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Kenneth Kaunda and Zambia

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD


One of the iconic African leaders, the first president of Zambia, a humanist and a protagonist for African independence, has passed away on June 17, 2021. Kaunda was born in Chinsali, Zambia on October 24, 1924. Early on in his life, the young Kenneth was reared, guided, and cultivated by his father who was a Presbyterian missionary and teacher, and his mother, who was also a school teacher, and no wonder that Kenneth, a byproduct of two teachers, became a teacher himself. Kaunda was a gifted orator and a committed teacher, but he dedicated most of his adult life to the struggle of African independence, very much like his comrades-in-arms Kwame Nkrumah, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Sekou Ture, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Jomo Kenyatta, and Julius K. Nyerere.

With the passing of Kaunda, it is not only Zambia that is mourning, but the entire of Africa that is grieving. However, Kaunda is a giant whose life must be celebrated, and Zambia and the rest of Africa should not mourn in the traditional sense of the word but remember this great leader for his achievements, without hiding his failures, and for this apparent reason this article will cover the modern political history of Zambia.

Zambia is a multiparty democracy with a political system that offers separation of powers (but not necessarily ‘checks and balances’) between the three branches of government; that is, the legislative (parliament), the executive (the president and his cabinet) and the judiciary (courts of law).

Members of the parliament are elected by the people, and the president, who by law is required to be a member of a legally registered party, is also directly elected by the people for a maximum of two consecutive five two-year terms. The leader of the parliament is the speaker of the National Assembly; members of the parliament (150 of them) are elected by the people, but the president also nominates eight members of the parliament. The Supreme Court is the highest Court of Appeal and is presided over by the Chief Justice.

The 1996 constitution of Zambia defined Zambia as an indivisible, unitary, and multi-party democracy, and in accordance to the supreme law of the land Zambian citizens enjoy, at least theoretically, universal suffrage, freedom of expression, assembly, movement of association etc. But, as in most African countries, the Zambian people also encountered restrictions of democratic rights including autocracy that was practiced by the great leader Kaunda.

The president has enormous powers; he is the head of state and head of government, and he appoints the vice president, ministers, deputy ministers, and provincial ministers amongst members of the National Assembly; in addition, the president also appoints the Attorney General, Solicitor General, and the Director of Public Prosecution.

Political parties: the party that led Zambia to independence in 1964 was the United National Independence Party (UNIP) and its chairman was Kenneth Kaunda. Other important political parties are Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD); Patriotic Front; United Party for National Development (UPND); United Liberal Party (ULP); Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD); Alliance for Development and Democracy (ADD); National Democratic Forces (NDF).

From 1964 to 1972, Zambia was ruled by a single party; in fact, in 1972 the other contending parties were banned, but beginning 1991, two decades of single-party rule ended and a multi-party system began in earnest. Between 1991 and 2001, the MMD, under Frederick Chiluba, dominated Zambian politics; between 2001 and 2008, MMD got 72% of the seats in parliament the rest of the seats were split between the Patriotic Front and the UPND. Edgar Lungu, the current president of Zambia since 2015, belongs to the UPND, and has declared a 21-day mourning in Zambia following the departure of the founding father of the nation.

Ethnic/Linguistic Groups: Bemba, the largest ethnic group accounts for 33.6% of the population; the Nyanja for 18.2%; Tonga for 16.8%; the North-Western People for 10.3%. Zambia is a small country of only 17,861,000 (2019/2020 census) but it is very rich in terms of mineral wealth; it is blessed with cobalt and zinc and was a leading nation in copper production; in fact, it is famous for its Copper Belt District; however, since the advent of satellite communication, its copper market plummeted as a result of less dependence and demand for cable networking that was wholly dependent on copper.          

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