By Nalubinge Ngwende
Zambia’s first president Kenneth Kaunda was, is and will forever remain a tyrant whose irreparable damage to the country’s political and economic culture will never have anyone take responsibility for, unless the country stops extoling this man and break away from his ways.
The first step to severing our present and future from Kaunda’s bad examples of managing this country is to stop seeing him as an infallible hero and ask him to apologise.
A hero, he is, for being among the freedom fighters that fought for our independence. But a closer look at how he dispensed his power as the country’s first President, the heroism is lost. Kaunda becomes a villain that lost Zambia’s battles to safeguard democracy and ensure sustainable economic growth, leaving the country in an abyss of economic darkness and political intolerance.
As first President of this Southern African Nation that had vibrant and intelligent opposition political leadership and seen as a very wealth newly Independent nation, Kaunda’s arrogance to monopolise/personalise ideas of running the country did extensive damage to democracy and economic activity of the independent Zambia.
Kaunda authored and engraved the economic miseries the country grapples with today for the 27 years he remained President. Today at 50 years of Independence, the country still struggles to rewrite and offer solutions to the problems that KK created during his over two decades rule.
He dismantled the thriving business base he inherited at independence to achieve his asymmetrical goals of trying to share wealth with freedom fighters that were good at nothing but throwing stones void of any hint of mustering the economics of business.
Seduced by his narrow viewpoint to stop people from acquiring and growing wealth to their full potential, Kaunda in Humanism in Zambia and a Guide to its Implementation Part II, gave instructions to District Governors on how to ensure that private businesses in their districts did not grow beyond ‘the bounds of a small family business’, and how to avoid the emergence of ‘local over-mighty commercial barons’.
Even when his sense of understanding world business was mediocre, he still listened to those who feared to give him sensible arguments. If you refused Kaunda’s view point, then you were an enemy to the nation and from that premises he pursued a one-party state, pseudo-democracy that reigned over Zambia from 1972 to 1991.
He embarked on a campaign of political repression using very narrow perspectives and systematic corruption which scholars today think was necessary evil to ensure stability and social services development.
Early into the country’s independence, Kaunda presided over UNIP that is associated with the bad foundation, a locked in position of poor political tolerance.
Kaunda and UNIP were the first political party to manipulate the constitution to keep away potential challengers from competing for leadership.
When Simon Kapwepwe left the opposition United Progressive Party after Kaunda had harshly treated its leadership, other than Kapwepwe, arresting and detaining them for alleged violence, he (Kapwepwe) wanted to challenge Kaunda at a UNIP convention in Kabwe.
Kaunda knowing that most members who had joined UNIP and were delegates to the convention had migrated from the banned UPP and were going to vote for Kapwepwe, quickly through his central committee members he approved the changes to UNIP constitution, inserting a clause that barred anyone who had been in UNIP for less than five years not to contest the elections—which excluded Kapwepwe.
State police were also mobilized to block Kapwepwe and his followers from gaining access to the convention centre at Mulungushi in Kabwe. This political trickery that entered into Zambia’s body politics in 1978 has continued to be a reference point of politicians eliminating competition.
MMD’s Frederick Chiluba in 1991 used the manipulation of the country’s constitution to stop Kaunda from contesting elections by introducing a parentage clause in the law barring persons whose parents were not born in Zambia from contesting presidency during elections. Kaunda lost on an opportunity to test his popularity at the 1996 polls.
MMD itself during its reign also used party cadres to harass and beat party leaders who wanted to openly challenge Chiluba to party presidency. This happened in the full view of police who have been a disservice to the country, when it comes to protecting the citizens’ rights to participate in intraparty and national politics from violent intolerance.
In an interview with Dick Hall, editor of the Central Africa Mail, Kaunda was asked if he had any plans for making only one political party legal following UNIP’s sweeping victory against the ANC led by Harry Nkumbula.
|Kaunda did not keep his word on plural politics|
Kaunda answered: On several times I have pointed out that we would like an opposition that is non-tribal, non-racial and non-religious. A sweeping victory at any given election is no mandate to you to legislate against the formation of an opposition. It is our intention to give our electorate a periodic opportunity either to give us a fresh mandate or reject us if we do not serve them properly during any period in which we hold the reins of government. Coming straight to your question about the ANC, we are happy to give them an opportunity to start afresh, that is they must endeavor to be non-tribal and completely constitutional and non-violent in their behavior. Any threats of bloodshed or chaos we intend to deal with firmly.
Kaunda lied about his tolerance towards the ANC and transferred the shared problem of political violence that characterized politics a few months before the country took independence from the colonial Britain on to his opponents. He also used a narrow viewpoint of interpreting ANC strongholds among the Bantu Botatwe to accuse the party of tribal politics.
This is why the nation must know that Kaunda did not have any other perspective about multi-party democracy. To him opposition political parties were distractive to common decisions and a potential for tribal conflict.
He had inherent hate for competition, which was also extended to private business he accused of being too powerful and offered unfair competition to local businesses.
It is this viewpoint about business that led Kaunda to push very awkward reforms that either shut down trading shops for Asian entrepreneurs across the country or forced bigger store chains to surrender 51 percent shares to government and to employ Zambian managers. Consequently this led to nationalization of these businesses.
Like in all tyrants, Kaunda used hate to name the evil other, hate it, and work to destroy it at all costs.
Despite UNIP members sharing the blame for political violence against ANC members and later UPP, he still found a reason to blame it on the opposition. He used the blame as a basis for unconstitutional detention of political opponents and banning their political organisations.
Kaunda’s leadership tendencies showed every sparkle of someone who was over controlling, thinking only his thoughts were good for the country and every group of people that wanted to pursue independent thought was considered as an obstacle that needed to be crushed.
Preserving UNIP monopoly, not just in decision making, but fear for others to offer alternatives that could in long run make the citizens see Kaunda’s inadequacies in thought as ridiculous, was his motivation to kill competition.
People say he was not corrupt, but how can you measure that quality when the system did not have institutions to provide independent checks and balances. The civil society in the country was almost dead.
Kaunda is such a narrow minded person, a true characteristic of tyranny, who advanced questionable reasons as founded facts.
In ‘Humanism’, for example, Kaunda claimed that the enduring importance of chiefly authority was representative of an authentically African model of consensual and communitarian decision-making that made competing political parties not only inappropriate, but also potentially destabilising bases for tribally-based conflict. The logical conclusion of such arguments was the declaration of a one-party state in 1972, presented as the ultimate expression of popular will, but in fact UNIP’s only response to rising political opposition and its failure to meet popular expectations of social and economic change [Jan-Bart Gewald et al, One Zambia, Many Histories, a historiographical book].
It is surprising today that those who choose to eulogise KK, as Kaunda is fondly referred to by his diehard followers, still want to make us believe that he contributed to the unifying of the country and contributed to the economic progress of this country.
Zambia has never been unified in its true sense. This is because below its surface lies deeply divided political tensions that today, after 23 years of democratization, still manifest as political violence within and across political party members due to intolerance. There is no way a country can be said to be unified when a tyrant in Kaunda tutored it bad politics of ruling without others using selfishness and taught us to hate enterprise competition.
KK is now 90 years and he may not live beyond the next decade. For his soul to rest in peace once he joins his creator, he should apologise and ask for forgiveness for his mistakes to this nation, failure to which his ghost will never be received anywhere, not even when it goes to the hottest part of hell.