A landlocked country in central Africa, Zambia occupies an elevated plateau, flanked in the south by the Zambezi River—and Victoria Falls. There are more than 70 ethnic groups, and most of them live in Lusaka, the capital, or in the cities of the Copperbelt—the two largest, Ndola and Kitwe, have more than 400,000 people each. It is one of sub-Saharan Africa's most highly urbanized countries.

Endowed with huge copper reserves and fertile farmland, Zambia looked to the future with optimism after independence from Britain in 1964. But copper prices plummeted in the mid-1970s, and transport costs soared. The economy has been in decline ever since, and copper, vital to Zambia's economy, suffers from declining prices.

Farming will become increasingly important; only a fifth of the arable land is cultivated. Thundering Victoria Falls and other power sources bring self-sufficiency in hydroelectricity.

Zambia's first multiparty elections in 19 years were held in 1991, in which President Frederick Chiluba was elected. He won reelection in 1996, but international observers cited harassment of opposition parties. A coup was attempted in 1997 but suppressed, and there were alleged voting irregularities in the 2001 elections.

More than 70 percent of Zambians live in poverty, and unemployment is a serious problem. Zambia depends on copper for most of its foreign earnings so the economy suffers when copper prices decline. AIDS is blamed for decimating the cream of Zambian professionals, including engineers and political leaders. It kills around 100,000 people each year.