Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s founding president and liberation hero, has died at a military hospital in Lusaka where he was being treated for pneumonia, his son, Kambarage, said on Thursday. Mzee Kaunda was 97.
“I am sad to inform (members) we have lost Mzee. Let’s pray for him,” Kambarage said on the late president’s Facebook page.
The former president had been feeling unwell and had been admitted to the Maina Soko Medical Centre in Lusaka earlier this week.
He was one of the pioneer leaders of a new Africa, as countries threw off colonialism in favour of independent statehood.
A man of great personal charm, he was hailed as a modernising force in the continent despite his initial rejection of the concept of multiparty democracy.
As a committed pan-Africanist, he began the task of building a new Zambia, free to determine its own way in international affairs.
But poor economic management caused his popularity to plummet, and he was voted out of office when free elections were held in 1991.
Kenneth David Kaunda was born on 28 April 1924 at a mission station near the border between what was then Northern Rhodesia and the Congo.
In foreign policy, Kaunda provided logistical help to other African liberation movements, including the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the breakaway Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) of Southern Rhodesia and the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa.
Kaunda, who was criticised for his autocratic leadership style, banned the political opposition in 1973.
He was forced to reverse this decision in 1991 due to popular pressure provoked by shortages of basic foodstuffs as well as increasing international pressure for greater democracy in Africa.
He fell from power with the advent of multi-party democracy.
In 1991, he lost presidential elections to Fredrick Chiluba from the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) after a fiercely-contested campaign.
Kaunda accepted defeat waving his trademark white handkerchief.
Kaunda had continued to engage in national politics and in 1996 tried to stand for the presidency.
However, the Chiluba government changed the constitution so that anyone whose parents came from outside the country was deemed a foreigner and could therefore not run for office.
Chiluba later attempted to deport Kaunda alleging that he was a Malawian. In 1997, Chiluba, threw Kaunda in jail on Christmas Day for allegedly being involved in a foiled coup attempt.
In 1999, during Chiluba’s rule, he was declared stateless by a Zambian High Court, but he challenged this decision in the Supreme Court of Zambia, which declared him to be Zambian citizen the following year.
Throughout the African continent, many streets, buildings and airports are named after him. And even in old age, he repeatedly raised his voice in public against perceived injustices as well as the oppression of minorities.