The Letter to Malawi

One morning in 1972, that is at least ten years in power, first as Prime Minister and then President of Zambia, Dr Kenneth David Kaunda wrote a letter to the Minister of Home Affairs of the neighbouring nation of Malawi. “Dear Minister”, wrote Kenneth Kaunda, “I write you to renounce my Malawian citizenship.” In this short letter was contained the complicated times and legacy of Zambia’s first president. To understand how a leader of an independent Zambia came to pen such a significant letter, we must first situate him within the times that made Zambia, made Africa, and made Kenneth Kaunda.

Rhodesia and Nyasaland

Like Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland was a British Protectorate. For the sake of our discussion, being a protectorate was just one other way of saying colony. When it came to the real issues or what really mattered, there really was no difference between a colony and a protectorate. The only difference perhaps lay in what sort of guilt the empire needed to rationalise its occupation of foreign lands – sometimes colonial guilt or protectorate guilt. At a local Church of Scotland Mission at Livingstonia, was a very zealous local Christian evangelist. Association with the local missionaries meant better education and mostly better privileges, or as we can now call it – mayadi. Once he had converted to Christianity for local teacher David Kaunda, he became a zealous evangelist for his new faith. He had it in his heart to spread the gospel to all the people around him.

This new faith was not just going to be spread by the Whites only. David Kaunda took it upon himself to be the evangelist. On one of his mission trips, David Kaunda, now a reverend in the Church of Scotland, spotted the need to become the evangelist to the Bemba tribe. The Bemba tribe lived in Northern Rhodesia, about 500 km west of the Livingstonia Mission in Nyasaland. Livingstonia was close to David Kaunda’s ancestral homeland. Some say that he was Tonga – a Malawian Tonga.

Reverend David Kaunda

Once Rev. David Kaunda settled among the Bembas, he became very popular with the locals. He preached the gospel, and soon after his arrival, he helped establish the Lubwa Mission Church in 1905. He helped lead it and provided leadership to the new outreach of the Church of Scotland. When Rev. David Kaunda was getting established in Chinsali, there were no borders, at least not in the way we understand borders, between Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. People would freely move between borders, and the fact that both Nyasaland and Rhodesia were under the British made it even easier to move across. In a generation of mobility, people moved freely from one village to another and from chiefdom to chiefdom.

The Lubwa Mission Church, even though founded by the African David Kaunda, remained Scottish in its doctrine and outlook. It had remained in doctrine and practice, a church of the White people trying to enculturate itself among the Africans. The songs sung in the church were the Scottish protestant hymns translated into the local Bemba languages. Some Scottish missionaries joined David Kaunda at this mission. As the Lubwa Mission was expanding, there was a complicated relationship between its doctrines and the practical lives of the African people. There is consensus among academicians that the traditional African worldview, particularly among the Bembas, was religious but not the European kind of religious. Perhaps, before David Kaunda established the Lubwa Mission, the Bemba’s religious outlook was much more concerned about the here and now.

Religion among the Bembas had to do with what was practical to meet the people’s daily needs. There was no projection of “heaven”. The gods would bless people on earth, and therefore, the Bemba religious worldview did not include an afterlife reward for the religious faithful. Further, religion among the Bembas involved some sort of vibrancy and celebration. That being the case, the arrival of David Kaunda and his new faith at Lubwa meant that the people who converted to Christianity still had in their worldview a much more practical outlook than the Church of Scotland could provide.

Nevertheless, the Church of Scotland’s plant at Lubwa did not just bring religion. With religion came education. Some reports suggest that David Kaunda doubled as a church pastor and as a teacher – or headmaster.

Buchizya and his Friends

In April 1924, Revered David Kaunda and his wife, Mama Helen Kaunda, welcomed their fifth child. They named him Buchizya. Buchizya would later be called Kenneth. By the time he was writing his 1972 letter to the Malawian government, Buchizya had long stopped to use this name – and was officially Kenneth Kaunda.

History has not established where Kenneth Kaunda was born precisely, whether in Chinsali or Nyasaland. This is not unusual for the generation of 1924. What has been established is that by the time of his birth, his father and mother were residents of Chinsali, where they had been pastoring the Lubwa Mission.

The Lubwa Mission geographical location fell under the chieftainship of the Bemba Chief Nkula. As a religious respecter of authority, David Kaunda had submitted himself under the traditional leadership of Chief Nkula. However, this relationship went both ways – Rev. David Kaunda would be recognised as Nkula’s subject, while Nkula would benefit from David Kaunda’s trappings of modernity. Those trappings included a school, a church, and other temporal goods.

