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October 30, 2000

Former Zambian leader brings message to Emory

By Eric Rangus

A table in the back of the Jones Room held fresh fruit and bottled water—refreshments for the crowd gathered for an address by Kenneth Kaunda, the president of Zambia for 27 years.

Perhaps a birthday cake would have been more appropriate.

Tuesday, Oct. 24, the date of Kaunda’s speech, was his country’s 36th birthday. On Oct. 24, 1964, in Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka, Kaunda lowered the British flag that had flown over his country for 70 years, then raised Zambia’s own.

“It was my honor,” Kaunda said, beaming, to an audience of close to 100.

But Kaunda had other things on his mind than celebratory cheer. His visit, co-sponsored by Emory’s Institute for African Studies and the Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation, was titled, “The Impact of AIDS on Africa: What Can We Do?”

Kaunda quoted statistics stating that rates of HIV/AIDS infection in Africa range from 38 percent to 0.5 percent, adding the low mark may be incorrect since several countries underreport cases.

“HIV/AIDS is a serious challenge to man’s place on earth,” he said. “No country should becomplacent. No region must relax.”

Kaunda said the AIDS epidemic in Africa is jeopardizing the continent’s developing nations. The disease kills skilled workers and leaves no one behind to replace them, he explained. In 1988, he said, 1,500 teachers died of AIDS.

Another effect is the millions of orphaned children left behind by deceased parents: 7.1 million in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Kaunda.

“How are we going to look after these children?” he asked. “We need skills, training and jobs. The children are innocent by-standers, we have to save them.”

And that is the mission of Kaunda’s foundation. Through the organization, Kaunda said he hopes to construct a community-based approach to orphan care. Orphaned children are often ignored by family members who fear the disease that killed their parents.

Other foundation goals include building and partnering with schools to offer job training for orphans, supporting existing orphanages and building new ones and developing models for AIDS prevention in rural areas—many of which have lower incidences of AIDS infection than the rapidly growing urban centers of Africa.

“We are our brother’s keeper,” Kaunda said. “What affects one, affects us all.”

Land-locked Zambia is a nation of 9.3 million located in sub-Saharan Africa and bordered by seven countries. Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, led the nation from 1964 to 1991 and was re-elected six times (although, it must be noted, he faced no opposition in any of those elections). He guided Zambia through its transition from British colonial possession to a developing industrial nation—all while located next door to the volatile nations of Angola and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Kaunda, 76, has devoted himself to humanitarian issues since stepping down from leadership of Zambia’s United National Independence Party last March. Kaunda’s Children of Africa Foundation was registered in his homeland in April and in the United States in June. Kaunda said he hopes to expand to several other countries in Africa in the coming months.

Kaunda was joined by two other foundation leaders, including his oldest son, Waza. Donald Donham, anthropology professor and institute director, and Assistant Professor of anthropology Debra Spitulnik handled the introductions.


Back to Emory Report Oct. 30, 2000