Friday, June 17, 2016

Dear Shikulu - Tamara Kaunda Pens a Letter to Her Grandfather

Dr Kenneth David Kaunda is the founding father of the country we know today as the Republic of Zambia. A true African statesman, he not only played a pivotal role in the liberation struggle of Zambia but was instrumental in securing freedom for other African countries. I reached out to Tamara Kaunda, who is one of Dr Kaunda’s grandchildren, and she wrote this letter paying homage to the great African man we all love and admire. 

Letter to my Grandfather,
               By Tamara Kaunda

Dear Shikulu,

I remember how when I was growing up I used to walk ten kilometres from your farm to school every day and my school mates would wonder why you didn’t just buy a car for me to be dropped off and picked up from school. Even at that age I understood the significance of humble beginnings and I would tell them that it was my duty to work from scratch and make use of what I had to get to where I wanted to be. The fact that you fought for the freedom that I enjoy in Zambia is more than enough for me.  Back then, you had just come out of power and many people had negative perceptions about you. I felt it was my duty to not only stand up for you and remind people of the great things you had done but as part of the first family I knew that how I behaved was a reflection on the whole family.

Thank you for building this beautiful land which we shall continue building and forever treasure in our hearts. My hope is that as Zambians we will continue to love one another and be the change we want to see in our country rather than complaining about our challenges. I think that each generation faces its own set of trials. Today in Zambia we have economic challenges and I would like to encourage our people to seek solutions to our problems in the same way that you and the men and women who fought for our independence chose to seek solutions to our lack of freedom.

I believe that if every single one of us took it as a personal responsibility, together we could continue building what our forefathers built for us. When I went to study in China you were tremendously happy and encouraged me learn how the Chinese worked and bring those lessons back to our land. Having learnt from their incredible work ethic and just graduated from medical school I am excited about my plans for serving my country, particularly women and children.

If any of my fellow countrymen cast their eyes on this letter, I ask them to remember you, to focus on building skills for self-reliance, to teach their children to fish and not wait to be spoon-fed and to be future oriented and not short-sighted. We can build a Zambia that we all love, a Zambia that prospers, the Zambia of our dreams. I know that this is the dream that you have for us and I hope we can bring it to fruition in your lifetime.

With all my love,


Tamara Kaunda pictured above with her grandfather, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, "Whenever I am with him there are no dull moments because we are a pair that loves life and people." 
Photo Courtesy of Tamara Kaunda.

Tamara shared a few extra nuggets about her beloved grandfather.

1. How he inspires her
What inspires me most about him is the love he has for his country. He managed to unite 72 tribes and we have lived in harmony for the past 50 years. He did everything in his power to unite us and he taught us that regardless of which part of the country you come from we are all Zambians. The one thing I admire most about him is his love for the land. He believes in agriculture, and as a part of the family I was taught farming at a very tender age and that has helped me even now. My grandfather believes that if we could all go back to the land and make use of it we would have an economically stable and happy Zambia.

2. What he has taught her
One of the greatest ways in which he has impacted me is through his belief in hard work, talking less and doing more actions. He believes if you want to make an impact on a community, your country and the world at large do not just talk; do it and your work will speak for itself.

3. What he loves about her
I always looked for forward to having him for Christmas at the farm and I would be excited because I wanted to tell him all about what I had done at school. Trust me, he liked me because my school reports have always been outstanding! My grandfather is fond of imitating me whenever I speak because my voice is a bit sharp and am usually smiling and full of energy when I express myself. 

Thinking about a nation’s founding father

Dr Kaunda served as the president of Zambia for 27 years and his acquiescence to relinquishing power in 1991 after losing the election was an act of magnanimity not many African rulers have been able to practice. It laid the foundation for the robust multi-party democracy that Zambia currently enjoys. Dr Kaunda has shown himself to be a compassionate and affable patriarch whose dream for his nation is that of an abundance of love above all else. He has been up front and centre of Zambia’s and Africa’s response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic as a member of the Champions for an AIDS-free Generation in Africa. Dr Kaunda is a prolific writer, penning several books over the course of a lifetime. One of his books,  “Letter to my children,” is a heartfelt attempt to reach out to his children and impart the fatherly words of wisdom and instruction they may have personally missed out on as a result of having had to share their dad with millions of other Zambians.  By now, Dr Kaunda is not just a father but a grandfather too and is as iconic a father figure to his grandchildren as he is to the nation.

In Conversation: Boniface Mwangi

Boniface Mwangi is a man on a mission. He is the founder of Pawa254, an organization based in Nairobi, Kenya that serves as a platform for creatives, journalists and activists to collaborate on innovative social change initiatives. As a professional photographer his coverage of the 2007 post-election violence which he documented in Kenya’s first ever nation-wide street exhibition brought to light the sheer magnitude of the brutality of which many people were unaware. A courageous and passionate social activist, Boniface has been arrested, detained and assaulted for his unflinching refusal to remain silent in the face of injustice and corruption, receiving many international accolades in recognition of his gritty photo-journalistic accomplishments.

