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Kenneth David Kaunda

the first President of the Republic of Zambia

Kenneth Kaunda

Kenneth David Kaunda was born at Lubwa Mission near Chinsali in Northern Rhodesia on April 28, 1924. His father was a minister and teacher who had left Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1904, and his mother was the first African woman to teach in colonial Zambia. Like the majority of Africans in colonial Zambia who achieved some measure of middle-class status, he also began to teach, first in colonial Zambia then in Tanganyika, before becoming involved in the anticolonialism movement.

In 1949 Kaunda became interpreter and adviser on African affairs to Sir Stewart Gore-Browne, a liberal white settler and a member of the Northern Rhodesian Legislative Council. That same year he joined the African National Congress (ANC), the first major anticolonial organization in Northern Rhodesia, and served as its secretary general, under president Harry Nkumbula, from 1953 to 1958. When the leadership of the ANC clashed over strategy in 1958–59, Kaunda carried a major part of the ANC operating structure into a new organization, the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC), of which he became president.

Kaunda used the ZANC as a vehicle for “positive nonviolent action” against the British plan for a federation of its central African colonies -- Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland. Although his activities led to his imprisonment for nine months in 1959, they also led to the British abandoning their federation plans. Kaunda emerged from prison, on January 8, 1960, as a hero of what was now a nationwide independence movement.

At the end of January 1960 Kaunda was elected president of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), which had been formed in October 1959 by Mainza Chona, a militant nationalist who was disenchanted with the older ANC. By June UNIP membership had grown to 300,000. In December 1960 the British colonial authorities invited Kaunda and several other UNIP leaders to participate in discussions on the status of the three colonies at a conference in London. Early in the following year the British government announced that formal decolonization of Northern Rhodesia would commence. The first major elections leading to final decolonization were held on October 30, 1962. Although the constitutional proposals upon which the election was based provided the European settlers in Northern Rhodesia with a disproportionate share of the votes, the UNIP and ANC received a majority of the votes, with the UNIP gaining 15 of the 37 seats in the new Legislative Council. As a member of the Legislative Council, Kaunda played a major role in negotiating further constitutional advances, and on October 24, 1964, Zambia was granted independence, with Kaunda as its president.

Like other African leaders, Kaunda faced the complex problems of independence and tribalism, although his diplomatic skills saved his country from the civil wars that plagued many newly independent African nations. However, political pressures within and without his borders led him to impose single-party rule in 1973. With civil war to the west in Angola in 1976 and continuing conflict in Rhodesia, Kaunda assumed emergency powers, and he was reelected as president in one-candidate elections in 1978 and 1983. Several attempted coups against him in the early 1980's were squelched.

Despite Kaunda's efforts, the Zambian economy deteriorated through the mid- and late-1980's owing to a fall in the world price of copper (Zambia’s chief export), the rising price of oil (its chief import), the withdrawal of foreign aid and investment by developed countries, and worsening corruption within Kaunda’s government. With public dissatisfaction mounting and a credible political opposition in the process of formation, Kaunda in 1990 legalized opposition parties and set the stage for free, multiparty elections in 1991. In the elections, held late that year, Kaunda and the UNIP were defeated by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in a landslide. Kaunda's successor, Frederick Chiluba, took office on November 2, 1991.

After leaving office, Kaunda clashed frequently with Chiluba’s government and the MMD. He planned to run against Chiluba in the 1996 presidential election but was barred from doing so after constitutional amendments were passed that made him ineligible. On December 25, 1997, he was arrested on charges of inciting an attempted coup that had occurred earlier that year in October. He was released six days later, but was placed under house arrest until all charges were withdrawn in June 1998. The next month, Kaunda announced that he would resign from his role as UNIP’s president once a successor was chosen. However, the lack of agreement regarding his successor caused a rift within the UNIP, and ultimately Kaunda did not resign until 2000.

Since resigning from the UNIP Kaunda has been involved in various charfitable organizations, especially in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS. In 2003 he was awarded the Grand Order of the Eagle in Zambia by Chiluba's successor, Levy Mwanawasa.


Encyclopędia Britannica

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The Robinson Library >> Zambia

This page was last updated on 02/10/2019.