Zambia on October 24 celebrates its 50th birthday as an independent nation, and to better appreciate the country’s journey, Mail & Guardian Africa dropped in on His Excellency Dr Kenneth Kaunda, its first president. Excerpts.
Mail & Guardian Africa: You have seen Africa though 50 years of post independence, longer than any of your peers—any founding father who was leading his nation at independence. What would you say is the secret to your long and rich life?
Kenneth Kaunda: When you look at the creation of wealth, God taught us to love God your creator, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. He also taught us to love thy neighbour, as thou lovest thyself. Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
These commandments are in my view what God made to guide us, and where these commandments are followed, there is genuine peace.
MGA: You were part of a golden generation of African independence leaders that quickened the end of colonisation in Africa, in the spirit of that song you like, Tiyendi Pamodzi (forward together). With the benefit of hindsight, would you have done anything differently during the struggle for independence?
KK: I cannot see how anyone could fail to identify the meaning of building a nation anywhere, any part of the world, because we need to move forward in one way, and think of certain things in our nations, especially in the meaning of development. Development can be in many forms and in various fields of human endeavour, its not just in one area. Your question becomes important even more when we realise man’s future is dependent on a number of things that he is required to do; if man doesn’t do these things in a necessary way, then what is there, it will all collapse, it will become nothing.
MGA: If I can stay with the independence period at that time, many African countries chose planned economies, and there are some who have cited this for slower growth, and economies could have grown faster if we had the current market economies. Was an alternative path possible at independence?
KK: The planned economy for some of us was an extremely important area in human life. How do you meet these challenges that God has given us in our lives if you don’t help plan the economy? If you don’t plan your economy, you are leaving everything in the hands of some other people, not yourself. You are leaving the door wide open for others to misbehave, to complicate your own life.
MGA: He wanted us to intervene…?
KK: Yes, yes. So that way we must work hard to see that economic planning is done by the people themselves in a given country, and it is not something which should be done by other people, the people themselves have to do that, and that’s how I see it.
MGA: Your Excellency, I have seen a lot of things being done by the Chinese, and as I speak to Zambians they have a very favourable view of the work that is being undertaken by the Chinese. In Africa I think Zambia and Tanzania have arguably had the longest relationships with China in the post-independent period, and this is a relationship that blossomed under your rule. What can we learn for the Chinese approach?
KK: I think they are a very good lesson for us. When we were fighting [for independence and liberation], in China, the government was being led by Mao TseTsung. The other young man who was leading the fight there [Chiang Kai-Shek] is the one who ran to Taiwan. The West and the UN said this is the real leader of China, not Mao TseTsung.
And we, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and myself said no, the real leader of China is this man, Mao TseTsung. We argued strongly, thank God we succeeded in the recognition of China as a true member of the United Nations, and this was confirmed by everybody. China, they were strong communists, but that did not worry us, that is their way of thinking, and we thought differently and up to now we remain good friends, and many of them are here with us, helping us to build Zambia in different ways; roads, schools, hospitals and all those organisations that are required in human life.
MGA: So we should welcome them in the development of Africa?
KK: Yes, definitely. I have visited a number of African countries; one time I went to Nigeria and I found a big headquarters being built, Chinese headquarters, developing there to help develop Nigeria, and so we find this in many parts of the continent.
MGA: Your Excellency, we are also seeing new things around the continent, we are seeing cross border terrorism, we have seen conflict, what would we need to change in your assessment so as to live in peace?
KK: Peace is something special in our lives, and I would counsel all our friends, left[ist], right[ist], centre, to maintain that peace. Peace means you are working with other people in your own development efforts, at the same time you are keeping your own standards, and you are able to see what path you can follow in development. We are looking for economic development, once we develop economically we be able to meet challenges of education, look at hospitals, get your roads in your own country, get what you use in human development.
MGA: Essentially if you have human development you reduce the chances of conflict?
KK: Exactly. No doubt about it. Once you lessen the areas of conflict then of course growth is assured, and it is what we are trying to look for wherever we are. We want it to reduce conflict in our continent, reduce poverty and its options of ignorance, disease, crime, corruption.
MGA: If I can take you to the issue of African integration, there have been many efforts right from pan-Africanism to where we are now with the African Union, but there are those who feel Africa is still behind other people such as the European Union in terms of integration. If we trace the path of integration, what have been the challenges for Africa?
KK: Integration has to be about many things. In Zambia as we fought for our independence we had 73 tribes, then came the English tribe, the Irish tribe, the Boer tribe, the Pakistani tribe…many.
In terms of colour we had a problem there, because the English who came to join us are White, we are Black, the Indians, Pakistanis, the Boers are Brown, so colour comes in, as a challenge, yet if you understand what you are doing you can instill cooperation among all these people, you build something, unity of these people regardless of colour, regardless of faith. But yet we have managed to build ourselves here, and we continue to work together. We are developing, we are growing, even among the faiths such as Islam, and we are working together.
In the end, those differences don’t lead us to divisions, they lead us to building, hence One Zambia, One Nation.
MGA: So what we are saying is that African leaders can learn from Zambia, the way it has managed to live as one nation, to overcome the differences we have as countries?
KK: Certainly, certainly. That is how we build ourselves.
MGA: If I can ask you about the African Union, which was the Organisation of African Unity in your time, how do you assess its efforts towards bringing Africa together?
KK: I was chairman of OAU twice (1970 and 1987) and I must say I visited many African countries, and I explained wherever I go how I saw the OAU. I found it very useful. We were able to talk about African security [and accomplish a lot.]
MGA: If I can ask, you, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Uganda’s Milton Obote were part of what was called the Mulungushi Club, and very few know about it and maybe you could tell us what it was all about, and why we don’t have such partnerships [in Africa] anymore?
KK: We were working together very closely with others. The Mulungushi Club was designed to build a leadership area of independence against those who were oppressing people in Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. We were happy to fight for their independence. For example we followed Mahatma Gandhi’s method, he taught us that when you are fighting to breach colonialism, you can afford to fight it non-violently. But these others you’ve got to use the gun, and when we were fighting them we fought using the gun, we went to prison in, out, otherwise we were in a non-violent battle.
When we were fighting in Angola, Mozambique we established stations to train fighters, and it took them some years. Mwalimu trained them using Chinese and USSR, they brought soldiers there, troops to train, came to Zambia to train them (Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe) here.
We were helped a lot by the Chinese and the Soviet Union, and when we begun training them here the Boers started bombing us. So our whole struggle is something of great independence, it is historical, has so many factors, one day you may see them in my memoirs that I am writing.
MGA: Maybe I may ask…do you miss all this, your friends, your generation, do you ever sit and say, “I miss these guys”, and wish you could sit together for one last hurray?
KK: Every second. We’ve been meeting, in the day, when we were retired, we still keep in touch quite well.
MGA: I can ask you my last question; is there anything generally Africa does not talk about or pay as much attention to as it should?
KK: [After some reflection] Well, if we don’t handle the question of future unity properly we could lose something of importance. All our leaders are talking about political unity, and looking into the future of African unity, and that’s why we said we see here in Zambia, Michael Sata, he is talking about that, I have written to 13 presidents about the importance of building unity, including through friends such as China, and these shows we are still friends as the OAU intended, as we fight Africa’s challenges.