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Kenneth Kaunda:

The Last African Liberation Giant Goes Home

By Emmanuel Mensah-Abludo

June 28, 2020 


Kenneth Kaunda



Kenneth Kaunda: The last African Liberation giant goes home

Long after he left office as president, Mr Kaunda continued to be warmly received in African countries because of his role in allowing liberation movements to have bases in Lusaka.

By Emmanuel Mensah-Abludo    

Barely a week ago, the last of the giants of African liberation struggle in the past century, Kenneth David Kaunda, Zambian President (1964-1991), finished his earthly journey. He joined the ancestors at a advanced age of 97 at a military hospital in the Zambian capital Lusaka. Mr Kaunda was admitted on Monday, June 14, 2021, suffering from pneumonia, and passed on June 17.

When the soul of the nonagenarian freedom fighter, Mr Kaunda, departed to the mercy of God on that fateful day, the shockwaves of the news of his passing left many with sadness and teary eyes, in the African homeland specifically and across the world. From North to South and from the East to the West, tributes poured in for the statesman described as “the last giant of 20th century African nationalism.”

The brevity and mystery of death

Every soul shall taste death as a logical sequence of completing the cycle of life but we cannot tell when we will take our last breath. Even when death is imminent due to circumstance(s) of life, we cannot say or predict the exact time. This is the mystery the Supreme Being has attached to life for reasons best known to Him.

Those of us of the Catholic faith are solemnly reminded on Ash Wednesday(s) of the brevity of life as the ashes are administered to us with the ‘rendition’: “remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). From the Qur’an: “And We made not immortality for any man before you; then if you die, can they live forever?” “Every soul shall taste death. We try you with good and evil [in this life], and in the end you shall return to Us” (Surah Al-Anbiya, verses 34-35).

Clean Reputation

As a former President of Zambia, Mr Kaunda left office with his reputation still intact. But perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, the standing of the man who ruled over Zambia for 27 years is clouded with ambiguity.


The charismatic president, who won accolades for bowing out peacefully after losing an election, was also the authoritarian who introduced a one-party state. The pioneer of “African socialism” was the man, who cut a supply-side deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The revolutionary who gave sanctuary to liberation movements was also a friend of presidents, of U.S., the hegemon at the forefront of Global North’s domination of the long-disadvantaged Global South.

He exuded an image of the benign monarch, a much-loved father to his people, known for his endearing styles – safari suits, waving white handkerchiefs, ballroom dancing, singing his own songs while cycling, and crying in public. And yet there was also a hard edge to the politics and persona of the man, whose powerful personality helped make Zambia a major player in Africa and the world for three decades.

Birth and early years

Mr Kaunda was born in Chinsali, Northern Zambia, on April 28, 1924. Like so many of his generation of African liberation leaders, he came from a family of the mission-educated middle class. He was the youngest of eight children. His father was a Presbyterian missionary-teacher and his mother was the first qualified African woman teacher in the country.

Teacher and admirer of Nyerere

He followed his parents’ profession, first in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia – now part of Zambia), where he became a head teacher before his 21st birthday. He also taught in then Tanganyika (Tanzania), where he became a lifelong admirer of future president Julius Nyerere, whose “Ujamaa” brand of African socialism he tried to follow.

After returning home, Mr Kaunda campaigned against the British plan for a federation of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which would increase the powers of white settlers. He took up politics full-time, learning the ropes through working for the liberal Legislative Council member, Stewart Gore-Browne.


Soon after, as secretary general of the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress, he was jailed for two months with hard labour for distributing “subversive literature”.

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), which had been formed in October 1959 by Mainza Chona, a militant nationalist, who was disenchanted with the older ANC. The UNIP enjoyed spectacular growth, claiming 300,000 members by June 1960.

The UNIP’s success was attributed overwhelmingly to the leadership of Mr Kaunda. He had been astute both in allaying the European settlers’ fears that an African regime would unfairly disregard their interests.

He travelled to America and met Martin Luther King. Inspired by King and Mahatma Gandhi, he launched the “Cha-cha-cha” civil disobedience campaign.

In 1962, encouraged by Mr Kaunda’s moves to pacify the white settlers, the British acceded to self-rule, followed by full independence two years later. He emerged as the first Zambian president after UNIP won the election.

Selfless contributions to liberation struggles

Long after he left office as president, Mr Kaunda continued to be warmly received in African countries because of his role in allowing liberation movements to have bases in Lusaka. This came at considerable economic cost to his country.

