In an age where life expectancy is low, getting to anything beyond 50 is a great milestone. Zambia’s first President Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda (KK) is one privileged person that can taste this rarity as he turns 90 on 28th April 2014.
So much can be said about the man that ruled the Southern African nation for 27 years as the first post-Independence leader. Others have hailed him as an African statesman, others an authoritarian leader and dictator while yet others see him as an example of a revolutionary and visionary. My intention is not to discuss his classification as this is a matter of opinion. I have my personal views on this and remember his reign including my impression of it.
Rather, I delve into some of the lessons I have picked having read about or observed KK both in his heyday as a freedom fighter and as a national leader. Below I share the ten.
KK trained as a teacher and therefore was on his own career path. However, at some point in his life he was sucked into the fight against colonialism.
This took him away from home and his family. His motivation? To play his part ridding the country of colonial rule which disadvantaged his countrymen and women. And this all at the expense of things surely dear to him such as a normal family life.
2. Visionary and patriotic
The government post independence in 1964 has been credited with major strides the country made. The Railway system, strategic companies such as Mulungushi Textiles, Mansa Batteries among others are cited as some of the examples of the progress made then.
KK was at the helm when these things happened and it is evident that his team had their sight on an empowered and prosperous Zambia.
The country was the heart and soul of policy direction, another pointer to the spirit of patriotism that drove the need to develop the nation beyond what they had found.
A free region was also another area to see the semblance of the visionary in KK. The liberation struggle was heavily intertwined with the life of Zambia as he believed it was senseless for Zambia to be free while her neighbours were tangled in the web of colonialism and the toxic apartheid system.
This remains a key test for any leader. The bigger picture and the ultimate cause they support in their lifetime. KK seems to have gotten this right and it will inevitably always be part of his legacy.
3. A clear mind
Controversy undoubtedly was part of KK’s reign and to some extent his earlier days as a freedom fighter. This was the inevitable outcome of his missional clarity and position taken on contentious issues such as the need for present day Zambia to be free.
His protests saw him imprisoned just as his stance on the liberation of Southern Africa saw him castigated by some.
Regardless of the consequences and price paid for such decisions or actions, one thing he cannot be faulted for is his clarity of purpose. Any mention of his role and legacy will have a description of what he stood for.
Some decisions remain unpopular and even hurtful to this day but it is indisputable he was clear about what he stood for. Wrong or right.
4. Recording thoughts
KK in his lifetime has authored some books. These shared the thoughts he had and values he espoused.
This is a lost art to a large extent in Zambia today. We do not write much and it is evident how this has impacted our generation. Our history is at risk of either being adulterated or lost altogether.
KK showed on this path that the written word must remain even after one’s journey on earth is done. Books are important and will always be. But someone must record this.
This is yet another lost habit and art in our generation. Not so with KK. He without a doubt has done a lot of reading hence his related efforts in writing as well. His exposure to and positions taken on issues such as religion and socialism are evidence of a man that has taken time to read as well as think things through.
He quite often spoke about humanism and also shared his thoughts on this. It was and remains evident that this is a man that has invested in a library. He yet again quietly sets an example of how important this rich habit is for us to build our knowledge base and learn as much as we can from others on varying issues.
Our nation must get this culture going for the sake of progress and if there is one critical lesson to pick from KK, reading is one of them.
6. Dare to be different
KK has been criticized or questioned within and outside Zambia over some decisions he made whilst in power. This includes supporting the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, a fight that had consequences on the nation as well. Similarly, other decisions such as the fight against colonialism, a One party state or nationalization have all been questioned before.
But the one thing to acknowledge is the courage to believe and be different. With the clear risk of being unpopular, he still took the more difficult route as opposed to the easier one. This worked for him as well during the transition to multipartism when he responded to people pressure then.
That set the tone and opened the door for democratic change in Zambia leading to his defeat at the hands of second President Dr. Frederick Titus Jacob Chiluba and the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in 1991.
There have been varying views about how he arrived at that decision. But the critical thing is he chose to act even if it meant disadvantage for him.
7. Stand for what is right
One of the commitments he has been credited for is that of the liberation struggle. This is especially so outside Zambia.
There will be times when we are faced with questions of the conscience. Regardless of our motivation, views or advice taken, our ideal choice must be to do the right thing.
When looked at in terms of brotherliness, the liberation struggle was an action based on conscience undoubtedly. A classic example too of the end justifying the means.
8. Mistakes are human
KK’s rule had its dark days and it took the advent of multipartism for most to see what we did not have or enjoy. I have my detest for those days. It may well also be true that KK has been effectively and successfully rebranded as a democrat and statesman by the media.
Yet there are several people that still hold a different view on this. Those that remember him for being intolerant, autocratic and responsible for driving Zambia into the suffocating economic ditch the nation ended up in. A man that overstayed his welcome in power and one with a hard heart.
Whichever view one holds, it cannot be argued that he made mistakes. Some costly and painful. Forgettable too.
The man was and is human. Mistakes are a part of our journey in life, with rich value if we choose to admit them and learn.
One hopes at 90, KK can look back at this and share his learnings with others. One hopes even more that we have also learned from his failures and will avoid them in our leadership roles and life in general.
9. Good prevails and lasts
It is always easier to list the bad and negative but a daunting task to state the good.
With the good that KK did or what has been attributed to him, this has helped in painting him in a more positive light in his latter days.
One simply has to look at the mood, activities and statements that have come through prior to his 90th birthday. It is easy to believe others have simply wanted to be associated with this goodwill for personal or collective motives and mileage. For such people, it has been an attempt to do or say the politically correct things in line with a perceived overarching agenda. This is usually the case in Zambia these days when people are swayed by what’s popularly held either by politicians, public figures or editorial commentaries.
But the biggest lesson for me is that where good can be found, it can see the light and overshadow the dark. KK’s story is a more positive one now because of some of the good he did.
Love or hate the man but he played his part to get us where we are as a nation.
10. Serve the nation
Finally, the most important calling for any citizen. We must serve our nation.
A young KK got himself in the thick of things for Zambia to be free. At 40, he was citizen #1.
We may not all end up in public office or politics but we all must serve our country. This can be in any small way in our communities for instance and even our homes. What is critical even now is how we galvanise to build pride in our country. To consolidate our identity as Zambians, standing tall, proud and free.
Once we start on this journey, it is inevitable that we will aim to improve where we have to and make our mark as an emerging nation. This is even more important now as we take stock of our half century as an independent nation.
KK and his lot have played their part. It now turns on us. And there is no age limit.
What pride can we point to for our effort to serve the nation?
After all is said and done and KK celebrates his 90th birthday, we will have to look back. To ask ourselves what we have learned from such a long life. The successes and failures alike.
Then we must ask ourself how different we are or will be in our different roles.
What lessons have you learned and how are they shaping your life?