Kenneth Kaunda and the national question

Was the 27 years of Kaunda's rule better for Zambians than the neoliberal governments that have ruled there since his departure in 1991?

Kenneth Kaunda, second from the left, on a visit to West Germany (Wiki Commons).

Zambia’s first President Kenneth Kaunda (KK to his supporters), has lived to see five of his successors have a go at leading the country. When he lost the 1991 presidential elections to Fredrick Chiluba, he witnessed what must have been a heart wrenching campaign of vandalisms designed to dismantle his legacy and remove from collective memory the 27 years of his rule.  The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and its foreign investor partners implemented a well concerted asset stripping strategy that was as devastating as it was ruthless. The deindustrialization, mass unemployment and even population decline that followed have already been studied. The point is that after 26 years of the post-KK administration, we can now make a fair comparison of the 27 years of KK’s First and Second Republics and ask whether indeed the neoliberal MMD was better than the socialist oriented United National Independence Party (UNIP).

Here I want to focus on the national question and the state of affairs in the social, political and cultural matters of state in Zambia to evaluate the KK legacy. To cut to the chase, it seems that “the Third Wave of Democratization” in Africa was followed by a new scramble for its natural resources. The nationalism of the anti-colonial movement of KK and his generation has now given way to the tribalism (“identity politics” in globalization-speak) of the comprador oligarchs, those who profited from the privatization of state owned enterprises and those whose very existence is tied to foreign companies. As is well known, comprador means anti-national and these are the forces that Kaunda defeated in 1964, 1968 and in the coup attempts that were concocted to unseat him in the name of democratization.

The national motto on Zambia’s coat of arms is One Zambia, One Nation. But because of the passion with which KK used the slogan in public, it has come to be associated with his name. What exactly does it mean – One Zambia One Nation? It is not just a slogan, it is actually an attitude of mind, if not a way of life, a political culture if you like. One cannot belong to a nation whilst working against it and working against fellow citizens. For KK One Zambia One nation meant holding the country together and uniting behind the cause of national liberation:  Thus to “One Zambia, One nation, he always added -One Africa, One Revolution.”

What he gave to Zambian children he also gave to Angolan, Mozambican and Zimbabwean children, what the state provided for the children of the rich the state also gave to the children of the poor, equal opportunity to sit in a classroom and learn life skills that would enable them to serve their country and people across Africa. So those who have dismantled KK’s legacy have thrown the children out of the classroom and their parents out of the factory into the street. They have promoted tribalism and sold themselves to the Foreign Investors, sometimes not even the highest bidder for their souls.

When Kaunda became Zambia’s first president in 1964, the neighboring Congo was already in a crisis of Cold War proportions. Like Zambia, the DRC was also a copper and cobalt mining economy and international forces were propping up the secession of Katanga under Moise Tshombe, threatening to dismember the country. The tragic war that engulfed the new Republic culminating in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba has to this day continued to haunt the Congo and its neighbors with the country still being pulled in different directions and still the playground of foreign capital. For KK “One Zambia, One nation” meant doing everything possible to prevent a Congo disaster in Zambia and that we can safely say, Kaunda achieved, against all odds.

During the first ten years of KK’s administration, Zambia recorded massive growth in infrastructure development. What is notable is that whereas British colonial development strategy was to focus investments in the towns along the rail line from Livingstone to the Copperbelt, KK directed state funds to the construction of new schools, clinics and hospitals and agricultural extension centers in all the districts. Although the urban bias persisted as it must on purely economic reasons, there was no rural district that did not get its share of government investments.

So how did all this unravel in 1991? First and foremost the Zambian economy was ‘singing’ much like the way it is singing in Venezuela today. Blame mismanagement but also blame the real cost of equitable public investments. There are no shortages in a survival of the fittest free market because those who cannot afford the electricity, garbage collection, local bread or imported fruit simply go without it. In a socialist oriented economy where goods and services are provided according to need and therefore subsidized by the state, there are always shortages. And so the people get tired of the queues and the cheap quality and the lack of choice. To be fair, the state does tend to become authoritarian as well and people do have a right to demand change but when you throw away the local textiles and local beverages to make way for the higher quality imports, you had better be prepared to lose jobs, incomes and livelihoods in those industries.

Kaunda’s successors have all tried to hold the nation together but they have not all believed in the project of African liberation which is so central to the attainment of economic freedom. They have tried to attain development as directed by Foreign Investors but found themselves lacking the imagination, the capital, the ability, nay, the freedom to bring this to fruition. As the Chinese have demonstrated, it is not the IMF, the World Bank or Goldman Sachs that made the Four Modernizations possible, it was a Chinese plan.

It is not too late to rediscover our African unity and defeat the xenophobia inherent in the identity politics of Trump, Le Pen, May and all those African followers that refuse to be their brothers’ keepers but arrogantly claim to put their country first when clearly what they mean is their billionaire deals first.

For us in the still much oppressed Africa, we must not forget that KK not only preached unity for Zambia but also said “One Africa, One Revolution.” In fact our freedom and our unity (“Uhuru na Umoja” as the Tanzanian national motto says) are inextricably connected. Unless one has a Pan-African view of the world, and unless one has a liberation ideology, their identity politics can only be exclusionary, xenophobic and essentially an illusion.

One Zambia, One Nation therefore must become an emancipatory slogan again. It must be driven by a sense of community and it must unite society behind the common goal for humanity: a better life for all.

Further Reading

An unfinished project

Christian theology was appropriated to play an integral role in the justifying apartheid’s racist ideology. Black theologians resisted through a theology of the oppressed.

Writing while black

The film adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel ‘Erasure’ leaves little room to explore Black middle-class complicity in commodifying the traumas of Black working-class lives.