Kenneth Kaunda: A great son of Africa who fought for independence

Former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda. (Photo: EPA / STR)

The demise of President Kenneth Kaunda at the grand old age of 97 brings to an end the pioneers and forefathers who led the struggles for the decolonisation of Africa and received the instrument of independence.

Olusegun Obasanjo is a former president of Nigeria and chair of the Brenthurst Foundation

Tonight, I was welcomed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by the sad news of the death of the first president of the Republic of Zambia and a founding father of the nation, His Excellency Dr Kenneth Kaunda. 

In this moment of great loss to Zambians and indeed all Africans, I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to the Kaunda family, President Edgar Lungu, and the government and people of the Republic of Zambia. 

From left: Dr Oscar Dhlomo, Former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda and former ANC leader Oliver Tambo in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger)

The demise of President Kaunda at the grand old age of 97 years brings to an end the pioneers and forefathers who led the struggles for the decolonisation of the African continent and received the instrument of independence. 

Let all Africans and friends of Africa take solace in the knowledge that President Kaunda has gone home to a well-deserved rest and to proudly take his place beside his brothers such as Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea, Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d’Ivoire, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Nelson Mandela of South Africa… to name but a few. 

All of them, without exception, were nationalists who made sacrifices in diverse ways. Some, like Patrice Lumumba, untimely lost their lives soon after independence. We are consoled that God granted President Kaunda a long life to witness the progression of Africa through five decades of proud and not-so-proud moments. 

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (left) and Dr Kenneth Kaunda in Johannesburg on Friday, 16 April 2004. (Photo: EPA / EPA)

In December 2015, I visited President Kaunda at his home in Lusaka in what was to be our last meeting. As we discussed just about everything, from family to politics in our two countries and indeed in Africa generally, I asked him if the Africa that we have today is the Africa for which he and his contemporaries struggled and fought. President Kaunda was visibly pained in his response and at some point he broke down and wept. It was obvious to me how disappointed he was about some of the challenges that have plagued our continent for decades since independence. 

As we mourn President Kaunda, my prayer is that the death of this great African son and leader will remind us of the sacrifices that he and his contemporaries who fought for Africa’s independence made. Let it remind us of the vision that they had for Africa; their hopes and aspirations; their dream for a free, strong, united and prosperous Africa. Let us, African leaders and people, never let the labour of these heroes be in vain. 

Rest well, KK. Africa is free and will be great. DM


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All Comments 3

  • One can’t help but wonder exactly what went wrong in so many African Countries post colonial rule. KK and other leaders mentioned in this article were, I believe, honourable men so it’s hard to reconcile how things went so pear shaped starting under their watch and post their demise. I have to question what Nelson Mandela would say about the SA he spawned. I suppose being mineral rich, African is both blessed and cursed and it does seem that post the colonial era, the minerals of African attracted all manner or rogues and scoundrels and many of the second generation African leaders were beguiled by the huge sums of money offered to them in their personal capacity and reason perhaps went out the window.
    Various journalists have told us that it is greed and corruption that has been the downfall of Africa but I don’t think that tells the whole story. Here in SA we’ve been treated to dozens of books going to great detail on the downfall of this country but for me it’s hard to fathom that a country as advanced as SA could now be staring down a barrel. Is it after all as simple a reason as the continued presence of pale faces on the continent?

  • I was privilege to have met KK whilst on business in the mid 20’s. I walked into a lift there he was, just him and I in the hotel lift ….. with the biggest widest smile he asked where I was from and why I was there….. he took my hand and shook it with the warmth and welcoming strength of a handshake like I had never before encountered. “Welcome to Zambia and Lusaka” he boomed…. “and I hope you have a successful business trip”…. the lift doors opened and with that he was gone.
    RIP Mr. KK you were a true beacon not only for Zambia but also for Africa as a whole.