BY Chanda Mbao
when I heard the news about the passing of Kenneth Kaunda, I didn’t want to believe it.
While it is true, he lived a blessed and long life and we should indeed be grateful for who he was and celebrate him, I’m still sad. I’m sad because aside from losing him as a human being in this physical world, I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve also lost an important symbol of who we are as Zambians and what we used to stand for. My hope is that we can use this time to indeed celebrate his life and legacy but also to remember some important things he taught us.
Here are some things I will be reflecting on as inspired by Kenneth Kaunda:
1. VISION and PRINCIPLES
In a modern world where we seem to prioritize individual gain by any means necessary, I believe Kaunda was a man who had a vision of a BIGGER PICTURE. Not only did he have a VISION but her had the COURAGE to stand up and take ACTION on his vision at great personal cost. Today, it seems we arrange our decision-making around our comfort and making sure we do not suffer. KK opted to STAND for something despite what the outcome would be for him as an individual. (Remember: independence was not necessarily assured for Zambia in 1964–all of our neighbours except 2 were still under colonial rule.)
An important part of his vision, I believe, was of a POWERFUL Zambia which lived up to its POTENTIAL. I believe his actions point to a burning PASSION and BELIEF in the ABILITIES of the Zambian people. His approach to creating a Zambia where we as Zambians would have OWNERSHIP was evident in how he approached the development of the industries we had then (from Mulungushi Textiles to Dunlop and beyond). His passion and vision was also evident in how he carried the Zambian flag across the entire WORLD and we could continually TRUST him to do so with the highest level of poise and stature. His vision of Zambia as a LEADER is clear in the sacrifices he was willing to make to stand behind other nations facing their own independence and other political struggles. The countless resources we shared and the countless of our African sisters and brothers whom we hosted in times of turmoil is something I pray the continent never forgets.
As a monument to his VISION, think how FINDECO house, constructed in 1979, was Zambia’s tallest building for almost 40 years! It was only recently usurped by the upgraded Society Business House. Imagine–it took us almost 40 years to catch up to his vision!
KK was the father of ‘One Zambia, One Nation.’ This is perhaps related to the prior point as it could be said that the most important part of KK’s VISION was the one he had of a UNITED Zambia. The father of ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ saw us coming together to create the BEST Zambia possible for ALL ZAMBIANS regardless of tribe/ethnicity. He surrounded himself with people from all parts of the country in his cabinet and was known for travelling and visiting all parts of the country where school children would scurry excitedly to catch a glimpse of him, his smile and his signature white handkerchief.
We will never forget the spirit of ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ and I pray we don’t just RECITE it but PRACTICE it forever and ever!
A meritocracy is “a society governed by people selected according to merit” and I truly believe this is something that KK stood for. One of the greatest testaments to this is the legacy he left in EDUCATION. As some know but maybe the youngest of us may not realize, our parents (and grandparents in some cases) were educated by a KK government that believed in INVESTING in Zambian HUMAN CAPITAL and by and large they received essentially FREE education. Particularly impressive and important in my eyes is how the system was designed to identify talent at an early age which would see children placed in schools according to their PERFORMANCE with many of our strongest students ending up at high schools such as DK, Hillcrest, Munali and others. From there the best could receive bursaries to attend our nation’s PRIDE and JOY, UNZA! Many were even supported to study abroad at the world’s premier institutions with the understanding that they would come back home to run our nation’s institutions and industries. Kaunda educated administrators, mining engineers, healthcare professionals and many others of all walks of life from ALL parts of the country.
The prevailing idea was to put in the right position the BEST and most SUITABLE woman or man for the TASK, regardless of background. Kaunda’s was a system where you could be sure that your performance would MEAN SOMETHING in society, would be RECOGNIZED and would REWARDED!
I believe this was also evident in his governmental appointments which saw many of our best minds elevated to positions of power as ministers, diplomats, central bankers etc. Many of these stars were products of the same well oiled educational system that he and his government had set up.
It saddens me to think we may have lost some of this spirit of meritocracy. I pray that we remember what KK taught us and we uphold this spirit of investing in the best women and men all across the nation.
Commenting on KK’s legacy is no easy feat and I am no trained diplomat. However, I am a proud Zambian and I am keenly aware of the virtues and lessons that KK taught us. While the father of our nation was a great father, he was indeed a man with his own imperfections and flaws as well. These imperfections, however, do not obscure the great knowledge, legacy and spirit he left behind for all for us to tap into.
Let us celebrate and honour the father of our nation, Kenneth Kaunda! Let us not stop there, however. Let us do the important work he would want us to continue doing: to honour the VISION of a POWERFUL Zambia deserving of an HONOURABLE place in the WORLD!
Thank you for everything, KK. Go well!
ONE ZAMBIA, ONE NATION!