Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s founding president and champion of African nationalism, has died aged 97. The country’s current president, Edgar Lungu, announced this on Thursday announced on his Facebook page. Kaunda was Zambia’s first president from 1964 to 1991, after the country gained independence from the United Kingdom.
Kaunda was praised in the West for his statesmanship and politics of reconciliation and played a key role as a negotiator in the fight against apartheid. He allowed Zambia to be used as a base for the underground Zimbabwean nationalist groups and the banned African National Congress (ANC) from South Africa. Domestically, Kaunda became less popular as his term progressed, after he took on dictatorial tendencies and banned all opposition parties in 1973.
When Zambia held its first multi-party elections in 1991, Kaunda lost to union leader Fredrick Chiluba. After his presidency, Kaunda was active as a mediator in conflicts in Africa and was involved in the fight against AIDS.
The former president had been in a military hospital in the capital Lusanda since Monday with pneumonia. President Lungu has declared 21 days of national mourning in Zambia. “On behalf of the entire nation and myself, I pray that the entire Kaunda family will be comforted as we mourn our first president and true African icon,” Lungu wrote. Kaunda’s son, Kamarange, wrote on Facebook: “I am sorry to announce that we have lost Mzee.” Mzee is a Swahili term of respect for an elder. “Let’s pray for him.”