DiA’s own Professor Nic Cheeseman and Sishuwa Sishuwa have written a political obituary of Zambia’s “founding father” and first president Kenneth Kaunda, who has died aged 97.
They reflect on his achievements, challenges and how he will be remembered.
Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s “founding father” and first president, has died in a military hospital in Lusaka where he was being treated for pneumonia. Aged 97, he was the last of the generation of leaders who secured independence for their countries from colonial rule and went on to govern through their own distinctive political and economic philosophies. Like the continent’s other “philosopher kings” — Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Senegal’s Leopold Senghor — Kaunda’s vision for Zambia’s post-colonial future left a profound imprint on society that lasted well beyond his time in power.
He will be remembered variously as …
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“But Kaunda took a different path, and in so doing revived his reputation. UNIP tried to manipulate the elections but without the repression seen in places such as Kenya and Togo. The result was a landslide defeat, after which Kaunda gracefully accepted defeat and congratulated his successor.”
“The relatively poor performance of the leaders who succeeded him only served to boost his political rehabilitation. His immediate replacement, Frederick Chiluba, stole hundreds of millions of dollars and tried to use the fact that Kaunda had Malawian ancestry to claim he was not really Zambian and bar him from contesting the 1996 general election. Viewed against the backdrop of current President Edgar Lungu, who stands accused of dividing the country while mishandling the economy and rigging elections, Kaunda’s record appears to be considerably more impressive.”
“The memory of Kaunda as a nation-builder will also be sustained by the contrast between his manner and the brash style of the contemporary political class. Despite being a national liberation hero, Kaunda never lost his human touch…..it was characteristic of Kaunda that at a time when so many of Africa’s elite fly to the United States or India for medical treatment, he was treated and died in a Zambian hospital.”
All the above quotes go show that it is possible for a leader, whose reputation has been sullied by vagaries of human nature, to be salvaged by simple acts of putting the interests of the nation before personal interests. They also show that he was a mere man like the rest of African leaders, but one who was brave enough to do the right thing when destiny demanded it. I grew up with beguiling stories about his exploits in Zambia and Africa. I join all Zambians in mourning his passing. May he rest in peace.