This study sought to assess mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) diversity and phylogeographic structure of chickens from five agro-ecological zones of Zimbabwe. Furthermore, chickens from Zimbabwe were compared with populations from other geographical regions (Malawi, Sudan and Germany) and other management systems (broiler and layer purebred lines). Finally, haplotypes of these animals were aligned to chicken sequences, taken from GenBank, that reflected populations of presumed centres of domestication. A 455-bp fragment of the mtDNA D-loop region was sequenced in 283 chickens of 14 populations. Thirty-two variable sites that defined 34 haplotypes were observed. In Zimbabwean chickens, diversity within ecotypes accounted for 96.8% of the variation, indicating little differentiation between ecotypes. The 34 haplotypes clustered into three clades that corresponded to (i) Zimbabwean and Malawian chickens, (ii) broiler and layer purebred lines and Northwest European chickens, and (iii) a mixture of chickens from Zimbabwe, Sudan, Northwest Europe and the purebred lines. Diversity among clades explained more than 80% of the total variation. Results indicated the existence of two distinct maternal lineages evenly distributed among the five Zimbabwean chicken ecotypes. For one of these lineages, chickens from Zimbabwe and Malawi shared major haplotypes with chicken populations that have a Southeast Asian background. The second maternal lineage, probably from the Indian subcontinent, was common to the five Zimbabwean chicken ecotypes, Sudanese and Northwest European chickens as well as purebred broiler and layer chicken lines. A third maternal lineage excluded Zimbabwean and other African chickens and clustered with haplotypes presumably originating from South China.