Dr KK and Africa’s Liberation


The President of Zambia from 1964 to 1991, Dr Kenneth David Kaunda stood out as one of the most humane and idealistic leaders in the post-independence age.

He played a notable role as a leader of the Frontline States in the long confrontation between independent black Africa and the white-dominated south, which only came to an end in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa, writes Guy Arnold.

A recipient of  The Voice Magazine Achievers Award  with 2012 Icon of Africa Award in recognition for his continued promotion of peace and sustainable development on the continent.

He was also honoured as an Icon of Democracy in Africa as well as forthright leader still alive today and for his fatherly role in the advancement of African continent.

He believes in Africans being the custodians of their most valuable God-given asset – land.

The burning issue of land rights for Southern Africa's millions of poor and landless blacks remains a major challenge facing the region, he once warned.

 Repression in Africa, Dr Kaunda explained to the writer Aernout Zevenbergen, showed its ugliest face in the limiting of ordinary people’s access to land: the most important resource to be able to simply survive.

In one of his works, Professor Paul Zeleza articulated that Dr Kaunda “played an important role in the struggle for Independence in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola.

“The African National Congress of South Africa was based in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, and it was there that negotiations began in the late 1980s between South African business, religious and political leaders and the leaders of the exiled ANC”.

He added that those negotiations led to the political reforms of 1990, including the release of Nelson Mandela, culminating in the end of apartheid in 1994.

Former Zambian Home Affairs Minister Aaron Milner once said the country's economic malaise was partly due to its support for regional liberation movements.

“We had to divert our resources to finance the different liberation movements including the ANC,” he said, adding that the “sacrifice was worth it”.

Dr Kaunda’s efforts directed at the liberation of Africa included serving as President of the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa (Pafmesca) in 1962.  This was a forerunner to the Frontline States, which in turn evolved into SADCC (now SADC).

“There was no way Zambia could have remained peaceful when other countries were still fighting white minority rule,” he said.

“Lusaka became the heart of the Frontline, housing the ANC's headquarters-in-exile in 1977.

“The Zambian capital became a veritable centre stage in the fight against apartheid with a flurry of summits and informal meetings and the comings and goings of intellectuals, journalists and liberals seeking contact with ANC ‘terrorists’, as they were termed by Pretoria. But the hospitality came at a cost,” added Milner.

In 2006 Dr Kaunda told the BBC that the country he led for so long paid a high price for its backing of liberation movements elsewhere, particularly in South Africa and what was to become Zimbabwe.

“We used to be bombed here,” he says. “There was a price in human life and in terms of the economy. We would build a bridge and they would bomb it.”

Aernout Zevenbergen also agrees: “As long as racist Afrikaners were in power in Pretoria, Zambia could not afford democracy. Remember, they were bombing our bridges. Had our political system been open, the Boere would have bombed our politics.”

According to a 1989 Commonwealth report, the resulting economic losses came to more than US$45 billion in 10 years, almost three times their combined foreign debt at the time.

In some circles, Dr Kaunda he was labelled a poor economist.

His crit ics argued that had he devoted as much attention to Zambia’s problems as he did to those of confronta tion with imperialism in its various guises, his country would not have sunk to the level of poverty it had reached by the end of the 1980s.

Guy Arnold observed that at Independence, copper was booming and provided Zambians with a relatively high standard of living, but when the boom came to an end in 1973, Dr Kaunda showed little capacity for dealing with the new eco nomic problems the country faced. Zambia sunk into debt.

Throughout the 1980s, steadily deteriorating eco nomic conditions substantially reduced Zambian living conditions. Kaunda was simply too busy on the interna tional stage to deal adequately with domestic problems.

A Pan-Africanist, Dr Kaunda has authored several books and has received many international honours and awards. He holds an appointment as the Balfour African President in Residence at Boston University’s African Presidential Archives and Research Centre.

In a book titled “Letter To My Children” (1973), Dr Kaunda describes what he sees as the essence of life, the core of being African; something he would like to see embraced by his children.

“The African-ness which has its roots in the soil of our continent rather than the lecture rooms of Western universities is basically a religious phenomenon; we are who we are because of our attitude to the mysterious depth in life, symbolised by birth and death, harvest and famine, ancestors and the unborn.”

Although he supported Zambia’s multi-party system of government he was once quoted defending the one-party state he originally set up.

“It would have been disastrous for Zambia if we had gone multi-party because these parties would have been used by those opposed to Zambia's participation in the freedom struggle,” he says.

In a lecture at University of California at San Diego in 2003, Dr Kaunda defended this position saying: “I’d like to think that what we did, what I did, reflected what Americans did in electing President Franklin Roosevelt to four terms when American citizens felt their very way of life was at stake.”

He added, “On speaking from my own country’s experience at Independence, we were a multiparty state … Every general election or by election, we bashed heads across the political divide, and unfortunately we had bodies to bury because of political differences, until … I reached a decision that we must come together and stop this nonsense; fortunately, we came together and stop this nonsense.

“Fortunately, we came together and from that time on it has always been peace. Every election there is peace.”

Dr Kaunda can never be accused of enriching himself through ill-gotten gains.

In fact, when he left the Presidency he was more or less a pauper and did not even own a house in Lusaka.

It is the President Michael Sata administration that has gone a long way in ensuring the Founding Father of the Nation regains the esteem and dignity befitting his status.

Dr Kaunda is a firm believer in the mantra that only Africans can develop Africa, and to that end, in 1992 he founded the Kenneth Kaunda Peace Foundation, which is dedicated to the establishment of peace and conflict resolution on the continent.

His most recent activity has been directed towards combating the spread of HIV and AIDS and poverty in Africa.

“A disaster is taking place in Zambia, in the whole of Africa. AIDS destroys human power needed to carry the future of our continent. As long as Africa’s leaders remain quiet, the epidemic will continue to wreak havoc. We have to talk; we have to change our sexual behaviour,” he has said.

Prof Mwizenge Tembo argues that Dr Kaunda is a statesman who has done his best night and day to both create and build a nation and African solidarity.

Evarsto Mupeta, writing in the Lusaka Times, noted that while other African countries lapsed into civil wars and bloodshed, not so in Dr Kaunda’s Zambia.

It took the magnanimity and insight of Dr Kaunda to unite the 72-plus ethnic groupings into the strong single entity that Zambia is today.

Yes, he has had his shortcomings. He is, after all, only human. But no one can fault Dr Kenneth Kaunda’s quest to build a better Zambia and a better Africa.

October 2013
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