We have come from far and near to pay tribute to the life of a true and noble son of Africa.
I must, at the outset, extend the deepest condolences of the Government and people of Ghana, of myself, and of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of whose Authority I have the honour to be the current Chair, to President Edgar Lungu, to the Government and people of Zambia, and to the family of Dr Kenneth Kaunda on this great loss. We pray for God’s blessings for you.
It is surely a fitting testimony to the man we are gathered here to mourn that the President of the Republic of Ghana has come all the way from West Africa to pay tribute on behalf of Ghana and ECOWAS.
But, then, there should probably not be much surprise. As part of Zambia’s Independence Day celebrations in 1964, and to symbolise President Kaunda’s early pan-African credentials, the national football team of Ghana, the Black Stars, came here to play the Chi-polo-polo of Zambia, at the then newly completed Independence Stadium.
Today, we are marking what is truly the end of an era on our continent. With the passing of President Kenneth Kaunda, the last of the great freedom fighters, the “philosopher kings” and independence leaders of Africa, has departed.
Like the continent’s other “philosopher kings” — Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Senegal’s Leopold Senghor, — Kenneth Kaunda went on to govern through his own distinctive political and economic philosophies.
Kenneth Kaunda, like these leaders, also saw the independence of his country as being, in Kwame Nkrumah’s immemorial words, “meaningless unless it was linked with the total liberation of Africa”, and, like them, his vision for his country’s post-colonial future left a profound imprint that lasted well beyond his time in office.
He might have been President of Zambia, but it was the struggles of his neighbours to be free from the shackles of colonialism and white race domination that consumed him, even at the risk of the economic health of Zambia.
Today, with the end of apartheid a quarter of a century in the past, Rhodesia UDI, a distant memory, and the continent no longer providing the turf for Cold War confrontations, it is difficult to imagine that the ANC was ever anything else but a ruling party, or that there were ever arguments about naming a country Zimbabwe or another one, Namibia, or that Angola used to be the place of many famous battles where young South Africans died needlessly.
Zambia was one of the celebrated “frontline states” that stared down the apartheid regime of South Africa, and, as President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda never forgot that fact a single day.
When the global fight against apartheid was reduced to the passing of endless resolutions condemning the regime, President Kaunda offered his country as refuge to the liberation movements.
Lusaka it was that became the headquarters of the ANC, SWAPO, FRELIMO, and the other liberation movements in exile. That decision took courage, and Zambia paid a high price. The traditional routes to the ports for exports from landlocked Zambia were no longer available, and Lusaka was regularly and ruthlessly bombed by apartheid air force jets.
Through it all, President Kaunda kept to his firm conviction that all liberation fighters, no matter where they came from, should be and were as safe as Zambians in Zambia.
When I visited his home, in the outskirts of Lusaka, in July 2018, as part of my official visit to Zambia, it represented a solemn moment for me. I was seeing, in person, the man popularly referred to as “K.K”, for the first time in my life. He was ninety-four (94) at the time, but he was hale and hearty. He had fond memories of his last visit to Ghana in 1977, and, it was obvious to me that old age had not diminished his intellect, neither had it diminished his strength.
We are given to understand that, at his birth, his parents gave the nickname of “Buchizya”, or the “unexpected one” to Kenneth, having been born in the 20th year of their marriage. He might have been unexpected, but he certainly turned out to have been most welcome and influential in our lives on the African continent.
His last public appearance on the continental stage was at the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Their lives were so inter-twined, fighting for a free, dignified Africa, that it was appropriate that he should speak at great Madiba’s funeral.
On behalf of the Governments and the three hundred and fifty million peoples of ECOWAS, I extend our deepest condolences to the family of President Kenneth Kaunda. Thank you to the family and the people of Zambia for sharing him with us.
Go well freedom fighter, sleep well the humanist, a grateful Africa bids you fond farewell. May God bless you.
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