Zambia last week celebrated 50 years of independence from British colonial rule.
The nation, unshackled from colonial rule half a century ago, has faced its share of problems, but political stability has remained a constant even during the Cold War days when Zambia became a one-party State along with other newly-independent African countries who had naturally aligned with the Communist Eastern bloc against their Western former colonisers, adopting undemocratic Stalinist tendencies in the process.
To Zambia, this was more of out circumstance than conviction.
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When Zambia got independent, military coups were common in Africa, but Zambia was spared because its relatively free political environment minimised conflict and chances of rebellion.
The avuncular founding leader Kenneth Kaunda’s calmness and steadiness steered Zambia through many crises. Kindness, friendliness, self-effacement, considerateness and firmness were strong in him.
Kaunda also did not forget about fellow blacks in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Angola, who were still groaning under the yoke of colonialism after Zambia got independent.
He felt duty-bound to ensure their emancipation by hosting exiles from those countries and allowing liberation movements like Zapu, Zanu (Zimbabwe), Swapo (Namibia), ANC, PAC (South Africa), Frelimo (Mozambique) and MPLA (Angola) to set up military training camps and rear bases to launch attacks on the unbending colonial racist regimes depriving black natives of freedom, equality and dignity.
He epitomised inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. He even gave free passage to rebel Rhodesian leader Ian Smith, allowing him to land on Zambian territory to negotiate with Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo during the height of the liberation war, not in capitulation, but in genuinely seeking a just and peaceful end to the increasingly bloody conflict.
But the biggest legacy Kaunda left to Zambia was to gracefully step down in 1991 after 27 years in power following his United National Independence Party’s electoral loss to new kid on the block, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy, which had been specifically formed to constitutionally free the nation from the legalised one-party system.
Because of this, Zambia has had four leadership changes while Zimbabwe has been mired in both intra-party and extra-party debilitating succession politics, resulting in a permanent state of socio-economic paralysis.
Zambia now has its fifth duly elected President, while Zimbabwe has not known any other leader than 90-year-old Robert Mugabe. By the way, Kaunda, born on April 28 1924, is actually two months younger than Mugabe, born on February 21 1924.
Zimbabwe should look no further than neighbouring Zambia for peaceful, orderly, constitutional succession.
This Editorial Comment was originally published on Oct 27, 2014