Kenneth David Kaunda (born 1924), first president of Zambia, was a leading figure in his country's independence movement. Until he stepped down in 1991, he maintained his critical position as the leader of a buffer country between white-ruled states in southern Africa and hostile, independent black-ruled states to the north.
Kenneth David Kaunda was born on April 28, 1924, at Lubwa Mission near Chinsali in Northern Rhodesia. His father was a minister and teacher who had left Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1904, and his mother was the first African woman to teach in colonial Zambia.
After completing his education in the early 1940s, Kaunda began teaching at Lubwa in 1943 and was headmaster there as well from 1944 to 1947. Then he moved to the copper mining area, where he founded a farmers' cooperative, was a mine welfare officer (1948), and became a boarding master at Mufulira Upper School from 1948 to 1949.
The urbanized copper area was a natural setting for African nationalism. Resenting the racial discrimination that prevailed in central Africa, Kaunda helped to found the African National Congress (ANC), the first major anticolonial organization in Northern Rhodesia. He was its secretary general from 1953 to 1958 under ANC president Harry Nkumbula.
Early on, Kaunda became committed to the nonviolent principles of India's Mohandas Gandhi, a position strengthened by his visit to India in 1957. He broke with Nkumbula and became president of the Zambia African National Union from 1958 through 1959. When civil disorder led to banning of this party, Kaunda was jailed for a period of nine months. On his release he became president of the new United National Independence party in 1960. On Oct. 30, 1962, he was elected to the Legislative Council. He formed a coalition government with Nkumbula's ANC and served as minister of local government and social welfare in 1962.
Zambia slowly moved through the complications of earning independence. Much of the success is attributed to the skillful diplomacy of Kenneth Kaunda, who succeeded in allaying the fears of the huge European and smaller Asian community that black leadership would ignore their interests. In October 1964, the new nation of Zambia was born, with Kaunda as its president.
After independence, Kaunda made agreements with mining companies over copper royalties. He also had to deal with uprisings of the Lumpa religious sect under self-styled prophetess Alice Lenshina. His relations with neighboring white-ruled Rhodesia were unstable after the latter's 1965 illegal break with Britain, but he resisted those within and without his government who urged military action. Instead, Kaunda sought aid for a rail line to a Tanzanian port. This would offer an alternate route for landlocked Zambia's copper that prior to the rail line had to be exported through Rhodesia. These tensions heightened tribal differences and encouraged Kaunda's socialist leanings.
Kaunda, like other African leaders, faced the complex problems of independence and tribalism, although his diplomatic skills saved his country the trauma of civil war. However, political pressures within and without his borders led him to impose single-party rule in 1973. With civil war to the west in Angola in 1976 and continuing conflict in Rhodesia, Kaunda won, unopposed, a new five-year term. Pledging his government to enforce high standards of morality and concern for public welfare, he was able to put down several attempted coups over the next few years.
Kenneth Kaunda retired from office in 1991 when Frederick Chiluba came to power in the first multiparty election in Zambia following the legalization of opposition parties in 1990. He moved to London where he continued to be concerned with the policies and programs of his native country.
Kaunda's autobiography, Zambia Shall Be Free (1962); a biography by Merfyn Morley Temple, Kaunda of Zambia (1964); another biography by Richard Seymour Hall, Kaunda: Founder of Zambia (1964); Hall's The High Price of Principles: Kaunda and the White South (1970); also David C. Mulford, Zambia: The Politics of Independence, 1957-1964 (1967).