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Zambia’s longtime former President Kenneth Kaunda dies aged 97

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  • Kaunda died Thursday in Lusaka at 97 years of age—the last of a generation of African liberation leaders that also included South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Mr. Kaunda’s cause of death was pneumonia, said Victoria Chitungu, a close family friend and author of a forthcoming biography of the former president.

Zambia’s founding father, Kenneth Kaunda has died. He was 97.

Kaunda became the Zambian President in 1964 when the country won its independence from Britain and he led the country until 1991.

The former Zambian President is known for being one of the front line states leaders who played a major role in the liberation of the continent.

Africa’s postcolonial leaders often fit a familiar type: the freedom fighter, the autocrat, the revered elder statesman. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia was all three.

His six-decade career in politics spanned the fight against British colonial rule, a Soviet-inspired government grab for the country’s mines and finally, the peaceful transfer of power through a democratic election. Toward the end, he was known affectionately as “KK,” an emotional figure who loved to sing ballads and who often burst into tears mourning departed friends and foes alike.

Mr. Kaunda dabbed his eyes so often in public that a white handkerchief became his calling card. Zambians would wave them in support of their leader.

Mr. Kaunda died Thursday in Lusaka at 97 years of age—the last of a generation of African liberation leaders that also included South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Mr. Kaunda’s cause of death was pneumonia, said Victoria Chitungu, a close family friend and author of a forthcoming biography of the former president.

His transformation from anti-colonial strongman to beloved former leader largely resulted from a seminal moment in African politics. After an unexpected electoral trouncing in 1991, Mr. Kaunda stepped down without a fight. Other African leaders, notably Mr. Mugabe, made different choices, disregarding the results of democratic elections that threatened their power.

Meanwhile, Zambian President, Edgar Lungu is expected to address the nation. ■

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