Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda Dies--Africa loses last of original Pan African giants

Kaunda
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Kaunda shown with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. back in the day. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Zambia’s founding president and Africa’s foremost statesman Kenneth Kaunda who moved Africa and the world’s political centre ground has died. He was 97.

Dr. Kaunda was hospitalized this week at a military hospital in the capital Lusaka after battling pneumonia. The pan African icon ruled Zambia from 1964, when the country won its independence from Britain, until 1991. The African statesman and anti-colonial icon who was affectionately called KK, Kenneth Kaunda, like many independence leaders, came to power with a passionate ideological anti–imperialism drive and agenda.

He was one of the continent’s last few men standing when it comes to Africa’s surviving liberation heroes. Earlier this week, his administrative assistant Rodrick Ngolo said that Kaunda had been feeling unwell and had been admitted to the Maina Soko Medical Centre in Lusaka.

“His Excellency Dr. Kaunda is requesting all Zambians and the international community to pray for him as the medical team is doing everything to ensure he recovers,” the statement said. News about his passing away filtering in from Zambia has plunged the entire Southern Africa region into mourning a great man who was at the frontline of the liberation of Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Namibia– the last countries to secure freedom from colonial rule.

Earlier this week, Zambian president Edgar Lungu urged the nation to pray for the former president so that “God may touch him with his healing hand”.

“He stood up for this great nation at its most critical moment, and so we can all stand up for him in his moment of weakness,” Lungu said on his Facebook page. 

Kaunda, a  leader of the Frontline States, together with Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, made Zambia a springboard for major liberation movements in the struggle against white racist minority rule in Southern African countries, including Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The Pan African legend and hero took a bold stance and allowed the armed organizations to maintain military bases, training camps, refugee centers and administrative offices despite the massive risks against apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia.

As leader of the main nationalist party, United National Independence Party (UNIP), KK, was the architect of the “One Zambia, One Nation” motto which became a rallying force for the unification of Zambia and the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union.

 At independence, Kaunda offered the Zambian nation his Humanist philosophy, a set of overarching principles that would guide the building of a post - colonial society. Like Nyerere’s Ujamaa or Kwame Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism, Kaunda’s Humanism helped bolster his image as a moral statesman and visionary and gave him credence in his ideological struggles both at home and internationally.

Humanism offered Zambians the promise of a progressive and moral post-colonial society. He was active throughout his retirement and continued to play a mediatory role for political disputes in Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In addition, Kaunda also played an active role in the fight against the Aids pandemic. He was a unique and rare leader who openly announced publicly one of his sons had died from the illness. As an African statesman, KK contributed to a new self-conscious construction of a Zambian and African identity, shaped around the pan African voice against injustice, exploitation and racial discrimination.

He will be remembered for his political writings on the doctrine of “Humanism in Zambia” which offered alternative voices aiming to give particular interpretations of Zambian and African colonial and post-colonial history. Kaunda’s Humanism helped bolster his image as a moral statesman and visionary and gave him credence in his ideological struggles both at home and internationally.

Kaunda was born at Lubwa Mission in Chinsali in what was then Northern Rhodesia. The youngest of eight children of a Church of Scotland minister, Kaunda was a teacher by training like his parents.

He was at the forefront of the struggle for independence, first joining the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress in 1951.

Eight years later, he broke away from that party and founded the Zambian African National Congress, which was banned and resurfaced a few years later as the United National Independence Party – UNIP.

Kaunda became president of that party and won a landslide victory in Zambia’s first elections in 1964. He became the first president of Zambia after his country gained independence from Britain in 1964.

His rule faced criticism and opposition for his socialist policies and for declaring Zambia a one-party state in 1968. This outlawed opposition politics. Other opponents criticized him for nationalizing Zambia’s mines, a factor that led to the collapse of the country’s economic lifeline.

The economic turmoil that came in the mid-1980s with IMF structural adjustment policies and growing political opposition later forced him out of power when Frederick Chiluba of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) won multiparty elections in 1991. He bowed down gracefully and won wide applause for this.

KK has been honored by all southern African countries. He received the highest awards in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and several others.

He also received numerous accolades in Africa and across the world, capping a great career in politics. Africa has lost a great son. One Africa, One Continent!

Sifelani Tsiko is a veteran journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe sifelani11@gmail.com

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