This piece was written just days after the event in 2007. It never got published as planned but I have unearthed it and I am now sharing it on my blog as a tribute to a great leader who passed on Yesterday at the age of 97. I hope it can inspire you to believe in Africa’s potential and innate greatness. Rest In Peace, Mr Kaunda.
There he stood, radiating wisdom and strength that belied his 83 years on earth.
He spoke and we listened in rapt attention, drinking from a vast wealth of knowledge and experience, hoping to have just enough to transform us. He represented our key to change: a man of the past, now living in the present and was definitely privy to the keys of a vibrant future for Africa. The year was 2007, the month of October.
Kenneth Kaunda’s presence at the British council Pan African event at the Zambezi Sun in Lusaka, Zambia was the generous topping on the cream cake.
Pooling Africa’s Potentials
Already, over 170 emerging leaders, representing 19 African countries as well as delegations from the UK and Pakistan had been recharged after two days of vibrant talks. They had explored each other’s cultures, traditions, artistic and technical know hows. They had shared each others pride, glories and limitless potentials and were still basking in and pondering over the breathtaking revelations.
How come they had never known that Botswana had a yearly musical festival? It was truly amazing to discover that Mauritius did not just offer tourism but produced sugar as well. Malawians not only told of but also supplied delegates at the conference with world renowned coffee and tea. And when Nigerians unveiled their human resources in terms of their contributions to literature, entertainment and the world’s economy, participants gasped, regarded each other and agreed that Africa truly was blessed. They conceded that it was now time to through collective work, deliver the “great big black continent” from the shackles of neocolonialism, self devaluation and under development.
Organisers ensure that we were housed in impressive hotels set therein the heart of the Zambia, and not far from the legendary Victoria water falls, thereby giving us an opportunity to see its magnificence. It was sad that such a place, known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World had yet to receive world acclamation as one of the world’s top tourist centres; probably because very few Africans had bothered to spread the “word” and were more interested in inter rather than intra continental travel.
Inspired by history
By the time, Kaunda, Zambia’s first leader sat to address us, blood was rushing through our veins and there was a definitely hum of energy across the room. Here we were faced with a man who became president at 40 and stayed in power for the next 27 years. He told us the story of Apartheid southern African and how he, Nelson Mandela and a host of others, teamed up to fight for independence. We listened on as he spoke of how he came to be a vegetarian, all in a bid to fight racism. He recalled that black people in the society then had been reduced to buying meat from pigeon holes. The meat was known as “boys meat” and even though he was almost 30 years old at that time, he was forced to purchase meat through those pigeon holes, a move he regarded as dehumanizing so stopped buying from them.
More people followed in kaunda’s steps and soon the holes were sealed when sellers realized blacks had stopped buying. On the 20th of January 1980, kaunda stopped eating meat, fish, chicken and eggs. What had started as a protest became a way of life!
If only there were selfies…
He finished speaking and proceeded to jug out of the room for pictures-yes JUG! Can you believe that? At 83, Kaunda was exhibiting physical strength that could put even wrestlers to shame. All of a sudden participants seemed to forget their status as adults as they sprinted out of the hall and unto the lawn, trying to get a good spot for the group photograph. Picture taken, I moved back to the hall, still unsatisfied. I had not yet shook hands with the great leader and that had been top on my agenda, as insignificant as it may seem.
My chance came as he returned to the room, smiling with obvious calm and a look that suggested that he really was happy to be amongst us. I wove through tables and chairs and waited for him to get to where I now stood.
Alas! I stood face to face with Kenneth Kaunda but at this time, my preplanned words had decided to fail me. Instead we shared a smile. What I had never known in my twenty something years on earth, his eyes communicated to me: The need to be proud of my African heritage, the need to believe in the potentials of Africa and not rely on the Western world to always hold the torch in everything but to deliver ourselves by coming together and fighting a cause. Just as he’d stated in the hall, his eyes retold to me the story of UBUNTU- I am, because you are, because we are….Regardless of tribe, culture or geographical location, we Africans need each other to forge ahead and make our continent what it ought to be.