Home News Kenneth Kaunda Biography-Who was influential inside and outside Zambia

Kenneth Kaunda Biography-Who was influential inside and outside Zambia

Kenneth Kaunda was one of the founding leaders of the new Africa, when his country overcame colonialism and became an independent nation.


This charismatic leader, he was hailed as the most influential leader on the continent despite initially rejecting the concept of multi-party democracy.

As a dedicated African son, he embarked on the task of building a new, independent Zambia to determine his course in international affairs.


But poor economic management caused his popularity to plummet, and he was ousted after a failed election when elections were held in 1991.

Kenneth David Kaunda was born on April 28, 1924 in a missionary home near the border between Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia) and Congo.

His father, a pastor of the Scottish Church of Scotland, died in infancy, leaving the family in a state of shock.
But Kaunda’s limited academic ability gave him a chance at the first high school established in northern Rhodesia, and he later became a teacher.
He did so in the Copperbelt province of Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where he first gained experience, and was disgusted by the effects of white supremacy.
One of his political actions was not to eat meat as a way of protesting the policy that forced Africans to go to a window set aside for them at a butcher shop to buy meat.
In 1953 he was general secretary of the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress movement but the movement failed to mobilize Africans against the ruling white federation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
Two years later he was arrested, and severely punished, for distributing leaflets that the authorities viewed as an opposition.
Disappointed by what he saw as his party’s failure to take a hard line on the rights of indigenous Africans, Kaunda formed his own Zambian African National Congress party.
Within a year, it was banned and Kaunda was sent back to prison. His imprisonment made him turn violent.
By 1960 he had become the leader of a new United National Independence Party (Unip) and motivated by enthusiasm following a visit to Martin Luther King in the United States, he began his civil rights campaign which involved road closures and burning of buildings.
Kaunda stood as a candidate for Unip in the 1962 election in which a coalition that was not easily formed was formed by the African National Congress (ANC) which took power in parliament.
He was the first newly appointed Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia
The federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved in late 1963 and a month later, Kaunda was elected prime minister of Northern Rhodesia. The country was renamed Zamia, gaining full independence in October 1964 with Kaunda as its first president.
Kaunda started out with the benefit of leading an African nation with a stronger economic base than any other neighboring country but there was a shortage of indigenous Zambians who had the skills and training to run the country.
His stance was also strongly influenced by the joint declaration of independence in Southern Rhodesia.
Political opposition
The sanctions policy imposed by the British government against the secessionist country was seen as at least as detrimental to Zambia’s economy.
In that context, Kaunda noted that it continues to be difficult to maintain his moderate reputation – although his calls for the British army were louder than those of foreign leaders whose interests were not directly threatened.
In 1969, at great cost, he confiscated copper mines, which provided the country with 90% foreign exchange earnings. But copper prices plummeted, exports of imported petrol increased, and the already weakened economy was about to become a major problem.
The fall in copper prices weakened Zambia’s economy
At the time of independence Zambia was one of the richest countries in the world in sub-Saharan Africa, but by 1991 it had a debt of $ 8 billion.
Kaunda was quick to take a strong stand against political opposition. In 1972 he declared a one-party state, a situation that did not stabilize until 1991, when free elections were held.
“It would be disastrous for Zambia if we entered the multi-party system,” he once said, “because these parties would be used by those who oppose Zambia’s participation in the liberation struggle.”

Peace reform
As chairman of the six leading nations in the campaign against apartheid, he led the first opposition to Ian Smith in Rhodesia and later against the regime in South Africa.
However, he continued to work on housing in Rhodesia, and had meetings with South African leaders John Vorster, PW Botha and FW de Klerk.
He defended political refugees from South Africa and in his own country he fought against Margaret Thatcher, especially over her opposition to apartheid regimes. It was an issue that threatened the future of the Commonwealth.


He worked with South African leaders to find a solution to the Rhodesian crisis
In the new scope of African politics he was a moderate politician, committed to many communities, and always had the hope of a peaceful revolution that would give place to white and black Africans.
Contrary to others, he remained the main advocate of Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe’s land reform policy, under which white farmers were evicted, which led to the country’s economic collapse.
“I’ve been saying all along, please don’t blame Robert Mugabe. I’m not saying the tactics he uses are right, but he was under a lot of pressure.”
He was rejected
Cracks first appeared in the Kaunda regime in late 1980. There were reports of attempts to overthrow his government, and a curfew was imposed in many parts of the country.
Over the next 10 years, two more attempts to overthrow him were reported. The last attempt was in 1990, following violence in the capital, Lusaka, and the Copperbelt province, against the government’s economic recovery plan.
More than 20 people were killed in the three-day riots, and security forces stormed the University of Zambia and closed it to prevent riots.
By the time he went to Cuba in 1989 his powers of authority had diminished
Kaunda was facing increasing pressure from within Zambia and from around the world to establish true democracy. He finally agreed and called elections on October 31, 1991.
From the moment the campaign began, it was clear that he was in doubt, and there was little surprise when voters rejected him and opted for a multi-party democracy movement, led by Frederick Chiluba.
But he was still influential in Zambia and the new government saw him as a threat.
Kaunda was arrested and charged with treason in 1997 although the new government was forced to drop the charges following international pressure.
A subsequent attempt to declare him a citizen was eventually rejected by the court.
He was a close ally of the late Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe
She changed her focus in the fight against HIV and Aids and was the first African leader to acknowledge that one of her sons, Masuzyo, had died of AIDS.
As a prolific writer, he published several books on the ideology of African socialism, which was followed by other African leaders including Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and Julius Nyerere in Tanzania.
Apart from politics Kaunda was a popular dancer, and in 2011, she appeared as one of the most enthusiastic audiences in the Dancing with the Stars show, an international edition of the Strictly Come Dancing concert.
Kaunda was one of the new African leaders who removed colonialism.
He was also a guitar player and composed songs of liberation that he played while traveling in his homeland seeking support for the campaign against colonial rule.
Kenneth Kaunda largely avoided the conflict that was seen in other new states that gained independence and succeeded in uniting parts of his country under the slogan -One Zambia, One Nation.
But its economic policy transformed a country that was likely to have a high income as a nation where poverty continued to spread and life expectancy grew among the lowest levels in the world.