Kenneth Kaunda leaves us with a suit, a street, fond memories

Daniel arap Moi, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere. [File, Standard]

Sometimes a student outperforms the teacher. Today, if you happen to be in Nairobi’s Kaunda Street and you are daring enough to be kitted in a short-sleeved coat and matching trousers going by a similar name, spare a thought for two special teachers.

The two started with classrooms of about 40 learners, which expanded to include their entire countries and beyond. Long past their retirement age, they will continue to influence lives in Africa and beyond from the other side of the grave.

These two teachers lived a long time ago, survived the choking dust of the chalk, sacrificed a lot for their people and ultimately made history by leading Tanzania and Zambia to freedom.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere needs no introduction to Kenyans for he was the soft-spoken neighbour who popularised collarless shirts and acted as a genteel uncle who always welcomed "naughty" socialist-leaning Kenyan politicians who ran afoul Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s rule. Coup plotters in Nairobi and Kampala, too, had a habit of hopping to Dar-es-Salaam whenever their power grab plans went awry.  

But when a young school teacher, Kenneth David Kaunda, made the pilgrimage to this cradle of Africa’s liberation, he was not cooking any coup. Not at that time. Kaunda was just a simple teacher. He fell in love with Nyerere’s style so much that he even copied his mode of dressing.

When he returned to Zambia, Kaunda practised the African socialism he had learnt from his mentor but the British were not impressed and jailed him for two months. He was later jailed for another nine months for agitating for freedom. This catapulted him into politics, positioning him as president when his country ultimately got independence in 1964.

Kaunda belonged to the epoch of other African heads of State who transited their country from colonial rule. The former president, who died on June 15, will be remembered for clamping down on democracy, although he redeemed himself when he peacefully gave up power after losing the 1991 election, again after the nudging by his friend, Nyerere.

Despite his magnanimity, he was later placed under house arrest, stripped of his Zambian citizenship and he ultimately lost one of his sons in an assassination attempt, when he tried to contest the presidency.

In retirement, the former president cut the image of a respectable statesman who still wept for Africa because of its mutated dream of freedom and the bloodletting that has been witnessed in several African states.