Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of Zambia, passed away at the age of 97.
President Edgar Lungu’s government stated on Thursday that “our beloved founding father, idol, and global politician” Kaunda died in the southern African capital of Lusaka, which he led after independence in 1964, until the multi-party The resumption of elections ended his term. A one-party dictatorship was implemented in 1991.
The authorities have declared 21 days of national mourning for the ruler with an iron fist for decades, but then became an example of a strong man who ruled the region while allowing elections, accepting people’s rulings, and leaving power peacefully.
Kaunda was born in 1924, the same year as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, his future liberation leader and later dictator. These people grew up in different parts of the British Rhodesian territory at the time.
Both have religious backgrounds and suffered the insults of the white minority rule because of civil disobedience and participation in the politics of African liberation.
Mugabe will eventually wait longer to gain power. By 1960, Kaunda had led a new force, the United National Independence Party, an internationally renowned figure. He visited the United States during the civil rights struggle and met with black rights activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
At the time of independence, Kaunda led a country with enviable mineral resources and a commitment to unity. His slogan was “One Zambia, One Country.” Today, it remains the second largest copper exporter in Africa and one of the most peaceful countries in the region.
Together with Zamora Machel of Mozambique and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, he became a liberation legend for many Africans. Zambia is adjacent to Rhodesia, where Ian Smith is located, and is on the front line of the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Kaunda has hosted regional exiles including the leaders of the African National Congress of South Africa.
The ruling Kaunda promoted his own brand of African socialism, but his government’s takeover of Zambia’s copper mines in 1969 was one of the most untimely nationalizations in history. The price of copper plummeted during the oil crisis in the 1970s, causing the country’s debt to surge and economic turmoil intensified.
Zambia avoided falling into civil strife or war, but the paranoid Kaunda hardened politically and declared a one-party system in 1972. As Kaunda manipulates his party and continuous votes, this rule will last for decades.
But as ordinary Zambians increasingly rejected his rule, his rule gradually collapsed, and the hopeful African economy was crumbling. The bread riots and mass protests in 1990 were a turning point.
Kaunda allowed other candidates to compete with him in the next year’s election, only to lose in the polls. He acknowledged that Frederick Chiluba’s multi-party democracy movement ended his 27-year rule. Although later attempts to try him for treason and revoke his citizenship failed, Kaunda left politics and became a senior politician in the region.
Kaunda’s withdrawal was an unusual move in southern African politics at the time, especially when Mugabe’s Zanu-PF was strengthening control of Zimbabwe.
But this is an important precedent that can free the region from the aging liberation movement that still controls much of Southern Africa, including Zanu-PF and Mozambique’s Frelimo.
Despite worrying about the dictatorship under Lungu’s leadership, Zambians will start another presidential election this year. Kaunda’s former party has long since lost power and will hardly participate in elections.