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Reading the Pan-Africanists: Kenneth Kaunda (1)

June 22nd, 2022 | 2 min read

By Jake Meador

For reasons I may explain later, I’m doing a bit of a deep dive on some pan-Africanist thinkers right now, currently working on Kenneth Kaunda but with plans to also return to Julius Nyerere and Kwame Nkrumah later, both of whom I’ve read in the past.

This is from Kenneth Kaunda’s A Humanist in Africa. Kaunda was the first president of Zambia, serving from 1964 to 1991. This book was published in 1966:

I have no doubt that many imperialists thought that their invasion of Africa was a humanist gesture—to liberate the poor benighted heaten trapped within the barbaric tribal system. At least that is what they claimed in their biographies. In fact, Colonialism, for all its benefits, devalued Man. It created elite societies in which men’s worth was determined by an irrelevant biological detail—skin pigmentation. And even more serious, the colonialists set out to destroy our self-confidence. They dinned into the African mind the idea that we were primitive, backward and degraded, and but for their presence amongst us, would be living like animals. …

It was nationalism, of course, which restored our self-confidence, for it taught us what we could do together as men, and only as men—at no stage in the freedom struggle had we the material power or military might of the colonialists. It was humanity in revolt that won us our freedom. I believe we triumphed not because we had the greater power, but because we occupied the superior moral position. This fact enlightened colonial powers such as Britain recognized, and could no longer rule us without forfeiting their self-respect. When I came away from London in 1964 with Zambia’s Independence Constitution in my brief case, I and my colleagues were greeted at Lusaka Airport by a huge cheering crowd and in that most moving moment it struck me afresh that it was people who had done this thing. It was the triumph of a Man-centered society over a Power-centered society.

This intense belief in the possibilities of Man is a discovery which Africa appears to be making long after the West had discarded it. We in Africa look in amazement and with disappointment at the two great Power Blocs flirting with global destruction in order to build up the ego of their peoples. It is our recurrent nightmare that we might be sucked into this conflict and have our people robbed of life at the beginning of a bright new day for Africa.

To a certain extent, we in Africa have always had a gift for enjoying Man for himself. It is at the heart of our traditional culture, but now we see the possibility of extending the scale of our discovery by example to the whole world. Let the West have its Technology and Asia its Mysticism! Africa’s gift to world culture must be in the realm of Human Relationships. The Colonialists may talk condescendingly about the things they have taught us, yet I honestly believe that we have been all the time much nearer to the heart of the things that really matter than our Western teachers. After all, don’t the scientists tell us that Africa was the cradle of Man? The way things are going, Africa may be the last place where Man can still be Man.