A Pan-Africanist does not die: tribute to Kenneth Kaunda



“When we complain that even in our own countries we do not have control of the economic systems, when we see our people starving to death with the world’s wealth under their soils, when we look everywhere and we see the black man at the bottom of every ladder, we must recognise then that the destiny of black children is revolutionary” – Dr Amos Wilson

Although Wilson wrote this when Kaunda was already out of power, his conceptualisation of the African child encapsulates the latter’s transition from childhood to adulthood.

First and foremost, Kaunda was a revolutionary wired to reverse the societal order of his day in Zambia and elsewhere on the continent.

This had not only been shaped by the realities of the people of Zambia but the general condition of the African on the continent in relation to the imperialist encroachments of colonial office bearers.  In essence, Kenneth Kaunda was not just a revolutionary, he was a Pan-Africanist revolutionary.

All the energies of his prime years were not only dedicated to reversing the economic subjugation of Africa to the Caucasian, but the mental/intellectual subjugation of the African.

Like all Pan-African revolutionaries of his time whether on the continent (Cabral; Sobukwe; Nyerere; Nkrumah) or in the Diaspora (Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Rosa Parks, Khalid Muhammad), only one ideal spurred Kaunda, which was to ensure that Africans acquire the right to determine their own destiny using their own resources and discretion, without the unsolicited supervision of self-appointed European experts who many timid Africans give demigod status.

Pan-Africanism and the Zambian revolution before Kaunda

During the October of 1945, the global Pan-Africanist movement held its Fifth Pan African Congress in Manchester and decided on how to confront colonialism and demand the rights and freedoms of African countries.

From then, the spirit of African nationalism, fuelled by the organic acceptance of Pan-Africanist ideas/philosophies, deepened its roots. Informed by the sentiments disseminated post this particular conference, just like elsewhere in Africa, the people of Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia, began demanding self-determination from Britain.

Already aware of the virtue of unity and as a remarkable show of solidarity, this nation of numerous, very impoverished tribes set their difference aside and pooled their power.

As a prelude and in order to reverse their economic exclusion and poverty, the people had, before WWII, established societies concerned with their own welfare in their own regions/communities throughout the country.

A year after WWII, fourteen of such societies tallied-up to form the Federation of Welfare societies.

Two years later (1948), the federation evolved to become a congress, the Northern Rhodesia Congress. Three years later (1951), the congress became a fully-fledged political party, the North Rhodesian African National Congress.

At this time, the 27-year-old Kaunda had only set his sight but not his feet on Zambia’s political landscape.

Kenneth Kaunda and the Zambian revolution

When the North Rhodesian African National Congress was formed under the leadership of Harry Nkumbula, Kaunda was two years into his job as an interpreter and advisor on African affairs to a member of the Northern Rhodesian Legislative Council, Sir Stewart Gore-Browne. Before then, he was a teacher in both Zambia and Tanzania.

During those two years as an interpreter and advisor on African affairs, he learnt about the nature and dynamics of colonial governance.

It was his knowledge-based confidence and his desire to see the people of Zambia determining their own destiny that spurred him to throw his lot with Nkumbula’s North Rhodesian African National Congress the year it was formed.

Quickly, he became the Secretary General of the organisation and the first battle it won was to push back the envisaged Central African Federation (CAF) which was meant to be an outcome of amalgamating Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi by 1953.

Five years later  in 1958 when he and Nkumbula no longer saw eye to eye regarding the strategy towards decolonisation, he began sizing his options and in 1959, established the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) and later that year got arrested for holding an illegal meeting.

After his release in 1960, he led the United National Independent Party (UNIP) through which he became Zambia’s first president in 1964. He was now at the helm of political power and the real revolution was only beginning. What had merely happened was a change of the face of political power.

The pan-Africanist perspective and Kaunda’s tenure

The only real low of his tenure was the economic deterioration of Zambia. It was, however, not largely due to economic mismanagement; the economy merely became a casualty of his progressive continentalism, an idea somewhat similar to that of progressive internationalism implemented by Fidel’s Cuba in assisting friendly African revolutionary movements in decolonising their countries.

As a result of this, he contributed significantly to South Africa’s battle against apartheid after having made Zambia one of the first five original members of the Front-Line States.

Just like the glorious battle he, arm-in-arm with his comrades, fought and won when Britain wanted to amalgamate Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 1953, again from 1976 to 1980 Kaunda was in the thick of things when Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe together fought against South Africa’s attempt to establish what it called a Constellation of Southern African States (CONSAS).

Together, they won this battle in 1980 with the establishment of the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC). This is to also show that he even fought and won meaningful revolutionary battles beyond the borders of Zambia.

