Zambia's first president Kenneth Kaunda passes away

Kenneth Kaunda was the first democratically elected President of Zambia from 1964 to 1991.  He had been at the forefront of Zambia's struggle for independence from British rule. 

Created On: Jun 18, 2021 12:52 ISTModified On: Jun 18, 2021 12:52 IST
Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia's First President

Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia's first president and champion of African independence Kenneth Kaunda has passed away. He was 97.

Zambia's current President Edgar Lungu shared the unfortunate news on his social media page on June 17, 2021. He informed that Zambia will see 21 days of mourning.

The former President's son, Kamarange Kaunda, also released an official statement saying, "I am sad to inform we have lost Mzee. Let's pray for him."

The former President had been admitted to the hospital on June 14th and officials later said he was being treated for pneumonia.

At the time he had asked for "all Zambians and the international community to pray for him as the medical team is doing everything possible to ensure that he recovers," as per the statement issued by Kaunda's administrative assistant Rodrick Ngolo.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the demise of Dr Kenneth David Kaunda, former President of Zambia in a tweet that read, "Saddened to hear of the demise of Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda, a respected world leader and statesman. My deepest condolences to his family and the people of Zambia."

Many other world leaders, including those of neighbouring African nations took to social media to pay their condolences to the late leader. 

Kenneth Kaunda's political journey 

• Kenneth Kaunda was the first democratically elected President of Zambia from 1964 to 1991. He initially worked as a school teacher.

• He led the country, then a one-party state, until 1991 when he was defeated in an election following the introduction of multiparty politics.

• Kaunda had been at the forefront of Zambia's struggle for independence from British rule. Zambia was then known as Northern Rhodesia.

• In 1951, he became the Organising Secretary of Northern Province's Northern Rhodesian African National Congress. He later took up the post of Secretary General of the Africa National Congress (ANC), under the presidency of Harry Nkumbula. 

• However, initially, the combined efforts of Kaunda and Nkumbula failed to mobilise native African peoples against the European-dominated Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. They were both imprisoned in 1995 for two months with hard labour for distributing subversive literature.

• After this experience, the two leaders drifted apart as Nkumbula became increasingly influenced by white liberals and was seen to be willing to compromise on the issue of black majority rule.

• There was eventually a split in African National Congress (ANC). Kaunda broke from the ANC and formed the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) in October 1958. 

• The ZANC was banned in March 1959 and Kaunda was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment in June.

• While he was in prison, Mainza Chona and other nationalists broke away from the ANC and Chona became the first president of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the successor to ZANC, in October 1959. 

• When Kaunda was released from prison in January 1960, he was elected as the President of UNIP. 

• In July 1961, Kaunda organised a civil disobedience campaign in Northern Province, the Cha-cha-cha campaign, which comprised largely of arson and obstructing significant roads. 

• Kaunda then ran as a UNIP candidate during the 1962 elections and this led to a UNIP–ANC Coalition Government, with Kaunda as Minister of Local Government and Social Welfare. 

• Kaunda's party UNIP won the next major elections in January 1964 and on October 24, 1964 he became the first President of an independent Zambia, appointing Reuben Kamanga as his vice-president.

• In 1973, Kaunda imposed a one-party state, banning all political parties except UNIP through an amendment of the constitution after the signing of the Choma Declaration. This was reportedly following tribal and inter-party violence in the same year. 

• He eventually gave in to the domestic protests and international pressure and agreed to multiparty elections in 1990. During the 1991 elections, he lost to Frederick Chiluba, the leader of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy.

• Chiluba sought to ban Kaunda from running again in 1996 by bringing a constitutional amendment that barred first-generation Zambians from running for president. Kaunda's parents had been born in neighboring Malawi.

• Chiluba also used a 1997 failed coup attempt to put Kaunda under house arrest.

• Kaunda was briefly stripped of Zambian citizenship in 1999, but the decision was overturned in the following year.

Champion of African independence 

• During his 27-year rule, Kenneth Kaunda made Zambia a center for all anti-colonial groups that won independence for neighboring countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and Namibia.

• He allowed the guerilla organizations to maintain military bases, training camps, refugee centers and administrative offices in the country. 

• He even conducted negotiations with the South African government, which is credited with helping to bring the apartheid regime to release Nelson Mandela from the prison and to allow the ANC to operate legally.

• Kaunda remained lifelong friends with Mandela after the anti-apartheid leader’s release from prison.

• At the height of the Cold War, Kaunda was a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Assassination attempt

• Kenneth Kaunda was shot and wounded by the government forces during a demonstration in 1997. 

• He also escaped an assassination attempt in 1999. He also blamed Chiluba’s allies for the killing of his son and heir-apparent, Wezi in November 1999. His other son, Masyzyo, passed away due to AIDS in 1986.

• Following his retirement from politics, Kaunda spent his time campaigning against AIDS, becoming one of the few African leaders to speak up on the disease in a continent where it is considered as taboo. 

• He set up the Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation in 2000 and took an AIDS test at the age of 78 to persuade others to do likewise in a country ravaged by the virus.

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