By Chainga Zulu
Kenneth David Kaunda would have been 99-year-old today, unfortunately he died on the 17th of June 2021, drawing curtain on Africa’s Liberation leaders. Starting his journey as a leader, becoming autocratic and ending as a stateman, KK’s life can fill libraries if all put in books.
Born in 1924, in the same year as his future fellow liberation-leader across the Zambezi, Robert Mugabe, he declared Zambia a one-party state under the United National Independence Party (UNIP) in 1972. Kaunda’s rationale for the introduction of the one-party state was to promote unity, stability, and national development. He believed that multiparty democracy would lead to fragmentation, tribalism, and division among Zambians, which could hamper progress and economic growth.
The one-party state system was characterized by the dominance of the UNIP and limited political freedoms. Opposition parties were banned, and political dissidents were often subject to detention and repression by the state. The government controlled the media and limited free speech and assembly.
Critics of the one-party state argued that it stifled political pluralism and democratic expression, which could have allowed for more diverse voices to be heard and better accountability of the government to the people. The system also led to allegations of corruption and abuse of power by the government.
I feel that the decision taken in 1972 was a necessary evil to the national hood of Zambia and her cohesion.
First, Zambia was surrounded by warring nations. Thus, it takes a certain level of control to keep peace in the country. And some of these may not be aligned with the conventional democratic tenets. History has demonstrated that opposition political parties can become careless to show that they are the better alternative to the ruling party. The one-party state provide political stability and continuity, by eliminating the need for political parties to compete for power and allowed UNIP to focus on governing the country.
Secondly, being a staunch opponent of colonialist governments and their policies of racial segregation and discrimination, Ian Smith and his Selous Scouts – a special forces unit of the Rhodesian Army known for their unconventional warfare tactics – were probably looking for any opportunity to silence KK. And not forgetting apartheid South Africa, the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique. Even with all these measures in place, there were claims that the 1980 Coup attempt and the Mushala Upraising had the backing of South Africa.
Thirdly, we have seen so many countries experiencing significant challenges and instability after the fall of a strongman leader. For example, after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the country experienced widespread violence, political turmoil, and a rise in sectarianism. In Libya, the fall of Muammar Gaddafi led to a power vacuum and armed conflict, with various factions vying for control of the country. Who knows what would have happened to Zambia if democracy and politics had been the nucleus of the country’s agenda?
Lastly, when we consider the inter-party violence and the strong tribal politics that had characterized early political parties in Zambia, Kaunda may have been right in introducing the one-party state. Many political parties had conspicuous tribal identities. For example, African National Congress (ANC) in Southern and Central provinces, United Party (UP) in N. Western and Western provinces, and the United Progressive Party (UPP) in the Northern province. We are well too familiar of how politicians have perfected tribalism as a tool for their political advancement. They usually have jejune messages, lacking any real depth or complexity, just appealing to people’s emotions. Tribal loyalties are an obstacle to development and advancement of a people. This in no way oversimplifies the complexities of cultural and historical realities nor promotes assimilation and erasure of cultural diversity. But in the words of Samora Moises Machel, for the nation to live, the tribe must die.
However, in 1990, Kaunda would repeal the one-party state and introduced multi-party democracy in Zambia. Today, we celebrate KK’s commitment to unity, social justice, and his dedication to the development of Zambia and Africa. He had his own weaknesses, yes, we must tip our hat to the man also known as musician, golfer, vegan and Betty’s lover. Happy