Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda died on Thursday at the age of 97 and he was the last surviving “father of independence” in sub-Saharan Africa.
Popularly called “the African Gandhi” for his non-violent independence activism, he became the first president of Zambia post-independence in 1964.
He governed the country for 27 years under a one-party regime but left office In 1991 after violent riots where he accepted free elections and was defeated.
A socialist and Moscow-like figure Keneth Kaunda collectivized farms and nationalized the rich copper mines and other key industries, much to the disappointment of foreign owners.
But mismanagement, debts and drop in copper prices eventually hindered the “Zambianization” of the small country which led to a severe economic and social crisis.
Hunger protests shook the “Copperbelt” in 1986 which is the mining region north of Lusaka, and his popularity declined in the country. Describing himself as a “Christian humanist”, Kenneth Kaunda was one of the strongest opponents of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa and provided a solid base for Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC), which organized the armed struggle against white rule from Lusaka.
Struggles For Liberation
Kenneth Kaunda was active in supporting liberation struggles throughout southern Africa. In 1990, violent riots against a background of growing authoritarianism forced him to resign himself to a multiparty system. He lost the first democratic elections in 1991 to the trade unionist Frederick Chiluba. “That’s what multiparty politics is all about, one day you win elections, one day you lose them, it’s not the end of the world,” he had said on television, the day after his defeat.
But his wisdom and understanding in conceding defeat were not shared by other fathers of independence, as some even went astray, drowned by the gulping ocean of power and others by the roller coaster of power. Below are some examples
Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana)
Born in 1909, he fought tooth and nail for both the independence of the British colony “Gold Coast” and for pan-Africanism, advocating the creation of the “United States of Africa”. Prime Minister at independence in 1957, he became the first President of Ghana in 1960 and imposed a real personality cult, calling himself “the Osagyefo” (“The Redeemer”). He was deposed in a coup d’état in 1966 and died in exile in Romania in 1972.
Ahmed Sekou Touré (Guinea)
He was the only African nationalist leader who objected the referendum on the Franco-African community proposed by Charles De Gaulle. He ruled Guinea with an iron fist from its independence in 1958 until he died in 1984 in the United States.
Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal)
He was the first President of Senegal in 1960 and was nicknamed the poet-president. Senghor voluntarily left power 20 years later, before retiring to France, where he died in 2001 at the age of 95. Like other key actors of decolonization in French-speaking Africa, Léopold Sédar Senghor had participated in French political life, while militating for the emancipation of his country.
Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Ivory Coast)
He was a former French deputy minister and led the Ivory Coast from independence in 1960 until he died in 1993. He was known as “The Old Man” and was one of the pioneers of the struggle for African emancipation.
Modibo Keïta (Mali)
He was former teacher before becoming the first African vice-president of the French National Assembly. He proclaimed the independence of the former French Sudan on September 22, 1960, which became the Republic of Mali. He took over the presidency and initiated a socialist policy but was overthrown eight years later by Lieutenant Moussa Traoré and placed in detention, where he died in 1977.
Julius Nyerere (Tanzania)
In 1954 he founded the independence party Tanu (African National Union of Tanganyika). A supporter of African-style socialism, the founding father of Tanzania, nicknamed “The Teacher”, led the country from 1961 to 1985. He voluntarily relinquished and died in London in 1999.