WHERE HE TRAVEL, Kenneth Kaunda took with him a very large white handkerchief. He grabbed it in his left hand when giving speeches in conference rooms or village meetings, and draped it over his left knee during seated talks. Sometimes he used it to wipe away the sweat to urge his people, but more often he wiped away the tears.
He was not by nature a melancholy man. Dazzling smiles also came easily, along with ballroom dances, jokes, and chants, with her guitar in tow and her hair combed to give her more height. However, he grew emotional whenever he spoke of the plight of his country under British colonial rule. The sight of his father, for example, a reverend at a mission in Lubwa near the border with Congo, seated on a hardwood bench in a church, while white ministers were seated on cushions; or the poor African women he had seen manhandled in a white butcher’s shop for protesting the high prices and rotten meat he sold them. As he told these stories, tears inevitably flowed, and he let them be, unashamedly.
A deep emotion, however, did not lead him to violence. His parents had given him two commandments which remained in him, the words of Jesus: Love God and love your neighbor. Do to others what you want them to do to you. Taking a gun, like most independence fighters did, didn’t make you any better than the killers you faced. When his first political organizations took him in and out of British-run prisons, he read Gandhi, whose writings went straight to his heart. He resolved to live simply, to quit drinking and smoking, and to take back his country without bloodshed. The new Zambia, and no longer Northern Rhodesia, was to be a land of respect for people of all races, colors and religions. Facing his most vengeful colleagues, he called his liberation campaign in the early 1960s the “cha-cha-cha” campaign, for a nation where everyone – Africans and Europeans, children and unborn children, even domestic animals, even the queen – dance together.
Behind the fantasy hides an iron determination to keep Zambia united. âIf I say ‘let’s sing’, just sing along,â he told his followers. From 1964, he was president-strong man of a free country, his white handkerchief having become a totem of his power, leading crowd choirs of âTiyende Pamodziâ, âMarchons ensembleâ. In Africa, he believed, opposition to the sovereign was synonymous with destruction. In Zambia, land of many tribes and languages, multiparty democracy would let its enemies, the white minority regimes in the south, undermine and break it. For 26 of his 27 years in power, he repressed even the idea. Hundreds of political opponents have been jailed and beaten as he constantly shuffled his own party’s posts to keep all ethnicities on his side.
His Zambia had a unifying moral philosophy for living, his own invention, a mixture of Christianity, socialism and African traditions which he called “Zambian humanism”. Its main principle was the importance of man: no man should be richer than another, no man should exploit another, each person had value and dignity. He set the tone, living as his party leader in a house without electricity or running water, and as a president regularly building schools, clinics and new roads, to give all Zambians a better chance. People loved him for it, chanting “God in heaven, on earth, Kaunda!” “, And the caller” KK “for short. Since he was a proud football fan, sometimes turning the whole cabinet over for a public kick, the national football team became the “KK11”. When they won international matches, he invited them to dinner at the State House, humbly serving them himself on plates decorated with the coat of arms of Zambia.
The economy, however, upset and frustrated him. The country was fundamentally wealthy, with huge copper reserves and exports that paid for its social improvements. But if he really wanted to eliminate all classes and close the gaps between rich and poor, miners and farmers, he had to bend the economy to his will, like everything else. So he nationalized the copper mines, froze the wages of the miners and froze the prices, only to find that his policies discouraged farmers from planting and mining companies from investing. Then, in 1974, the price of copper fell off a cliff, trade to and from its landlocked country was disrupted by regional wars, and Zambia quickly became one of the most indebted nations in the world. Hating to be told what to do, he resisted going to the IMF, but in 1989 finally accepted its terms. An austerity program forced him to end food subsidies; the ensuing riots led to the multi-party elections he dreaded, and in 1991 he was removed from his post.
He went gracefully. It was the best way to keep Zambia united, and also the best example for Africa as a whole. He was only the second African president to step down after an election, but that matched his long-term efforts to bring conciliation on the continent. His Zambia has become a haven for anti-colonial fighters from across southern Africa, but he has also not hesitated to speak with John Vorster and PW Botha, the South African racist, man-to-man leaders, in an attempt to build bridges. Although he was unlucky, it was more than other black leaders wanted to do and made him the natural president of Pan-African organizations. In 1987, after losing his son Masuzyo AIDS, he not only admitted it publicly, but launched a campaign to fight HIV/AIDS across the continent. With KK as its spokesperson, the carefully non-aligned Zambia has struck well above its weight in African and world affairs.
However, he did not leave it in good condition. As he stepped down, a country that had once been one of the richest in the region was in debt of $ 7 billion. Over 70% of Zambians lived below the poverty line. Country people and city people were still far from equal. So, although he ultimately gave the people multiparty elections, they had spoken out against him in a landslide. And although his reputation recovered over the years, until he again became the beloved father of his country and an icon of the liberation struggle, he still held the large white handkerchief in his left hand in public. , power and regret combined. â
This article appeared in the Obituary section of the print edition under the title “The Man and the Superman”