Kenneth David Kaunda – The Father of Zambia

Written by | Africa, Icons, See Africa

Kenneth Kaunda

On Thursday the 17th of June 2021, Kenneth David Kaunda the emancipator and champion of Zambia’s Independence passed at the age of 97. Nearly a centenarian, Kaunda is widely revered as not only the liberator of Zambia but one of the legends of the African Decolonization and Independence struggle.

Kenneth David Kaunda was born on April 28, 1924, at Lubwa Mission near Chinsali in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). His father was a minister and teacher who had left Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1904, and his mother was the first African woman to teach in colonial Zambia. Both of Kenneth’s parents taught among the Bemba ethnic group in northern Zambia. There, young Kaunda received his early education, completing secondary school in the early 19 and I 40s. Like the majority of Africans in colonial Zambia who achieved some measure of middle-class status, he also began to teach, first in colonial Zambia and in the middle 1940s in Tanganyika (now Tanzania).

Kaunda returned to Zambia in 1949. He joined the African National Congress (ANC), the first major anti-colonial organization in Northern Rhodesia. In the early 1950s, Kaunda became the ANC’s secretary-general, functioning as its chief organizing officer, a role that brought him into close contact with the movement’s rank and file. He broke with Nkumbula the party leader and became president of the Zambia African National Congress from 1958 through 1959.

Kaunda used the new organization to forge a militant policy against the British plan for a federation of the three central African colonies—Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland. African leaders opposed and feared any such federation because it would tend to place ultimate power in the hands of a white minority of settlers. Kaunda soon engaged in “Positive Non-Violent Action”. This Civil Disobedience campaign was known as the “Cha-Cha” Campaign and Kaunda was inspired by his visit to Martin Luther King Jr. The participants in this campaign engaged in arson and blocking major roadways. This led to the imprisonment of Kaunda and other militant leaders for 9 years. However, the imprisonment elevated them to the status of national heroes in the eyes of the people. This created nationwide support of Zambia’s independence movement and the dominant status of Kenneth Kaunda.

Kenneth Kaunda
Kenneth Kaunda met with Martin Luther King in 1960

Kaunda was released from prison by the colonial government on January 8, 1960. At the end of that month, he was elected president of the United National Independence Party (UNIP). In December 1960 the British colonial authorities invited Kaunda and several other UNIP leaders to participate in discussions on the status of the three colonies at a conference in London. Early in the following year, the British government announced that formal decolonization of Zambia would commence.

Through a series of elections and negotiations with the colonial government, Kaunda rose through the ranks and the Zambian independence struggle became more of a reality. On Oct. 30, 1962, he was elected to the Legislative Council. Kaunda started playing a continental role in 1963 when he became President of the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa. In 1964 he was appointed Prime Minister and, later the same year, became the first President of independent Zambia.

At Independence, Kaunda was celebrated as Zambia’s one true hero and his charm continued for some time before the people began to be disenchanted by their national father. Like other African leaders, Kaunda faced many complex post-independence problems, especially the issue of tribalism. He succeeded in continuing to negotiate on this issue, saving Zambia from the trauma of tribal civil war. Nevertheless, interparty political violence occurred during the elections of 1968, in which Kaunda and his party were returned to power. In response, he imposed a one-party rule on Zambia in 1972, and in 1973 he introduced a new constitution that ensured his party’s uncontested rule.

In the 1970s Kaunda’s government employed a system like the Nigerian system where the country relied on the export of one raw material Copper for her economy. The government was focused on copper production and neglected agriculture. Soon copper prices dropped and an economic crisis loomed. In foreign affairs, Kaunda led other countries of southern Africa in confronting the white-minority governments of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. He imposed economic sanctions against Rhodesia in the 1970s at great cost to his country’s own economy, and in the late 1970s, he allowed Zambia to be used as a base by black nationalist guerrillas led by Joshua Nkomo

By the late 1980s, there was much public dissatisfaction mounting and credible political opposition in the process of formation. Kaunda in 1990 legalized opposition parties and set the stage for free, multiparty elections in 1991. In the elections, held late that year, Kaunda and the UNIP were defeated by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in a landslide. Kaunda’s successor, Frederick Chiluba, took office on November 2, 1991.

Kaunda played a vital role in the independence of the Southern region

Post Presidency, Kaunda and Chiluba had clashes so much that Kaunda planned to run against him in 1996 before constitutional amends made him ineligible. On December 25, 1997, Kaunda was arrested on charges of inciting an attempted coup that had occurred earlier that year in October. He was released six days later, but he was placed under house arrest until all charges were withdrawn in June 1998.

Kaunda received several awards and has quite a number of achievements to his name asides Presidency. IN 2002 Kaunda was appointed the Balfour African President-in-Residence at Boston University in the United States, a position he held until 2004. In 2003 he was awarded the Grand Order of the Eagle in Zambia by Chiluba’s successor, Pres. Levy Mwanawasa. Kaunda also received the 2007 Ubuntu Award. Kaunda is also recognized for his efforts in fighting HIV after one of his children allegedly died from the disease. In 1991, he founded the Kenneth Kaunda Peace Foundation which is dedicated to the establishment of peace and conflict resolution on the Continent. He has several Roads and a Municipality, named after him, in South Africa and Windhoek. The Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, in the capital city Lusaka, also pays tribute to Kenneth Kaunda. He was also regarded as an educational hero and was the first chancellor of the University of Zambia where he officiated the first convocation.

Kaunda will be fondly remembered for the part he played in the Independence of not just Zambia but entire Southern Africa. He is the last to die of a crop of African Liberators. He was an African icon.

Last modified: June 24, 2021

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