A giant African tree has fallen. Father of our liberation struggle Kenneth Kaunda died in Zambia at the age of 97. Kaunda a visitor to the St Vincent and Grenadines, the land of the blessed, some years ago, died a man at peace with himself, his people and the rest of the world.
As an African leader and the wide honour he is receiving, there are certain peculiarities concerning Kaunda affectionately referred to as KK, that as a Zimbabwean I can’t help but reflect on his dignified end, in contrast to controversial one of my own late former president Robert Mugabe.
I reflect cognisant of the warning by Pan-Africanist, Almicar Cabral, who likens revolution or national liberation to a dress which must fit to each individual’s body.
I posit that Zambia and Zimbabwe have their own historical trajectories, avoiding over generalisations which often result in absurd stereotypes – Africa has enough of this, even as we often as a people have to point out to the world that she is not a country, reminding of her beauty and diversity.
Avoiding the dangers of a ‘single story’ as Chimhamhanda Ngozi Adiche eloquently puts it in a widely circulated TED talk.
The pain in Mugabe’s failures is that he let us down as a black people, his children, my generation, playing into the racist and neo-colonial gallery or constructions on our ability as a people to lead with integrity and justice. Mugabe unwittingly played into the hands of the forces he so passionately fought.
Kaunda died at home in Zambia with his people, unlike his counterpart fellow liberator Mugabe who died in a Singapore hospital after his comrades had in a 2017 coup, humiliated and forcibly removed him from power.
Mugabe had for years habitually shunned his own broken-down health delivery system preferring treatment in foreign lands.
While globally Mugabe was revered as an icon and champion of black consciousness, speaking with eloquence and reason, to challenges faced by post-colonial states, stubbornly refusing to be bullied by racist white interests, at home we knew a different leader. He ruled with an iron fist and fear leaving behind a broken, traumatised nation with millions in exile.
There are definite contrasts to be made between the two comrades, their legacies and more precisely how they dealt with internal opposition. Had Mugabe for instance decisively handled his succession within his own ruling Zanu PF party, he led from 1980 to 2017, we would flip through the pages of history with a different story. Had he accepted election loss, graciously stepping down, and building the nation he liberated – perhaps Zimbabwe’s story would be different.
Mugabe would have left power with more dignity, accorded a place in history that Kaunda others including Nyerere occupy today – all of Zambia and the world mourn. Nyerere remembered too with deep nostalgia.
Zimbabweans mourn Kaunda today wondering what could have been had our own dear Bob done things a little bit more differently, both men are liberation stalwarts with unquestionable liberation credentials, from their roles in the Front Line States within southern Africa fighting the last vestiges of brutal white colonial rule, to their roles in global solidarity movements against colonialism.
Kaunda led by example, supporting other liberation movements and allowing a peaceful power transfer, after his own UNIP lost elections to the opposition in 19991. A legacy to be immaculately passed on – Zambia in 30 years holds the fine record of peacefully changing power five times.
A good thing but Zambia’s story remains a sad one
Just like many of our stories in the black world, we sought the political kingdom, I refer to another great Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah, but the rest in prosperity is slow in following.
Peacefully held regular elections and change of guard have not necessarily translated to prosperity. A story for another day.
Zambia remains yoked by neo-liberalism which back then, ousted Kaunda through riots but has failed dismally to give his anxious people reprieve from poverty. Zambia treads a time bomb just like her sisters in the marginalised black world.
However, while all is not rosy, the conversation around Kaunda is important at this historical juncture, to introspect on the legacy he has left us with, on best practices, Ubuntu, peaceful co-existence. Genocides, civil war and political violence would no longer feature in our politics. No longer our portion.
An important factor as elections and peaceful transfer of power are often a source of the many conflicts on the African continent.
Ironically, as I write another unfolding story is topping the headlines again for the wrong and sad reasons, former Ivory Coast President, Laurent Gabgo, is back in the country after ten years in exile, he was acquitted by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity three years ago.
Gabgo unlike Kaunda refuses to let go apparently wants to go back into politics, tensions are rising in the West African country.
From my own humble perspective KK’s death marks the closure of an era, of a generation that made great sacrifices for the liberation of Africa, with many dying, others maimed for life including those who live with the memory of the long arduous road to freedom.
For my generation the contradictions of the nature and construct of the post-colonial state are many and at times painfully confusing, Uhuru is slow in coming one hopes it does come in my life time.
Kaunda joins other luminaries who include former Presidents Kwame Nkrumah and , Winnie Mandela, Julius Nyerere and Tata Nelson Mandela.