Perhaps as a response to foreign intrusions in southern Africa, Shaka of the Zulu, and Nguni clan, set about creating a centralised militaristic state in the early 19th century. Surrounding peoples who did not voluntarily agree to absorbtions in the growing Zulu empire had no option but to flee for survival. Three of these groups were to make a forceful impact on Zambia, 1500 km to the north of the Zulu heartland in eastern South Africa.

One of these was a Sotho clan from today’s Orange Free State: its leader was Sebitwane and he named his people Kololo after his favourite wife. Another was Mzilikazi, one of Shaka’s generals who quarreled with him and moved away. After being defeated by the Dutch settlers in the Transvaal, he and his Ndebele invaded and conquered Western Zimbabwe.

The third, like Mzilikazi an Nguni, was Zongendaba. He led his followers out of Shaka’s domains in the 1820’s. These Ngoni (as they are known today) crossed the Zambezi in 1835 and went northwards as far as Lake Tanganyika where they settled for a while among the Bemba. In 1865, under Zongendaba’s successor Mpenzeni I, they established themselves permanently in what is now Zambia’s Eastern Province.

Mzilikazi conquered Zimbabwe in 1837, while Sebitwane has crossed the Zambezi a few years previously and taken over territory just north of the Victoria Falls. From there he marched west to conquer the Lozi kingdom of the Upper Zambezi and founded his Kololo state.

It would be a mistake to talk of Zambia at this time as a ‘country’. The area defined by the present boundaries was occupied by various kingdoms, for example the Bemba, the Lunda, the Kololo, the Chewa, the last much weakened by Ngoni pillaging. It has been argued that these entities, if left alone, could have developed into 20th Century nation states – central African Bhutans or Swazilands. But there are no ifs in history.