Mbikusita Lewanika, the unsung founding father

Mbikusita Lewanika, the unsung founding father

A Reflection on Mbikusita Lewanika, Founding President General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress and King of Barotseland

This is the man who organised a scholarship for Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe to and study in India in the 1950s.

Zambia’s independence history needs to be reviewed to appreciate that it was achieved by ideas and efforts of more than one person, generation and organization. The current situation may be likened to doctoring the Biblical Exodus story by giving all credit to Joshua and none to Moses! This distortion of history is a caustic disservice to honestly well intended nation building. It has done fatal damage to the Zambia project.

Mbikusita Lewanika is the unsung founding father of the political movement to independence and a pioneer of the trade union movement, but even he has predecessors. He became the Founder Secretary of the Livingstone African Welfare Association in 1929, when he was 24 years old, and the future President Kenneth Kaunda was five years old.

In the 1930s, he was a principal participant at the Kafue first attempt to found an African National Congress north of the Zambezi, served as Private Secretary of the King of Barotseland, wrote the first full length English language book by a native in his part of Africa, The Visit of Paramount Chief Yeta III to England.

In the 1940’s, he moved on to a Nkana-Kitwe working life, which did not depend on ethnicity or royal pedigree. He labored for twenty years, as Senior African Clerk, Senior Welfare Officer, Personnel and Public Relations officer for a copper mine. He led and guided fellow African workers in countless ways. He served as Founder President of the Kitwe African Society, proposer of the formation of the Northern Rhodesia Federation of African Welfare Association in 1946, pioneer promoter of trade unionism and became Founder President-General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress. He also took wrote several other books and publishing articles, in Africa and overseas, and later translated the Bible and the classic Pilgrim’s Progress into SiLozi.


A Reflection on Mbikusita Lewanika, Founding President General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress and King of Barotseland

Discarded Narrative

Mbikusita Lewanika Africanist agenda was different from that of European colonialist, employees, trade unionists and, even, missionaries, whose agenda was to recreate Africa and Africans in their own image and at their service. It was too liberal and cosmopolitan for conservative African traditional authorities, who resisted modernisation and internal political reforms. It was “too restrained, less volatile, and in the and less compelling” compared to the increasingly explosive language of some other African nationalists, who, also objected to his concern on need to identify and retain positive aspects of African traditional systems and his focus of the colonial protectorate obligations to look after African interests. Its grave drawback of being designed and communicated as per William E. B. Du Bois’ talented tenth intellectual leadership for top-down propagation, with inherently inadequate linkage with the gullible African majority.

However, efforts and fruits of Mbikusita Lewanika his endevour are illustrated, in an acknowledgment of his contribution, Simon Zukas grants that “He had established a good relationship with the Indian High Commissioner in Nairobi (Kenya) … and obtained several scholarships for Northern Rhodesian Africans to study in India … Simon Kapwepwe and Munu (kayumbwa) Sipalo had already been sent there.”

As Founder President General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress, Mbikusita Lewanika undertook the 1950 pioneer visit to India. This trip was part study tour, which had him visit every part of India and many of its socio-economic centres. It was a political mission, which had meet leaders of the Indian Congress Party and Government at many levels and in many locations, culminating in meetings with the first Indian State President, Dr Rajendra Prasad and first Indian Prime Minister Nehru (with future Prime Minister Indira Nehru Gandhi taking notes!), as well as a military ceremony for him to lay a wreath at the grave site of Mahatma Gandhi. It was also a scouting mission for opportunities and facilities for African further education and human resource development, one of whole tangible and long term results was to conclude and sign for an Indian scholarship scheme with Prime Minister – in various and much expanded form this seed he planted continues to grow more trees and bear more fruits of education. This tour turned into an Official Visit, he addressed the Indian nation on All-India Radio.