David Kaunda’s association with Chief Nkula was supposed to make him Bemba. In those days, if you show up in a chiefdom, stay out of trouble and assimilate yourself with the chief and the local people, you became part of them and could rightfully claim to be one of them. David Kaunda, therefore, became a Bemba subject of Chief Nkula. The only issue was that this little secret of where one came from; would still be the subject of village gossip, myths and legend. The Kaunda family, therefore, even though they h had been accepted into the Bemba tribe, other Bembas still treated them with suspicion and would from time to time have to deal with some form of jealousy, gossip and innuendo. They belonged to the tribe, but they did not belong to the tribe. They were Bembas, but they were not Bembas. They were subjects of Chief Nkula, but they were not subjects of Chief Nkula. If there was ever a complex environment to bring up a family, Rev. David Kaunda’s family proved that it was it.

Kenneth Kaunda as a mwana mayadi child was born in relative comfort. His father was a teacher and preacher. By 1924, Reverend David Kaunda had a great legacy going well for him. Kenneth Kaunda being born in this environment meant that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth in the eyes of his friends and his equals. Kenneth Kaunda may have been aware of this privilege as a child.

Despite this privilege, Kaunda as a child must have navigated the complex issues to do with his identity – the fact that his father has initially been from Nyasaland and that the Bemba heritage was that of adoption. I would imagine how his friends would use that heritage against him as they grew up. Historians agree that some of Kaunda’s childhood friends at Lubwa include Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and Alice Mulenga Lenshina.

The Educated Nyasalanders

Something must be mentioned here regarding the complicated legacies of the British and missionaries in Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Rothberg has written that Nyasaland received much more educated missionaries than did Northern Rhodesia. Therefore, by the mid-1800s, Nyasaland natives were so educated as to become purveyors of the Christian faith themselves. The missionaries to Nyasaland built schools, hospitals and other institutions earlier and faster than the missionaries sent to Zambia. Several reasons could explain the disparity in quality between the two colonies, or as appropriately called “protectorates”. Nyasaland was smaller in size, so it may have been easier for missionaries to build institutions closer to each other and provide the necessary support. The other reason is population; Nyasaland was a small colony with an enormous population. Northern Rhodesia, on the other hand, was significant; and its population scattered around.

The quality of Nyasalanders invoked feelings of jealousy from the neighbours. Nyasalanders were not only the most educated of the natives; they were also most likely to spread into the neighbouring countries. Those who left Nyasaland for the neighbouring Northern Rhodesia quickly assimilated themselves into Northern Rhodesia and became subjects of Northern Rhodesian chiefs. They were more educated and much more exposed than their counterparts in Northern Rhodesia. When Reverend David Kaunda became a subject of Chief Nkula in Chinsali, this is what informed his presence in Chinsali and, ultimately, the suspicions of his identity.

The Children Become Adults

Kenneth Kaunda and his friends received their primary education at Lubwa. Reverend David Kaunda and those connected to the Church of Scotland Mission were the teachers. As they were attending school, Kenneth Kaunda was a brilliant student. Perhaps his knack for politics and interest in world affairs was imbued into him by his father, David Kaunda and by the excellent education he received in primary school.

However, even as he was excelling as a child, the suspicions that he did not belong to Chinsali, or Chief Nkula, or Northern Rhodesia were always at the back of his mind minds of his close childhood friends. This was a little secret they knew as Kaunda’s strength; and weakness. His friends would use it as they wished. Kaunda’s Nyasalander heritage was an advantage, and it was a disadvantage. It was always his friends who would determine when it would become an advantage or a disadvantage. For Kenneth the boy, his awareness of the politics surrounding the country he ever knew, Northern Rhodesia, was deeply connected with the heritage he never knew – that of being a Nyasalander.

Perhaps history should ask the question. Why was it so necessary that the people Kaunda grew up within Chinsali would find it ever so comfortable for them to try and exclude him? And how did this nation come to normalise that as a normal response despite the notorious evidence that our borders were somewhat arbitrary?

How did we summon the guts and courage as a country or government to try and implement the final exclusion to begin debating deporting Kenneth Kaunda? The shame of these episodes makes us want to bury it all in our forgetful psyche. But it is something we need to talk about so that such mistakes are never repeated and so that perhaps, at the very least, we can all express our corporate apology for being so mean to a person whose only crime was to belong to the nation. Of his birth – Zambia!

Kaunda at Munali

Kenneth David Kaunda, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and several of their friends found their way to Lusaka for secondary school. In the 1930s and 1940s, as graduates of the famous Lubwa Mission, which was staffed by the Nyasalanders and the Scottish, Kenneth Kaunda and his friends had an obvious advantage. A few years into Munali, their junior secondary education was enough to help to be employed as teachers. But Kenneth Kaunda had it in him to get involved in the fight for his country’s independence. The boys from Chinsali would join many other brilliant young boys from around the country to begin agitating for change.

