Biography of the Week: Kenneth Kaunda

Kenneth Kaunda, in full Kenneth David Kaunda (born April 28, 1924, Lubwa, near Chinsali, Northern Rhodesia [now Zambia]), is a politician who led Zambia to independence in 1964 and served as that country’s president until 1991. He is known to be associated with being the Ghandi of Africa.

Kenneth David Kaunda, affectionately known as KK and the first president of Zambia, was born on 28 April 1924 at Lubwa Mission in Chinsali, in what was then Northern Rhodesia. He was the youngest of eight children. His father was a Minister and teacher who had left Malawi in 1904 and his mother was the first African woman to teach in colonial Zambia. Initially, the young Kaunda followed in his mother’s footsteps, becoming boarding master and then headmaster at Lubwa Mission from 1943 to 1945. He worked at the Salisbury and Bindura mines and in 1948 became a teacher in Mufurila for the United Missions to the Copperbelt. But he soon began to show an active interest in politics. In 1949 he returned to Lubwa to become a part-time teacher, but resigned in 1951 and became Organising Secretary for Northern Rhodesia of the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress.

In 1953 he moved to Lusaka to take up the post of Secretary General. In 1958 Kaunda broke from the organisation and formed the Zambian Africa National Congress (ZANC). ZANC was banned in March 1959 and in June Kaunda was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, which he spent first in Lusaka then in Harare. Kaunda was released in 1960 and elected president of the United National Independence Party, the successor to ZANC. He organised a civil disobedience campaign in Northern Province, the so called Cha-cha-cha campaign, which consisted of burning schools and blocking roads. In 1964 he was appointed Prime Minister and, later the same year, became the first President of independent Zambia. In 1966, the University of Zambia was opened in Lusaka and Kaunda was appointed Chancellor. During his early presidency he was an outspoken supporter of the antiapartheid movement.

He allowed several African liberation organisations, including ZAPU and ZANU of Rhodesia and the African National Congress, to set up headquarters in Zambia. Kaunda left office when he was defeated by Frederick Chiluba in multi-party elections in 1991. He retired from politics after he was accused of involvement in a failed 1997 coup attempt. Since retiring he has been involved in various charities with much of his energy going into the fight against the spread of HIV/Aids – Kaunda lost a son to the disease. Kaunda received the 2007 Ubuntu Award.

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