By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE
A Precursor of what would happen when the inevitable finally happened on July 7 afternoon, as Zambia’s first president, the late Kenneth Kaunda was put to rest at Embassy Park – albeit an event that’s now being seen as gone against his wishes as he had reportedly wanted to be buried at State Lodge next to his wife, Betty.
Indeed, having inspired a better Zambia, Kaunda’s rest is well deserved. Now he has entered into conversation, not with himself, but his Creator. And the country cannot thank him enough for his magnificent leadership.
With his role as a unifier, the irony is that the battle over his legacy and burial choice had embarrassingly developed into a multi- faceted campaign between factions, or, if you want the “Kaunda Family”, comprising the ruling and opposition political parties, the various foundations and charities he set up after his retirement in 1991, as well as political comrades and business associates with whom he forged relations over many years, and, of course, his biological and adopted family members.
Prior to his burial, in the past few weeks, there had been a tug of war and angry words amongst the “factions” and even within the biological and adopted family itself; there were deep divisions with respect to who had first rights to his legacy and choice of his burial site. Welcome to the Kaunda family’s final showdown where the battle lines had seemingly been drawn between the biological first-born son’s faction and that of the sixth-born son, Kaweche. The whereabouts of the adopted-orphan from Nigeria’s Biafra war that many prefer to forget remains unknown.
For most Nigerians, the war over the breakaway state of Biafra was generally regarded as an unfortunate episode best forgotten, but for the Igbo people who fought for secession, it remains a life-defining event. In 1967, following two coups and turmoil which led to about a million Igbos returning to the south-east of Nigeria, the Republic of Biafra seceded with 33-year-old military officer Emeka Ojukwu at the helm. The Nigerian government declared war and after 30 months of fighting, Biafra surrendered. In 1970, the conflict officially ended.
It is common knowledge that Zambia recognised the secession of Biafra from the Federal State of Nigeria in May 1968 – albeit to the chagrin of the officialdom at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). This decision, which was made by only four countries in Africa – Zambia, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Tanzania caused a lot of misunderstanding among African heads of states. Furthermore, President Kaunda and his wife also adopted an orphaned Biafran boy-child as one of their own and renamed him Chola. The orphaned Biafran boy-child, after he was adopted, snugly fitted in the Kaunda family and assumed the role of being immediate younger sibling to the twins, Cheswa and Kambarage. Does this begin to sound familiar?
Coming back to the Kaunda family’s showdown over the burial site’s choice, in Kaweche’s corner it would appear that he may have been used as a figurehead for an opposition conspiracy, consisting of cloaked political figures in the background exploiting his naivety and his late father’s legacy whilst remaining safely out of sight. These mysterious individuals are likely to be members of the current UPND Alliance, possibly Hakainde Hichilema’s associates whose motives were clearly aimed at crippling the former first president’s burial at Embassy Park even before it started.
Kaweche painted the PF government, in mainstream and social media, as uncaring to his late father’s wish to be buried at State Lodge next to his wife, and cited many reasons to explain why. This posed a problem because Presidents Levy Mwanawasa, Frederick Chiluba and Michael Sata were all buried at Embassy Park after the government and relatives had agreed to their burial at this site.
While, in Panji’s corner were the Secretary to the Cabinet and his government officials, including the Lusaka High Court that threw out an application for judicial review made by Kaweche who sought a change of burial of his father from Embassy Park to his home in State Lodge. There were many supporting actors for the government’s stance. Kaweche now looks embarrassingly wounded. Besides, whether anybody has an agenda or not, politics is the name of the game. All is fair and square, it seems. The prize is power come next month’s presidential race.
Worth noting though, the duo’s biological father outlived his spouse, who died on September 18, 2012 and was buried at State Lodge in Lusaka, which availed the elderly man an opportunity to express his wish to be buried next to her. When President Mwanawasa died in office in July 2008, the government had not designated a burial place for persons that had held the office of President. By Statutory Instrument No. 64 of 2009, dated September 18, 2009, made pursuant to Section 27 of the National Heritage Conservation Commission Act, Chapter 173 of the Laws of Zambia, the said Embassy Park was officially designated as a National Monument. So, what must happen next?
Legal experts opined that there was need for a legal provision to designate Embassy Park as the official presidential burial site. Adding that when a person ascends to the position of President, he becomes a national asset and ceases to be the property of a family hence must be accorded a befitting burial. By virtue of being a national asset, the site where a president must be buried should not be in a system of family lineage, therefore it was prudent for the government to bury him at a site with a national character. It all sounds rather familiar that there is need for a law that would designate Embassy Park as an official presidential burial site to avoid any confusion in future, as presidents are no ordinary persons hence should be buried at a place that is befitting of their status. For the moment, though, the debate continues on suggestions to exhume and rebury Zambia’s founding father.