Home News The Kenneth Kaunda I knew.

The Kenneth Kaunda I knew.


By Munyaradzi Hwengwere. Former CEO ZBC and Founder Aidscom Africa

So much has been said at the passing on of Dr Kenneth Kaunda. He has been an outstanding African luminary, liberator, founder and former president of the Republic of Zambia.  He was an African giant. A man like no other.

Yet for all these things said about him, his approachability, love for the people and simplicity made him the most unique man I have ever known. One would think he would be the most difficult man to access. The opposite was true. My own story as a Zimbabwean who had no prior contact with him illustrates this.

 I had just left the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and started Savanna Media in Zambia and keen on using communication as a tool to advance Africa’s developmental agenda. In 2006 I went to Dr Kaunda to ask him to become patron of an initiative I had begun with Dr Paul Chimedza for former Heads of State of Africa to use their influence in mobilizing communities to fight against HIV and Aids.  We called the organization AIDSCOM.

Though I had never met him in person, he gave us first class treatment in his humble office in Lusaka. Upon listening to our story, he was so moved, he shed tears.  He even did better than simply become patron. He assumed the role of introducing us to other former Heads of State of Africa.

At the time they had just formed an association in which former South African President Nelson Mandela was Patron. A meeting was due to be held in Johannesburg. Thanks to President Kaunda we were slotted as speakers at that conference. Before we knew it, we had been endorsed as the partners of that association.

 The former Heads of State understood that though we were young people with limited resources and global influence we had settled on a mission that was important for their own legacies and future of the continent. At the time AIDS was killing Africans in their millions. Without safe guarding the youths of the continent, the future of Africa was in danger.

We had been moved by efforts of former president Bill Clinton to assist Africa beat HIV and Aids. My friends and I wondered why an American should show more interest in this matter than those invested in the continent. Africa too, had a generation of former Heads of State. It was imperative for them to understand that leadership goes beyond being in political office.

President Kaunda was quick to grasp this concept and vocal in cajoling his colleagues to embrace and walk with us.

 A Zambia friend, Martin Kalungu, filled the gaps by mobilising funding from Oxfam and Mo-Ibrahim Foundation .

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As they say, “ain’t nothing like an idea whose time has come’, and so on World Aids Day, first of December 2007, with support of late President Levy Mwanawasa,  AIDSCOM,  became proud hosts of over a dozen former Heads of State of Africa who included the late Benjamin Mkapa and former OAU Secretary General, Salim Ahmed Salim. We held that Conference in Livingstone, Zambia.

No one cared that the founders of this initiative were two under resourced Zimbabweans. We united to plan for a future in which HIV and Aids would be less of a menace. Today, we must at the very least accept that perhaps in some ways it is  the efforts by the likes of Dr Kaunda that has gotten HIV and Aids in Africa under control.

President Kaunda met his own bills and at no time did he demand anything from us except demonstrate intense passion, compassion and interest in our work. His most common reference was the need for Africa’s young people to come together in aid of their continent.

He used the same characteristic selflessness to introduce us to business and political leaders as his young men who were contributing to a better Africa. I remember how he force marched us to meet President Kagame at some summit in Johannesburg, so he could listen to our story.   

I remember most fondly how he trotted into meetings and brought us to shame by minding what he ate. We wondered on many occasions if at his age we would be even able to walk let alone run.  He was a complete leader.

 In his book, Great by Choice , Jim Collins defines the likes of Dr Kaunda as a level 5 leader. He was a person who was obsessed with results but totally understated in personality. These are rare people who are comfortable with their life mission and transcend common day to day trappings. Such leaders can laugh at themselves and are able to speak of their errors. They seek advice even from the most common man. Their complexity is in their simplicity. That was the Dr Kaunda I got to know.

I never at any moment took him for a man whom I could not speak truth to. At no time did I feel I could not discuss his legacy with him. Equally he made no qualms about the fact that he had made mistakes as a leader. Infact by reconciling with his past acts of commission and omission he became a better and greater leader.  He did not strike me as weak simply because he laughed and played with children. The truth is opposite. I saw in him a determined and strong character.

As we study leaders and ponder about the future of Africa, I submit we must study this man. His achievements are more than a sum total of most leaders we know.  He fought against colonial rule. He became ruler and first Zambian Republican president. He lost an election. He started again as a philanthropist and entertainer of sorts. He was a wellness fanatic. He lived up to the age of 97 and yet we still wanted him on earth for some more years.

 Dr Kaunda is a true hero.  Go well Dr Kaunda. You are a true inspiration to my generation and many others.


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