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Kenneth Kaunda: The end of an era

The demise of the first president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda at the age of 97 last Thursday has continued to send shock waves across Africa.

For many across Zambia and the continent, his death perhaps, marks the end of an era.

Kaunda was a revolutionary leader who fought for the birth of Zambia and was one of the last of the generation of African leaders who fought colonialism.

The charismatic leader ruled Zambia from 24 October 1964 – 2 November 1991.

Meanwhile, for many young people across Africa, even among the mid-age, names such as Kaunda, Awolowo, Azikiwe, Nkrumah and Mandela are synonymous with patriotism, sacrifice and exemplary leadership which is a sharp contrast with present crop of leaders in the continent.

Reports say Kaunda died four days after being admitted to a military hospital in the capital, Lusaka, after suffering from pneumonia.

In the 1950s, Kaunda was a key figure in what was then Northern Rhodesia’s independence movement from Britain. He became president following independence in 1964.

As head of the left-leaning United National Independence Party (UNIP), Kaunda then led the country through decades of one-party rule.

In his early days in office, he embarked on aggressive nationalisation policy of major industries and companies and oversaw the acquisition of majority stakes in key foreign-owned companies, while also targeting a planned economy.

He changed Zambia’s education system which was the least developed among its peers in the continent and Britain’s former colonies shortly after becoming president.

The country has only 109 university graduates and less than 0.5% of the population was estimated to have completed primary education

In 1974, Kaunda developed a left nationalist-socialist ideology, called Zambian Humanism. This was based on a combination of mid-20th-century ideas of central planning/state control and what he considered basic African values: mutual aid, trust, and loyalty to the community.

Similar forms of African socialism were introduced in Ghana by Kwame Nkrumah and Tanzania by Julius Nyerere.

About a decade after, increasing international pressure to bring more democracy to Africa make him to totter, while his critics were increasingly emboldened to speak out against his perceived authoritarian rule, and also questioned his competence

He, however, stepped down after losing multi-party elections in 1991.

Speaking on his death, Zambian President Edgar Lungu said the country had lost a true leader, a true African icon and it was mourning.

“I learnt of your passing this afternoon with great sadness, on behalf of the entire nation and on my own behalf I pray that the entire Kaunda family is comforted as we mourn our first president and true African icon.

“The government declared three weeks of national mourning with all forms of entertainment suspended,” Lungu had said.

South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, also paid tribute to Kuanda, saying his passing had saddened South Africans.

“South Africans would have their heads in grief at the passing of a beloved and rightfully revered father of African independence and unity,” Ramaphosa said.

Kaunda was born in 1924 at Lubwa Mission in Chinsali, then Northern Rhodesia, he was the youngest of eight children. His father was Reverend David Kaunda, an ordained Church of Scotland missionary teacher

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