Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda dies aged 97

Kenneth Kaunda, Zambian President, during press conference.
LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – JANUARY 20: Former President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda casts his ballot for the Zambian Presidential elections at Woodland Primary School in Lusaka on January 20, 2015. (Photo by Jean Mandela/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s founding president has died at the age of 97, the government announced on Thursday.

Simon Miti, the Cabinet Secretary said in a public address that the former president “died peacefully” at 2:30 pm (1230 GMT) at a military hospital where he had been admitted with pneumonia on Monday.

21 days of national mourning has been declared and flags will fly at half-mast.

Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu said he learnt of Kaunda’s death with “great sadness”.

“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,” President Edgar Lungu said in a message on his Facebook page.

Kenneth David Kaunda was born on April 28, 1924, the youngest of eight children of a Church of Scotland minister at Lubwa mission in the remote north of the country.

He led Zambia for 27 years after the country gained independence from Britain in October 1964.

KK, popularly known by his initials, was head of the main nationalist party, the left-of-center United National Independence Party (UNIP) which led the country after British colonial rule.

While in power he hosted many of the movements fighting for independence or black equality in other countries around the region, including South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC).

Kaunda also played a major role in Mozambique’s independence talks in 1975, Zimbabwe’s in 1980 and Namibia’s in 1990.

Some nicknamed him “Africa’s Gandhi” for his non-violent, independence-related activism in the 1960s.

However, Kaunda’s popularity at home waned as he became increasingly autocratic and banned all opposition parties.

In 1991, he was forced to hold the first multi-party elections for 23 years, which he lost to long-time foe, trade unionist Frederick Chiluba.

In retirement, Kaunda emerged as a respected voice of experience on the continent, from mediating in conflicts to his frank approach to the AIDS epidemic after acknowledging that the disease had killed one of his own sons.

In his later years, he led a quiet life, mostly staying at home and only occasionally appearing at state functions.

(Input from agencies)

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