Zambia’s Founding Father, Kenneth Kaunda, Dies at 97

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Former president of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda died of pneumonia at a military hospital on Thursday.

He was 97.

Kaunda made history as Zambia’s first president and a founding patriarch of African independence. Kaunda held power for 27 years, ruling from 1964 to 1991 until he was voted out of office.

Before he became president, Kaunda was a crucial figure in Zambia’s (then Northern Rhodesia’s) independence movement from Britain.

While the European media portrayed Kaunda as a recalcitrant dictator, but the former teacher was generally loved in his country for the majority of his reign.

“I have never been a dictator. It (a one-party system) was a bargain with the people. But even then I knew it was not the best thing to do. But in that situation it was the only way out,” he told CNN.

“My colleagues and I decided we’re going to go into one party. The reason for that, there was no way, no way at all in which we could have fought and defeated colonialism all around us, with so many parties in Zambia at that time. No way at all.”

Zambian President Edgar Lungu released a statement following Kaunda’s passing, calling the founding father “a true African icon.”

“I learnt of your passing this afternoon with great sadness,” he wrote on Facebook. “On behalf of the entire nation and on my own behalf I pray that the entire Kaunda family is comforted as we mourn our first president and true African icon.”

The Zambian government has declared 21 days of national mourning with flags flying at half-mast and all forms of entertainment suspended — in honor of “KK.”

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