Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia and one of Africa’s last “founding fathers”, died on Thursday (17) at the age of 97.
He had been admitted to a hospital in the capital, Lusaka, since the start of the week, for treatment of pneumonia. According to advisers, the cause of death was not Covid-19.
Known as “KK”, he presided over the former British colony of 19 million people for 27 years after independence in 1964.
He was one of the first African leaders to voluntarily step down from power, in 1991, which won him international admiration and somewhat erased the bad impression left by his authoritarian government, in which he even suppressed opposition parties.
In post-presidential life, Kaunda was seen as a respected figure and an advocate for conciliation and political moderation. At the funeral of South African Nelson Mandela in 2013, he was hailed as an icon for the liberation of the continent.
“On behalf of the whole nation, I pray that the Kaunda family will find comfort as we mourn the death of our first president and true African icon,” said current President of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu.
Born in the former colony of Northern Rhodesia, Kaunda was the son of a Church of Scotland missionary. In the 1950s, he joined the nascent local decolonization movement, which was part of a phenomenon that was rapidly spreading across Africa.
He was even arrested by the British colonial authority and carried out acts of civil disobedience, which would later lead to independence. In the new country’s first elections, he became president.
Like most of the leaders of the new African states, he embraced socialism, nationalizing business and land and stifling opposition. The regime, however, never reached the level of violence in neighboring Zimbabwe, led by Robert Mugabe.
Kaunda also helped support resistance to the South African apartheid regime, opening the country’s gates to shelter the leaders of the opposition to the white segregationist regime in exile.
In the early 1990s, the economic crisis sparked street protests, and Kaunda was forced to bring back multipartyism. In the first election under the new model, the country’s father was humiliated with just 24% of the vote and accepted defeat.
She then began to devote herself to the defense of democracy on the continent and to use her international prestige to demand that rich countries increase humanitarian aid to Africa, in particular to fight AIDS.
At the same time, he said Africans should seek solutions to their own problems and stop blaming only the colonial process, as he said in an interview with Folha in 2010.
“We have to be brave to say that all the blame should not be on the shoulders of the colonizers. Part of this has to rest on our shoulders, ”he said.
With Kaunda’s death, virtually the entire generation that led the African independence process in the last century, which included names such as Agostinho Neto (Angola), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Leopold Senghor (Senegal), Amilcar Cabral ( Guinea Bissau) have disappeared. , Samora Machel (Mozambique), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Mugabe (Zimbabwe), among others.
Still alive, Sam Nujoma, the first president of Namibia, who is 92 years old.