The New Reign of Lenshina at Lubwa Mission

The missionaries’ religion was powerful and particularly alluring, accompanied by exposure to education and modernity. Therefore, the Lubwa Mission was a church plant; but it was an education plant. There at Lubwa would develop future leaders of Zambia. However, the missionaries’ religion perhaps neglected or ignored some needs of the people of Lubwa and Chinsali. As the church developed, with its religious services and education, the Bembas still missed something to propagate this faith. Just as Kenneth Kaunda was developing himself in Lusaka and the Copperbelt as leader of the native associations, in Chinsali, a religious revolt against his father’s religion had slowly started to simmer.

The major causes of the dissatisfaction are beyond this present article. Some natives started to grow cold feet with the repetitive character of the Scottish religion. The hymns became monotonous. The promise of comfort in the afterlife stopped being attractive to the Bemba psyche. God blessing the people after they die, as a doctrine, started to be undermined. The people of Chinsali started to yearn for something more – something much more compatible with their worldview.

Kenneth Kaunda himself, later on, confessed how he had become unsatisfied with his father’s religion. The only difference between himself and the people of Chinsali was that the Chinsalians started to bail on Lubwa Mission far, much earlier than Kenneth Kaunda. It was Alice Mulenga whose faith and preaching started to catch the attention of the Chinsalians. If David Kaunda had become a missionary to the Bemba people, Alice Mulenga would become the new preacher, the new Prophetess to the Bembas, and would take her worship style beyond Northern Rhodesia Nyasaland.

United National Independence Party

Kenneth Kaunda and his Chinsali friends had grown quite unsatisfied with the pace at which the main African political party was conducting its affairs. They felt that Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula’s African National Congress was not radical enough to achieve majority rule and lead Zambia to independence. These sentiments led to the founding of a radical movement later called UNIP. One of the most alluring qualities of UNIP was that it dreamt big and inspired many young people. Further, UNIP appeared to be a trans-tribal movement. The choice of Kenneth Kaunda as its President was deeply related to the fact that as a Nyasalander, he could be a uniting force between the various tribal factions characteristic of the Northern Rhodesian independence movement. Kenneth Kaunda became the leader of UNIP partly because he was a brilliant leader and partly because his friends felt that he could be the bridge for much-needed unity. Kenneth Kaunda’s Nyasalander background proved helpful and advantageous.

He fought on and led UNIP to successful elections in 1963, becoming the first African Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia. As soon as he had taken up the Prime Ministership, mayhem was brewing in no other place than his native Chinsali. The new African Prime Minister needed to confront the revolt going on at Lubwa. His childhood acquaintance, Alice Mulenga, was now calling herself Prophetess and adopted the name “Lenshina”, a Bembalised version of the Latin “Regina”. She had established a church in Chinsali and had taken a good number of Chinsali followers. Among the members of the Lenshina sect, Kenneth Kaunda’s elder brother Robert. Some reports suggest that Mama Helen Kaunda, Kenneth Kaunda’s mother, had also become a member. The growth of the Lenshina movement was phenomenal. Within ten years of its existence, it had expanded to the Belgian Congo and Nyasaland.

No, Prime Minister: Lenshina Confronts Kaunda

Prophetess Lenshina’s Lumpa Church had, by 1960, completely wiped out the Lubwa Mission Church. Her new adherents left the boring Scottish services for more vibrant Lumpa services. Her church was different from the Scottish churches: she did not promise her adherents heaven in the afterlife. Instead, she taught that God had promised heaven to her followers here on earth. That heaven was a city she was going to build known as Jerusalem near Chinsali. As for national politics, Lenshina resisted the lure of Scottish churches and white churches. The only way of achieving true independence was becoming a member, not of the spiritual community of the church, but the physical and temporal institution personified in her Lumpa church. The members of the Lumpa did not need to affiliate with any political party. They did not need any other temporal affiliation apart from the affiliation with her movement. In some cases, the Lumpa Church grew through coercion and intimidation. Prime Minister Kenneth Kaunda had grown impatient with the Lumpa, notably that they did not support his UNIP party.

Perhaps motivated by the pride for his Chinsali heritage or in defence of his father’s legacy, Kenneth Kaunda could not suffer Lenshina, or the Lumpas, to live. His first task as Prime Minister was to ensure that the new opposition group that had grown in his Lubwa backyard is wholly terminated. He then sent police and soldiers to Chinsali. He needed to clear his village of heretics. What ensued was bloodshed and mayhem. By October 1964, when the Chinsalian Kenneth Kaunda was assuming the Presidency of the new nation, his conflict with the Lumpa Church was still ongoing.

Kenneth Kaunda’s first opposition was from Chinsali.

