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Africa 2009: Africa’s 5,000 legends, icons & superstars – The Man called “KK”
Posted on May 18th 2009
Whose values and faces should the African story represent? Should it be black or white? Which leads us to ask a legitimate question of who is an African? We are all God's creation and yet some would wish the similarities to end there.
On 18th July, 2009, former President Kenneth Kaunda will receive a "Banking on Africa's Future (BOAF) - 5,000 Points of Light (POL)" or BOAF-5,000POL Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to humanity and advancing the African cause.
Although his parents were Malawian born, he never saw himself as less Zambian than his fellow citizens whose parents were Zambian born. In celebrating the life of this remarkable African, we have to pause to think and attempt to place ourselves in his shoes.
There are many of us who believe that citizenship is a birthright and our minds have been shaped to believe that a person like KK could never be an authentic Zambian citizen. Some would go further to hold the view that KK should not have been the first Prime Minister and President of independent Zambia because of his Malawian heritage.
Xenophobia poses a big challenge in Africa. South Africa, the largest African economy, has attracted many foreign-born black African citizens like KK's parents and yet there are many who believe that South Africa should belong only to black people who were born in it and whose names are South African sounding.
KK did not change his surname to fit in but rather he chose to be the change that he wanted to see. He did not surrender or retreat into a state of mind that would have placed him as a second class in his parents' adopted home.
No one can doubt KK's contribution to the making of a new Zambia founded on different values and principles. He like Mahatma Gandhi did not have to think twice to confront injustice and oppression.
Africa is and has often been described as a dark continent with the only source of light coming from Europeans yet Africa has produced its own remarkable points of light that remain unconnected. The dots that have no connecting points collectively represent Africa's promise.
Each point of light has its own significance to the African story. KK's life is intricately linked to the story of Zambia. KK was a dreamer like most of us but his calling was different. Some of us in business, talk of sales revenue and profits, as a measure of our worth and contribution.
KK was a different man. He had to respond to the challenges of the time. Although black Zambians were human beings like their white oppressors, they were treated as second-class citizens.
The framers of the colonial state convinced themselves that black Africans had no interest in a nation state founded on a social contract of citizen obligation to the state through taxes levied. The state's obligation was restricted only to those for whom the state had a meaning. Using this logic, the state had no obligation to people who were not connected to it through direct or indirect contribution and this meant that blacks could not conceivably be considered as injured parties if their way of life had no connection with the colonial project. Only blacks with property or education could, therefore, be assimilated into the colonial project.
KK argued that Zambia belonged to all people who believed in it. On 24 October 1964, KK became the first President of Zambia and remained in that position until 1991. The courage and faith of KK and his colleagues in their pursuit of liberty produced the outcome that inspired many other Africans to scale the heights of oppression with determination and hope.
Kaunda's upbringing was ordinary and yet working together with other colleagues they managed to overcome the seemingly indomitable challenges.
The founding fathers of Africa were men of courage and selfishness. They made sacrifices at great personal risk and struggled to unite the country to believe in the justice of the cause and to believe that victory was certain.
KK understood that although men are created equal and endowed by the creator with unalienable rights like life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, in human civilization it is the silence of the majority that opens a window for the minority to reinterpret God's promise to mankind.
In celebrating KK's role in bringing about change in Zambia, we are also celebrating the domino effect of such change. When Zambians raised the flag of independence and put in place a new constitution, many more Africans were inspired to believe that nothing was inevitable.
When KK became President of Zambia, it is difficult to imagine what was his state of mind but there is no doubt that many Africans who had not seen the Promised Land could see it through his own eyes. Indeed, the mountaintop became another destination for all Zambians.
No one can challenge the fact that KK was the first President of Zambia. There may be no consensus on whether he was a good President but what we know is that his place in Zambia and, indeed, African history is secure.
It is easy for our generation to regard our history and struggles as irrelevant. However, the kind of choices that we are now privileged to make, and take for granted, could not be possible were it not for the sacrifices and choices of people like KK.
If KK was selfish like many of us, he could easily have cut a deal for himself with the colonial regime. However, he was a man who was motivated less by his own personal and family interests but by a national cause.
During his reign, he practiced what he preached and saw himself as an African first and a Zambian second.
Why should we celebrate KK's life? Many of us see ourselves in KK's life. He understood that his cause was greater than personal life and was prepared to pay the ultimate price.
On the 18th of July, the world will celebrate former President Mandela's birthday and yet many will not find a connection between Mandela and KK.
If KK had made a choice to pursue a business career or another career in the pursuit of personal happiness, would Mandela have been the icon that he has become? Can we see the iconic status of Mandela as derivative of the choices made by people like KK?
In celebrating Mandela's remarkable life, we have no choice but to pause to reflect on the lives of critical people without whose sacrifice, wisdom, and determination, Mandela would have just been another footnote of history.
Many died for the cause and yet people like KK were not deterred. Even after leaving office, KK remains a man committed to the cause, a rare feat in Africa.
By celebrating our own first achievers like KK, we are reminding ourselves of the journey yet to be travelled. The journey is often lonely.
We do hope that we can use the 18th of July to celebrate not just Mandela's birthday but also the contribution of people like KK to make Africa the kind of continent we see today.
If Africa could produce KK in politics, the real challenge is to produce more KKs not just in politics but other areas of human endeavor. When he sought to change Zambia, he was not doing it for himself but saw himself as a servant of a people that was politically and economically subjugated.
Africa has now overcome the race-based political challenges; the remaining challenge is to deliver on the economic promise. How relevant is KK's life to the contemporary challenges that we face as Africans with so few visible and celebrated role models? He is very relevant. He is not alone and we need to create our own bank of knowledge about the continent's founding fathers.
The struggle for democracy united Africa. KK's life has demonstrated that there is more that unites us than divide us. We do hope that you will join us for this special celebration of a remarkable African.
KK like Mujoma, Machel, Neto, Banda, Mandela, Nyerere and others belong to a special class of Africans that we call: "Liberators" because they made choices that have made many of us relevant in a continent we call our own but whose past was informed by exclusionary policies.