Forging of partnerships

Mr Kaunda helped lead the Non-Aligned Movement, which brought together states that did not align with either the Soviets or the Americans during the Cold War. He forged alliances with those who showed an interest in Zambia, including Romania’s Nicolai Ceausescu and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, while also cultivating successive American presidents (having more success with Jimmy Carter than Ronald Reagan). He invited China to help build the Tazara Railway and bought 16 MIG-21 fighter jets from the Soviet Union in 1980.

African humanism

Mr Kaunda’s economic policy was framed by his belief in what he called “African humanism” but also by necessity. He inherited an economy under foreign control and moved to remedy this. For example, the mines owned by the British South African Company [BSAC] (founded by Cecil Rhodes) were acquired as a result of colonial conquest in 1890. Mr Kaunda’s threats to nationalise without compensation prompted major concessions from BSAC.

Mr Kaunda, like many of his contemporaries that were at the forefront of the liberation struggle, considered multi-party democracy as a western idea that fomented conflict and tribalism. This view was strengthened by the 1964 uprising of the Lumpa religious sect. He banned all parties other than UNIP in 1968 and Zambia officially became a one-party state four years later.

The last years of KK

In 1991, Mr Kaunda won kudos abroad for what was considered to be his gracious response to electoral defeat, but the new government was less magnanimous. It placed him under house arrest after alleging a coup attempt; then declared him stateless when he planned to run in the 1996 election (on the grounds that his father was born in Malawi), which he successfully challenged in court. He survived an assassination attempt in 1997, getting grazed by a bullet. One of his sons, Wezi, was shot dead outside their home in 1999.

After Chiluba’s departure, he returned to favour and became a roving ambassador for Zambia. He reduced his public role following the 2012 death of his wife of 66 years, Betty.

Mr Kaunda will be remembered as a giant of 20th century African nationalism – a leader who, at great cost, gave refuge to revolutionary movements.

In March 1999 a judge ruled that he should be stripped of his Zambian citizenship because his parents were from Malawi and, furthermore, because of that fact, Mr Kaunda had held office illegally for most of his period in government. He mounted a challenge, and his citizenship was restored the next year when the petition that generated the court ruling was withdrawn. In 2003 he was awarded the Grand Order of the Eagle in Zambia by Mr Chiluba’s successor, President Levy Mwanawasa

Some famous quotes of KK

1. When you go in search of honey you must expect to be stung by bees.

2. The power which establishes a state is violence the power which maintains it is violence the power which eventually overthrows it is violence.

3. War is just like bush-clearing; the moment you stop, the jungle comes back even thicker, but for a little while you can plant and grow a crop in the ground you have won at such a terrible cost.

4. Ambition never comes to an end.

5. This great son of the world, Madiba, showed us the way. Whether you are white, black yellow or brown you are all God’s children, come together, work together and God will show you the way.

6. The moment you have protected an individual, you have protected society.

Ideals informing the quotes

Synthesizing the above sayings of Mr Kaunda, as writer, I can see “sacrifice”; “balance of power”;“perseverance”; “unwavering ambition”; “non-discrimination” as well as “safeguarding of the individual” as some attributes that guided him in his political journey and service to humanity.

Upholding KK’s legacy

As we mourn and celebrate an iconic father and son of Africa, the appropriate tribute we can pay to him is to uphold and propagate his principles at every stratum of society with truth as our watch word..

Burial of Kaunda

Reports from the Zambian Presidency say the late President Kenneth Kaunda will be buried on July 7, three weeks after his death..

Speaking on state television, the Vice President, Inonge Wina, said: “The hero of the struggle against white rule in southern Africa [Kaunda]”shall be put to rest… at a very private ceremony for family and selected invited mourners”.

He will be buried at the country’s presidential burial site situated opposite the cabinet office in Lusaka, following a state memorial to be held at the city’s 60,000-seat National Heroes Stadium on 2 July.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign leaders may be accompanied by just one official, she said.

Ahead of the funeral, Mr Kaunda’s remains will be transported to the country’s 10 provinces for people to pay their last respects to Zambia’s founding president, who ruled from 1964 until 1991 when he lost power to labour leader Fredrick Chiluba.

As citizens of the world, we have to emulate Kaunda’s sacrifice, courage, candor, supportive attitude, perseverance, nationalistic fervor and above all, the pursuit of truth on all fronts whilst vigorously fighting misinformation and disinformation at every level. We pray that the soul of the Late President Kenneth David Kaunda continue to have a peaceful repose in the Lord till we meet again in company of Kwame Nkrumah, Abubaka Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Julius Nyerere, Ahmed Sekou Toure and others. Adieu!!!

Mensah-Abludo is a 2021 Kwame Karikari Fact-checking Fellowship with Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Upper West.

OBITUARY: Kenneth Kaunda: The last African Liberation giant goes home (


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