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Kenneth Kaunda: The Exemplary Life of an African Statesman

Highly respected African statesman, Kenneth Kaunda passed away at  97, on the 18th of June 2021. Zambian President Edgar Lungu revealed this and declared 21 days of national mourning in honour of the “loving founding father” of Zambia


Kenneth Kaunda, popularly known as KK was a courageous leader who actively participated in the independence movement of Zambia. He was also the country’s first president. The huge impact he made in the political life of his country is one reason he cannot be forgotten among the Zambian people and the world in general.


He was called the liberation leader who guided his country through a victorious and traumatic chapter in history. Kaunda rose to continental relevance during Africa’s turbulent post-independence era when dozens of former European colonies were granted independence. He was the president of Zambia, from independence in 1964 until 1991.


Kenneth Buchizya Kaunda was born on April 28, 1924, in Lubwa Northern Province of Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, to Malawian parents in the hills of the Luangwa-Zambezi River basin. His father was David Kaunda, a prominent Church of Scotland African missionary who died when Kaunda was eight years old. His mother was a teacher who, despite her poverty, was able to save enough money to send him to school. He was the eighth child of his parents, born in the twentieth year of his parent’s marriage.

Kaunda began his political career as an organizer in 1950 and swiftly climbed to the head of the anti-colonial liberation movement, and was later elected president of the United National Independence Party in 1960. (UNIP). A few of prejudice experiences informed his fight against the white race. One of such experiences was that Africans were not permitted to enter European stores through the front doors and had to go through the hole in the wall if they wanted anything. For Kenneth, equality was a major part of his vision for a contemporary Zambia, a nation with dozens of languages and races. ” He was an ardent advocate of Zambia’s national slogan, ‘One Zambia, One Nation.'” “Because he was able to create a nation out of a diverse group of nationalities and dialects. And not just in Zambia, but on the African continent as a whole, this has been quite a feat.” According to Dr. Emmanuel Matambo, a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg.A popular quote by Kenneth Kaduna states that “The inability of those in power to still the voices of their own consciences is the great force leading to change”.


Kaunda was instrumental in ensuring that other African countries obtained freedom from Western colonialists. Military outposts, training camps, refugee centers, and administrative offices were established in Zambia by liberation forces from Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe under his administration. In a statement made by Ghana-based lawyer Sarfo Abebrese, head of the Coalition of Supporters Unions of Africa, “Kaunda influence extends far beyond Zambia’s borders”. His fight against colonialism could be attributed to the likes of Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Sam Nujoma, and others who delivered independence to southern African states, much as Kwame Nkrumah did in West Africa,” He stated, “Kenneth Kaunda was in southern Africa at the same time that Kwame Nkrumah was in West Africa. His legacy is eternal, not just for a lifetime.”

For the aftermath of colonialization, Kenneth’s administration adopted the Zambian humanism ideology in 1967. It was a type of ideology that fused Traditional African values with socialist values and Christian ideas from the west. The choice of this philosophy was founded on the fact that Africa has always had a lot of indigenous socialism that colonialists wanted to eradicate, therefore Zambian humanism was an attempt to save pre-colonial values and traditions and use them as a foundation for the contemporary state.


For Kenneth, in every moment of violence, the oppressed have three options either quiet resistance, succumbing to oppression, or openly revolting against it. According to Kaduna, suffering from oppression is unethical and unworthy of any self-respecting individual. Open revolution, on the other hand, frequently results in the deaths of numerous individuals, including those who seek freedom. As a result, he opted to choose the third method, passive resistance, nonviolence, or constructive action. Kenneth quoted thus, “Our major weapon was words, thousands and thousands of words, written and spoken to unite our people, to lay our demands before the British Government and the world, to convey our rage and frustration at the denial of our birthright to run our own country”.


For instance, In July 1961, Kaunda organized the Cha-cha-cha campaign, which took place in Zambia’s Northern Province (then known as Northern Rhodesia), which he engaged various forms of civil disobedience including strikes, setting significant buildings or areas on fire, blocking roads, boycotts, and marches. This he used in Lusaka and around the country. Kenneth took his inspiration for the protests from India’s Mahatma Gandhi. The cha-cha-cha campaign was called after the popular dance of the early 1960s, and it symbolized Britain’s willingness to “face the music” of Zambian independence. Kaunda also referred to as the African Gandhi, led Northern Rhodesia to independence in October 1964.


Even though he could no longer run for president, Kaunda maintained his activist spirit. After publicly announcing that one of his sons had died of AIDS, he began to sanitize the public about AIDS. Public HIV test was encouraged to persuade Zambia’s public officials and regular individuals to be publicly tested to instil trust and fight the epidemic. Kaunda was described as of one of the few African presidents who took a public stand against HIV/AIDS early.


“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived; it is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”……. Nelson MandelaKenneth Kaunda indeed lived a 97 years’ life filled with remarkable achievements which cut across every part of the world, which people can draw vital lessons from


He outlawed political parties and reigned in a one-party state for 27 years. Zambians supported his benevolent one-party rule for the majority of this time. However, the collapse of copper prices and the rise in oil prices wrecked the economy, and he was forced to take responsibility. Under public pressure, he staged elections in 1991 to restore the multiparty system, but he was soundly defeated. But unlike, other African leaders in similar situations, Kaunda congratulated his opponent and gave up power peacefully, making him one of the first major African leaders to do

Furthermore, he was a fearless African leader, who was committed to fighting for liberation at all costs and willing to pay the sacrifices that comes with it. For instance, Gandhi’s austerity inspired him to become a non-drinker and non-smoker, and he gave up eating meat because, in colonial times, persons of colour had to purchase at a different window at the butcher’s. Kaunda was able to amass enormous and unequalled experiences that became a self-contained institution. Nations of the world today can still tap from his knowledge, actions, and words. 

Categories: Features, In Memoriam