Kenneth Kaunda led Zambia to independence in 1964 and served as that country’s president until 1991 after having played a major role in its independence movement that aimed at freeing itself from Rhodesia and white minority rule.
For this, Kaunda suffered imprisonment for clashing with his white opponents. Five years after being removed from office, he was shockingly stripped of his Zambian citizenship because his parents had emigrated from Malawi before he was born.
The Zambian High Court ruled in 1999 that he had governed Zambia illegally during his two terms as president, a decision he would vehemently protest.
Kaunda was born April 28, 1924, in Lubwa, near Chinsali, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). His father, who was from Nyasaland (now Malawi), was a schoolteacher; his mother was also a teacher and the first African woman to teach in colonial Zambia.
After completing his secondary education, Kaunda also began to teach, first in colonial Zambia before Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in the middle 1940s.
When he returned to Zambia in 1949, he joined the first major anti-colonial organization in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), the African National Congress (ANC) and in the 1950s assumed the role of Secretary General.
Clashes within the ANC caused it to split, with Kaunda becoming the president of the newly formed Zambian African National Congress.
He skillfully used this position to force the British to abandon plans for a federation of the three central African colonies—Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland which would have placed ultimate power in the hands of a white minority of settlers.
This, coupled with his subsequent imprisonment by the colonial administration made him a hero in the eyes of the Zambian people to the extent that he got elected president of the new United National Independence Party (UNIP), which had been formed in October 1959.
With his skills and influence, the UNIP won the first major elections leading to final decolonization that was held in October 1962. Kaunda would later negotiate additional constitutional advances, and in 1964, the colonial administration granted Zambia its independence with Kaunda as its president.
Until his fall from power in 1991, Kaunda ruled under emergency powers, banning all parties except his. Thus, most of his years of leadership were observed under a one-party system that ensured that he won the presidency each time an election was held (1978 and 1983) while crushing several attempted coups against him in the early 1980s.
The Zambian economy would later tumble under his watch due to the rising price of oil and a fall in the world price of copper, the withdrawal of foreign aid and investment, as well as, corruption.
Due to international pressure for democracy in Africa and the above concerns, Kaunda declared multiparty elections in 1991, which he lost to his rival Frederick Chiluba of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).
That was the beginning of the woes of Kaunda as he regularly clashed with Chiluba’s administration who eventually stripped him of his Zambian citizenship.
Kaunda had decided to run against Chiluba in the 1996 presidential election but was barred from doing so after the government passed constitutional amendments that made him ineligible. The new constitution required that both parents of any presidential candidate be Zambian by birth.
Kaunda’s UNIP, the main opposition group, boycotted the elections to protest his exclusion from the poll. When the Zambian High Court subsequently declared Kaunda stateless in 1999, his supporters saw this as a deliberate attempt to humiliate the politician and his family.
Under Zambian law, that ruling rendered him liable to arrest and the seizure of his passport while he sought a country that will offer him refuge.
The court said that Kaunda had never renounced his original Malawian nationality but his lawyers lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the judgement, largely based on an earlier court ruling that anyone residing in the former British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia in 1964 is entitled to Zambian citizenship.
Fortunately, the court restored his citizenship the following year when the two people who brought the initial complaint (both supporters of the governing MMP) declined to contest the appeal.
Three years prior, Kaunda was arrested on charges of inciting an attempted coup but was released six days later and placed under house arrest until all charges were withdrawn in June 1998.
For years, the manipulation of citizenship laws for political purposes has been one of the popular ways of excluding opponents and silencing critics, as happened in Tanzania, Swaziland, and Botswana, and in the case of Ivory Coast, it led to years of civil war.
In 2011, Robert Chiseke from the Zambian party MMD, which was then in opposition, was arrested for allegedly faking his nationality, a move analysts described as witch-hunting.
Almost 20 years after Kaunda, who is now 96, had to prove his citizenship in a battle with the law courts, it has become obvious that his country is in the firm grips of the Chinese communist government than any other African country as they have been embroiled in a series of events that gave away their rights to their own country and their people.