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Kaunda: African statesman takes a bow

Africa will not forget the nonagenarian former Zambian President, Kenneth Kaunda, in a hurry.

The man who laid the foundation of the nationhood of the Southern African state died on Thursday at the age of 97.

He ruled the copper-rich state for 27 years before massive defeat in a presidential election in 1991.

Here is a man who combined the rare qualities of a patriot with an equal record of above-the-par performance in office.

Encomiums and plaudits have been pouring in for the courageous leader who delivered his country from the grips of colonialism, and one of the early pioneers to do so on the continent.

We hereby salute this illustrious son of Africa who achieved a lot on many fronts before bowing out from the world stage.

We recall that apart from his sundry achievements and a fewfailures, Kaunda as a president in September 2019 called for an end to Xenophobia attacks on foreigners, including Nigerians, in South Africa.

As a man who was ‘forced’ to hand over power to his rival, Frederick Chiluba, after a landslide poll in 1991, Kaunda was one of the leaders sent to Zimbabwe strongman, Robert Mugabe, to stand down from office.

Kaunda, it would also be recollected, inherited a country with an economy under the complete control of foreigners.

At the time, the control of Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) was in the hands of foreign companies like that of the British South African Company (BSAC) led by the arch- colonialist, Cecil Rhodes.

Even after independence, such foreign companies still retained their commercial assets and mineral rights that were sometimes acquired by concessions.

In fact, it took a threat from Kaunda to arm-twist the giant SABC (formed in 1890) to give better concessions to the Zambian government.

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This is a great lesson for Africa and African leaders.

Like many of his contemporaries, K.K. subjected his country to a series of economic policies that ran into fiasco due to the activities of foreign powers.

As the post-independence leader, he opted for a planned economy like his colleagues – President Julius Nyerere did with Ujamaa in Tanzania and Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana.

A reformist, Kaunda’s Mulungushi reforms of April 1968, which led to his forage into nationalisation of foreign companies, especially mining, insurance companies and building societies, is also a big lesson for other leaders to learn from.

In fact, the nationalisation policy was described as ill-timed and designed to fail.

Falling oil prices, followed by slump in copper prices and export earnings, led to trouble for the country in the 70s and the country with a mono-cultural economy became heavily indebted and persuaded to reduce dependence on copper.
Devaluation led to skyrocketing prices of foodstuff, sparking riots in the 1980s.

The late Zambian leader was one of the architects of one-party state in Zambia with the theory of African socialism.
He declared a state of emergency and even banned a church to the bargain.

With increasing population, he allowed the creation of a personality cult and promoted a leftist nationalist-socialist ideology.

As a key African leader involved in international diplomacy regarding conflicts in Angola, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Namibia, he was an ardent supporter of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM).

But as he was busy building the economy, he was also ratcheting up problems like when he supported the late Iraqi strongman, Saddam Hussein, even to the point of naming streets after the late dictator in his honour.

Much has been written about Kaunda’s promotion of health challenge associated with HIV/AIDS after losing his son to the scourge that greatly threatened African stability then, but the creation of one party state created what was termed ‘legal dictatorship’.

The lowest point in his life was his defeat by Frederick Chiluba in an election where he only won 24 per cent and Chiluba won 76 per cent.

The grand old man of African nationalism retired from politics on June 4, 1987 and took to charity.

He will continue to be remembered for his greatness.

Adieu, great man of Africa. Like one character wrote in an online tribute to the departed, ‘Africa will keep your suits!’

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