Boniface faces off with police at Langa'ata Primary School Protests. Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi 2015
Boniface was at the front line of the Langa’ta Road Primary School incident in January 2015 in which the Kenyan police force teargas to disperse a demonstration by one hundred primary school children protesting the illegal seizure of their playground by a property developer. There was widespread shock and condemnation of the excessively heavy handed response of the police. However, the incident sparked fervent debate on social media with Kenyans divided over the legitimacy of the protest and some opinions assigning blame to activists like Boniface who supported the protest while others supported the children in reclaiming their space. Below are a few of Boniface's images of the protests that rocked Langa'ata and made news headlines internationally.

Photo Credit: Boniface Mwangi 2015
Photo Credit: Boniface Mwangi 2015
Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi 2015

What is the purpose of your life?

I live my life to make a difference. I’m not out there for my own selfish gain. The idea of leaving something larger than me is a conscious and deliberate effort. I would like my life to have a meaning and impact others. Being given a platform, people listen to me, they care about my opinions. So, do my words build or destroy? Do I speak truth to power? So for instance I am currently working on a blog post that is critical of our president Uhuru Kenyatta. It’s important that I say what no one else is willing to say….What I ask myself every single day is to what end am I doing what I am doing?

And the end that you work towards is a better Kenya?

My work goes beyond borders. My messaging covers global issues and I work towards a better Kenya, a better continent, a better humanity because our lives are connected. I think your impact should go beyond borders. Mandela lived in one country but his impact was felt everywhere. The same applies for people like Steve Biko, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Sankara, Martin Luther King Jr and others. The majority of them lived in one country but their work went beyond borders.

You’ve chosen art and your photojournalism as an instrument to agitate for change. Is art an effective way to engage with society on issues which are important but difficult to grapple with and can it result in political change?

Every country has a piece of art that defines the nation’s psyche and identity. The national anthem is a musical piece of art. Music was a big weapon of the civil rights movement with people like Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and then Bob Marley later on. Music is a tool for fighting oppression. When you do a placard that is a form of art. It says things, it speaks truth to power. Writing is a tool. Life is all about art. Without art life is dead. Without art you have nothing. Art is the most powerful tool against oppression.

What would you say is your greatest achievement to date?
Langa’ta Road Primary school. They grabbed the land and we got it back. That is my proudest achievement. Also a girl called Samara who is about seven or eight years old now who was born with a hole in her heart but her parents were not able to pay for the operation. I took a photo of her and the image was published. A good Samaritan paid for her surgery and now she’s living a very normal and beautiful life because of my work. So I’ve been able to impact people through photography. My work has done wonders and that is the power of art.

In many African countries people have been threatened, killed, attacked or tortured for standing up for what they believe in and there is so much repression that civil activism is basically non-existent. Would you agree that Kenya has a comparatively more conducive environment for holding the government accountable perhaps as a result of the early grassroots work that people such as yourself did over the years to push for freedom of expression?

I believe so. We passed a new constitution in 2010. It’s one of the continent’s most progressive constitutions next to South Africa’s. However the gains were made through the constitution are being taken back by Uhuru Kenyatta. We know that we are free and I can say whatever I want. You can say things today that are very truthful that would have gotten you killed twenty years ago. But this is being taken back because our society is being taught to be intolerant through the use of verbal oppression, hate speech and personal insults by followers of the president or whoever you are going after when you speak the truth. They muddy the waters; they wage war against integrity and attack people’s characters as opposed to ideas. For example, if you talk about corruption in government, they in turn shift the focus to attack your reputation and why you are saying these things. Social media while it has helped us to talk about corruption and allowed us to talk about things has also trivialized a lot of issues. The things that should be trending are being taken as a joke but it’s not funny anymore. We need to stop laughing about our problems. Resiliency is something that we are proud of and we wear it like a badge of honor and make jokes about how resilient we are yet we know that we pay taxes and we should be living a good life. We make jokes about these things because we are afraid, so we cover our fear with humor and triviality because we are afraid of taking action. People have disappeared, people have been arrested. We are afraid because there is a price to pay…It’s not easy.

So Fathers' Day is coming up. As a father, what is one life lesson or value you want to make sure your children grow up knowing?

Love. Love conquers fear. Love conquers everything. It’s the shock absorber of life. When you love it absorbs fear and hate. When you love you take a stand, you protect yourself and you are responsible. People say I am courageous and that’s true. I have courage but what actually drives me is love for my country. I love my country. I love my continent. I love myself and I want better for myself. I am love motivated and I want my kids to have love in their hearts. Love. Love. Love!

Since the Langa’ta Road Primary School incident, Kenya’s National Land Commission has launched guidelines for schools to apply for title deeds which will enable them to have legal recourse in the event of any unlawful occupation of their land.  While Boniface is guarded about the details of his future plans he is unequivocal in his certainty that he will continue to serve people in whatever capacity and in whatever space he can do so.