When Kaunda was in power, the Africanist school of thought dominated the intellectual debates within the Pan-Africanist movement. As a result of its high order intellectual gymnastics (so to speak), the period between WWII and 1980 came to be known as the period of Afro-centricity.

Its thrust was premised on understanding the old world of Africa in a new sense. It is on the background of internalising this strand of critical African political thought that he, in his 1967 book “Humanism in Zambia and a Guide to Its Implementation” formulated a philosophy on which Zambian nationalism was based, Zambian humanism.

Verbatim, one Zambian Theological intellectual, Mwangala Raymond Mwangala succinctly described it as:

“A philosophy and political ideology rooted in traditional African religion and culture and focused on the centrality of the individual human being (common man) in social, economic and political activity.”

In retrospect, this shows us that both the Africanist school, within the Pan-Africanist movement and its loyal disciples like Kaunda, were decades ahead of a group of intellectuals led by Thabo Mbeki whose intellectualisation of African issues gave us the African Renaissance (1999).

Theirs was nothing but a watered-down version of the Afro-centricity that hardcore Pan-Africanists like Kaunda long implemented as philosophised by the Africanist school.

Kaunda, Afrocentricity, Zambian humanism and term limits

The Zambian Humanism of Kaunda, just like Nyerere’s Ujamaa, was an important but largely misunderstood attempt to remodel the modern State of Zambia on Great Pre-colonial African States. For many modern-day Africans whose formal school history lessons began Africa’s history with slavery followed by colonialism, pre-colonial Africa is synonymous to darkness.

This in itself is the epitome of the miseducation of the African about Africa. For many, to be told of splendid ancient African civilisations before slavery and colonialism borders on hallucination. Their doctored Eurocentric education conditions them to reject such truths.

Hence why at the height of the Civil rights movement, Malcom X cautioned how:

“You have to be careful introducing the truth to the black man. The black brother is so brainwashed that he may reject the truth when he first hears it. You have to drop a little bit on him at a time.”

Nonetheless, these great ancient African civilisations that sprang up after the destruction of Pharaonic Egypt and other great Nile River civilizations such as the Kingdom of Kush did exist. Examples are Ghana, Mali, Songhay and the Kingdom of Kuba, among others.

When the dominant stream of the Pan-Africanism of Kaunda’s time (Afro-centricity) stated that it sought for Africans to understand the old world of Africa in a new sense, the point of reference was these great ancient civilizations.

The greatest disciples such as Kaunda came to understand that an African society couldn’t be modelled on European society. As a politician, his most obvious adherence to an African model was his rejection of European democracy and its two term limits.

With our Eurocentric political education that waxes lyrical about European democracy, even many of our Africa trained political scientists reject the idea of African democracy as practiced by all the aforementioned ancient civilizations.

As a justification for a one-party state in Zambia from 1972, Kaunda, in one of his books highlighted (quoted verbatim):

“The enduring importance of chiefly authority for it pointed to an authentically African model of unity and consensual and communitarian decision-making that made competing political parties not only inappropriate, but also potentially destabilising channels for tribally-based conflict.”

There was great potential for this kind of conflict in Zambia. In many other countries like Lesotho without numerous tribes, the origin of conflict is the pursuit of power as an end in itself.

People like Kaunda were ahead of time because they realised that European democracy was not suited to the African condition characterised by the gross ignorance of the masses. What worsens the aftermath of the ignorance is the post-colonial aberration of leaders without the people’s interests at heart despite having been democratically elected, according to European processes.

On the other hand, we have examples of those who were never elected but had the best interests of their people at heart (Thomas Sankara, Leabua Jonathan) and those despite staying in power by manipulating democratic processes (Magufuli, Kagame), work to improve the welfare of the people and those who like Kaunda, completely suspended democratic processes but still used their political power to honestly serve the people.

Despite the wailings from the headquarters of democracy, Africa can and must do with such leaders. After all, Great Men and Women who led some of Africa’s forgotten civilisations never adhered to principles of European democracy but Africa’s brand of democracy.

It is at junctures like these that we Africans must introspect lest we render lives like Kaunda’s irrelevant. That in itself may as well keep us in our perpetual curse i.e., the curse of rejecting the messages of our best messengers but instead opting to travel on wrong roads. Africa has its own ways. The problem is Africans seeking validation from Europe to follow such ways.

With all of this said, I must conclude by mentioning that Kenneth Kaunda is a man I feel less qualified to eulogise appropriately. Greater anecdotes can best be told by Zambians who were much closer to his greatness…


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