. Of note, traditional Bemba leaders want the government to stay out of their affairs. In 1999, there was verbal protest in favor of giving Bemba chiefs more say regarding land and resources (PROT99 = 1). And in 2000, there was protest against the government's appointment of a Bemba chief outside of traditional channels (PROT00 = 1). However, between 2001 and 2003, there was no further evidence of protest by the Bemba (PROT01-03 = 0).

The Movement for Multi-Party Democracy is the group's main representative (GOJPA03 = 2). It is difficult to say how many Bemba actually support the party. When attempting to pursue group interests, the group is aided by a sense of group identity, albeit a weak one (COHESX9 = 4), and a lack of violent intra-group conflict (INTRACON2 = 0). The group has also not had to deal with any violent inter-group conflict (INTERCON2 = 0) despite the resentment over perceived Bemba advantages.


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Zambia, A Country Study. 1979. Washington: American University.

Munyima, Munukayumbwa. "One Zambia, One Nation." The Post (Zambia)- AAGM. 24 Apr. 2003.

"Zambia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." (2001-2003) United States Department of State.

Sichalwe, Noel. "High Court Confirms Chief Mukwikile's Imprisonment." The Post (Zambia)- AAGM. 17 June 2003.

"Zambia; Mob Batters Bemba Chief's Son Over Throne." The Post. Africa News. 12 June 2002.

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