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File picture of Zambia's first President, Kenneth Kaunda. File picture of Zambia's first President, Kenneth Kaunda. 

Zambia’s first President, Kenneth Kaunda, has died.

Zambia’s founding President, Kenneth Kaunda, has died, aged 97.

Paul Samasumo - Vatican City.

The death of Zambia’s founding president was confirmed by the country’s Secretary to the Cabinet of Zambia, Dr Simon Miti, in the Zambian capital of Lusaka.

Dr Kaunda died Thursday. There was speculation that he may have died of Covid-19 given a third wave now devastating Zambia. However, the government said Kaunda tested negative of Covid-19 and that he died of pneumonia.

Several heads of state and government in Africa have paid tribute to Dr Kaunda, described by many as a charismatic leader and statesmen. Zambian President, Edgar Lungu, declared 21 days of national mourning while neighbouring Botswana declared 7 days.

Last surviving OAU founder, statesman and liberator

Dr Kaunda ruled Zambia from 1964 to 1991 when he conceded defeat to the Movement for Multiparty Democracy. By conceding and accepting defeat at the polls, Kaunda’s action distinguished him from other African leaders. He set a precedent that many African leaders are still struggling to emulate. The continent is replete with contested presidential elections.

Kaunda was the last surviving founder of the Organisation of African Union OAU (OAU), now known as the African Union (AU). He was a dedicated pan Africanist committed to ending colonial rule in Africa. He played a crucial role in the liberation of southern African countries.

As chairman of a group of six African frontline heads of states, Dr Kaunda galvanised these countries to oppose the Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), apartheid in South Africa and several other southern African countries still under colonial rule.

Dr Kaunda’s commitment to the liberation struggle especially in sothern Africa came at a great economic cost to Zambia. Nevertheless, it was a sacrifice that Kaunda said time and again was worth making because Zambia could not be free until all of southern Africa was liberated. South Africa’s liberation movement and others were beneficiaries of Kaunda’s benevolence. The African National Congress of South Africa, for example, had its headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia.

Early years

Dr Kaunda led the struggle for liberation until Northern Rhodesia attained political independence from the British government on 24 October 1964, and the country was renamed Zambia. Affectionately known throughout his life as “KK”, Kaunda served as President of Zambia for 27 years before being defeated in an election held in October 1991 following the reintroduction to multiparty politics.

Born Kenneth David Buchizya Kaunda on 28 April 1924, in the north of Zambia at Lubwa Mission near Chinsali, Kaunda’s father, David Julizya Kaunda, was an ordained Church of Scotland missionary and a teacher. In fact, both Kaunda’s father and mother were teachers. Kaunda’s father settled in Zambia in 1904 from then Nyasaland (now Malawi).

Struggle for Zambia’s independence

Kaunda was a teacher who decided to join politics in the early 1950s as a member of the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress. Later he broke away to form in October 1958 the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC). Because of its vibrancy, ZANC was banned in March 1959 by the British colonial government. However, in a coalition with its rival, Kaunda’s new party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) and the African National Congress party (ANC) of Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, together campaigned and agitated to finally attain independence from the British government in October 1964.

Kaunda in post-independent Zambia

As President of a new Zambia, Kaunda sought to unite Zambia under the “One Zambia One Nation” motto and through appointments to national positions in what came to be known as ‘tribal balancing.’ Zambia has 73 ethnic tribes, most of which are Bantu-speaking.

Shortly after October 1964, Dr Kaunda’s government embarked on ambitious national development projects to construct schools, hospitals and roads. These projects were disrupted by the rise in oil prices, the slump in copper prices on the international market, and Zambia's rising international debt. Copper was for many decades the major foreign exchange earner for Zambia. Kaunda’s government nationalised the mining industry, and the economy was highly centralised, which resulted in the increased cost of living. And when one-party states were common in Africa at the time, Zambia also followed suit until public outcry and protests led to the reintroduction of multiparty politics, in 1991.  

Kaunda: The Church and Humanism

As a son of a reverend, Kaunda was always a religious person and maintained good relations with the Church. He encouraged the freedom of worship, and under his rule, churches thrived. In part, this was because Churches were, in fact, assisting the government’s development agenda of providing education and health care delivery to citizens.

Kaunda generally enjoyed harmonious relations with various denominations in the country. His government introduced the philosophy of Humanism which promoted the centrality of the human person in all activities. Kaunda’s philosophy of Humanism for Zambia, tinged with socialism, was initially well received by the citizens, but as the country’s economy nosedived, Humanism was abandoned when Kaunda lost power in 1991.

Father of the nation

After leaving office, Kaunda became an anti-AIDS activist through his Kenneth Kaunda Foundation Children for Africa. He lost one of his sons to AIDS. In the twilight of his life, Dr Kaunda was actively sought after for speaking engagements, advice, and inspiration by various civic and non-governmental organisations in Zambia, Africa and beyond. In his death, Kaunda will forever be fondly remembered and referred to as “the “Father of the Nation.” 



18 June 2021, 00:01