Kenneth Kaunda, founding president of Zambia and one of the last African liberation leaders to survive, died in a military hospital in Lusaka, where he was being treated for pneumonia. He was 97 years old.
Kaunda ruled the nation of Southern Africa from 1964, when it gained independence from Britain, until 1991, and is respected across the continent as one of the generations who fought to liberate their nations of colonial rule.
He was admitted to Maina Soko hospital on Monday with pneumonia.
“I am sad to inform [members] we lost Mzee. Let us pray for him, ”his son Kambarage said on the former president’s Facebook page on Wednesday.
Former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar said Kaunda was the last of a generation to have embodied the liberation struggle in Africa.
“His passing marks the end of an era. We remain eternally grateful for his service to Zambia and to the continent, ”he said. said on twitter.
“A big tree has fallen. Africa hurts, ”said Professor Thuli Madonsela, former public protector in South Africa.
The youngest of eight children of a Church of Scotland pastor, Kaunda was a teacher by training like his parents, but was quickly drawn to politics.
He founded and led the main nationalist party, the United National Independence Party, which campaigned against British colonial rule. Influenced by Gandhi’s strategy of non-violence, Kaunda spent nine months in prison and then developed his own humanist, socialist and pan-African philosophy.
As President of Zambia, Kaunda supported the struggle of other countries against repressive and racist regimes in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Rhodesia.
However, as support for his regime waned, Kaunda introduced a one-party state and was the only candidate in three elections in the 1970s and 1980s.
After losing the multiparty elections in 1991 following massive protests against his regime, Kaunda accepted defeat.
This set an important precedent for Zambia and the continent, said Nic Cheeseman, professor of African politics at the University of Birmingham.
“He had a lot more respect and legitimacy than many of his generation. He was successful in building a nation and never played divide and rule with communities, and that was very important for stability.
“But there will also be people who have been jailed or beaten under the one-party state for whom Kaunda will be far from a positive number,” Cheeseman said.
After a failed attempt to return to political office, Kaunda became deeply involved in the fight against HIV in Zambia and across Africa. The disease claimed one of his sons.
Many blame the Maoist-inspired state economic policies introduced by Kaunda for Zambia’s lack of development under his rule. The country now suffers from a heavy debt burden and other serious economic problems.
Zambian leader President Edgar Lungu faces elections in August amid accusations of authoritarianism.