Pan-Africanism and Citizenship

One of the greatest ironies of the Pan-Africanist movement, which had swept across Africa, was its insistence on nationalism while at the same time taking a puristic view of nationality and citizenship. Pan-Africanists idealised a united Africa when they met in Addis Ababa or Accra. Yet, when they returned home to their various countries, they implemented an unforgiving purist view of national citizenship. Africa was one, they claimed, yet Africans in their countries had to be forced into puristic nationalist citizenship incompatible with African realities and incompatible with the ideals the pan-Africanist leaders tried to espouse. Kenneth Kaunda’s version of pan-Africanism did not depart from this analysis. He was a trans-national pan-Africanist when abroad, but when he is in Zambia, he implemented a citizenship rule where Zambians could only be one thing – Zambian. In this purist worldview, one could not be a Malawian and Zambian at the same time. You had to be one thing. It did not matter that Africa was one or was supposed to be one – what mattered was that Africans had to choose one.

This purist doctrine worked very well for those Africans who had no trace and no blessing of recorded history. Other African leaders could get away with a purist doctrine because they did not have famous parents as Kenneth Kaunda had. For Kenneth Kaunda, it was all for everyone to read that his famous reverend father was an immigrant from Nyasaland. This, therefore, begged the question for Kenneth Kaunda – what was he? If he says he is Malawian, he would have no part in Zambia. And if he insisted that he was also a Malawian – he would have no part in Zambia either. In the meantime, the suspicions and petty jealousies from his Chinsali relatives never diminished even after Kenneth Kaunda became the President of the new nation of Zambia.

The President

The first crisis to beseech the new President had the imprint of Chinsali in it. Be it the Lenshina uprising or some whispers among the Chinsali political group that the guy they had promoted to the Presidency was somewhat not a full-blown Zambian.

At the subsequent UNIP conferences, KK’s nationality always reared its ugly head. The constitutional review efforts to follow independence had some positives – but featuring among the hidden articles was the need to reserve the Presidency to a “pure Zambian”. These machinations were all aimed at Kenneth Kaunda.

Others have written KK’s story and explained his successes in the Presidency. My goal here was to redeem perhaps one part of KK’s personal story – the redemption of the Malawian heritage.

Deportation to Malawi

When KK was facing elections in 1991 – some of his challengers went back to the same mantra of the 1970s and claimed that KK should be removed from office because he was Malawian. Indeed, Dr Guy Scott writes that this message formed a central theme of his campaign while vying for his parliamentary seat in Mpika.

After KK had lost the Presidency, the new government went into the Malawian conspiracy overdrive culminating in efforts to deport KK back to Malawi. How did we end up here? Of course, it would be difficult for most young people to understand how a government of Zambia even contemplated deporting the founding father of our republic.

In 1996, President Chiluba and his friends changed the constitution to try and bar KK from running for the Presidency again. The new constitution would bar anyone from running unless they could show that their father and mother were Zambian. KK boycotted the election, and in no time, there was a petition in the Ndola High Court challenging KK’s Zambian citizenship.

According to that High Court ruling – KK had relinquished his Malawian citizenship in 1972 without subsequently applying for Zambian citizenship. As such, the court reasoned – he had become “stateless”. This decision was going to open a pandora’s box. And no one expected that this decision would stay. In some sort of a consent settlement, KK appealed, and a consent judgment was agreed!

But it would be the case of Lewanika and others v Chiluba that would settle the disputes that touched on Kaunda’s nationality. In that case, Chiluba was challenged based on the same law he had passed to bar Kaunda from the Presidency – “Zambian parentage”. When the judges issued their ruling – they clarified a few things. Everyone who was in Zambia and had belonged to Northern Rhodesia in 1964 became a Zambian at independence. There was no need to make enquiries into who their father or mother was. With this ruling – the law was clarified, and people in KK’s shoes needed not to worry about whether they were Zambian or not. And so, indeed, one could be Malawian and Zambian, and there is no shame in this reality. It is an African reality that needed to be embraced.

Malawians and Zambians

In January 2016, President Edgar Lungu signed a new Constitution which stated that a Zambian does not lose their Zambian citizenship simply because they have acquired citizenship of another country. Perhaps this is the law we needed in 1964 to help us deal with a unique reality that had developed not only in Chinsali but everywhere else where the Nyasalanders went.

And so perhaps as we have lost Kenneth David Kaunda to death at 97 – one thing remains certain, that there should be no shame in being a Zambian of Malawian descent. And if Kenneth Kaunda were a Malawian who ruled Zambia – then that would still be fine because being Malawian should not be regarded as a curse or a bar to being a Zambian. It is “both-and” and not “either-or”

To the memory of Kenneth David Kaunda

The author, Elias Munshya, can be reached at


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