History and Culture Musings

A question for Zambian historians

The United National Independence Party (UNIP) led the country to Independence in October 1964 under Kenneth Kaunda’s leadership. After quashing and coercing opposition parties led by Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula in the early 1970s, UNIP became the sole national party, cementing KK’s rule which eventually lasted 27 years.

Fast-forward nearly 50 years since Independence and UNIP is nowhere to be seen today. The party that once dominated Zambian politics in almost divine fashion is dead. Interestingly, that is not the case with other liberation political parties in Southern Africa. A quick glance shows that the majority of them are STILL in power – ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, ANC in South Africa, SWAPO in Namibia, FRELIMO in Mozambique, MPLA in Angola, BDP in Botswana and CCM in Tanzania.

Remember that UNIP possessed many of the hallmarks of your typical African liberation party: firmly socialist, populist, with a strongman at the helm. These traits can be traced through most liberation parties in the region, apart from the BDP in Botswana which took and maintained a democratic path from Independence in 1966. Another common thread experienced by all (bar ANC and SWAPO who only became parties of government in 1994 and 1989 respectively) was the arrival of democracy and liberal economics following the end of the Cold War. The difference it seems is that UNIP did not come out well post-Cold War.

All this begs the question: what did the party do wrongly/differently to end up in the position it’s in today, wielding no political power whatsoever in the country it helped birth five decades earlier? What are some of the unique circumstances that led to this?

Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks!


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