This pioneer visit to India consummated what has become the Indo-Zambia bilateral relationship, at a meeting with Indian first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He initiated programmes for sending young future leaders for overseas higher education, at least four of who were to be in the first post colonial Cabinet of Ministers. He facilitated oversees education of one of Zambia’s Vice Presidents, Simon Kapwepwe, and three of its Prime Ministers, Mainza Chona, Naluminno Mundia and Daniel Lisulo. He was the first and only African from Northern Rhodesia and Barotseland to address a meeting attended by Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords at Westminster, in London, where he spoke against the proposal to establish the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. He pioneered cross- border consultation and cooperation among leaders of African freedom movement. This was through correspondence with Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of the Gold Coast and meetings with nationalist leaders Mbiyu Koinange and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya as well as liaison with African support groups in London, through personalities such as George Padmore and Dr. Hastings Banda.


A Reflection on Mbikusita Lewanika, Founding President General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress and King of Barotseland

Significant Reference

Mbikusita Lewanika’s reference is significant because it contrasts the history of post-colonial Africa whose behavioral characteristics manifest in glorifying authoritarianism, repression, monolithic state, manipulative patronage and dictator-heroes. Those who succeeded him in the independence movement of UNIP have distinguished themselves in down grading, denigrating and ignoring genuine democratic values and principles and their proponents. Nine months into the post-UNIP era, when the author’s resignation from the post UNIP ruling party Cabinet raised the issue of continuing with the further democratization and proactive stand against corruption, there was hostility from the political leadership and deafness from vast majority of citizens. Thus, the post-UNIP presidency did not present a case either against the narrative or continuation of struggle against the monolithic state, because they were part of the indoctrinated citizenry who accepted monopolization of power as a norm.

Seedlings for alternative non-authoritarian and non-monolithic narrative where discarded and left behind to be aborted since the beginning of 1952. Since then, there has been fundamental contest between different political leadership motivations, methods and aspirations. This has been a competition between diverse characteristics of followership, citizenship and leadership as well as what foundation and formation of post colonial states. The subject history is not just about WHO claims victory but also, and even more fundamentally, WHAT ideas, philosophies and practices of governance triumphed or forfeited power. The question is: WHAT was fundamental, but least subjected to historical analysis, is the type of political leadership motivations, methods and aspirations that won and lost, with the change of Northern Rhodesia Congress, when Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula took over leadership from Mbikusita Lewanika at the end of 1951; secondly, with the breakaway from the Nkumbula Congress leadership of the Zambia African National Congress in 1958 and establishment of the 1959 United National Independence Party?

At each successive turn, following the Congress party election at the end of 1951, Congress split in 1958, the General Elections of 1962, 1964 and 1968, WHAT won was increasingly characterised by mob followership, impotent citizenship and personalised leadership. What has followed has been the complete discarding of the African traditional foundation, and the complete embracing of colonially modeled formation of post colonial state. Having consolidated mobilization of party membership, nullification of citizens’ right to vote and the personalization of both ruling party and go government leadership, the triumphant party government imposed a One Party State, under the euphemistic title of a participatory democracy, but in political system that was actually neither participatory nor democratic. And, the formal and constitutional re-introduction of multiparty politics and elections has yet to reverse the trend to politics of mob culture, personality cult and partisan governance. The changes in personalities and parties that have won Zambian elections have witnessed the triumphing of an ever escalating consolidation of undemocratic tendencies, personality cults and monolithic brand of nationalism.



A Reflection on Mbikusita Lewanika, Founding President General of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress and King of Barotseland

Elastic National Motto



Zambia’s official court of arms motto of this system was “One Zambia, One Nation.” If the handed over model had to have an inscribed working dictum, it could have been: One Zambia, united in diversity of one nation; One nation, two head – one head of state and the other head of government; that government, consisting of an executive that is effectively accountable to a functioning multi-party legislature, with a robust independent and efficient judiciary, with all branches of government being appreciated and respected in confidence by the broad citizenry, with powers over government exercised through free, fair and regular elections. However, once power had been transferred with the lowing of the British flag, Union Jack, Zambia’s post colonial operative political slogan extended this into “One Nation, One Leader, and that leader a named person, and that person forever and ever’” without “Amen!” The roots of the governance system decreed in the handed over independence deal has been heavy handedly panel beaten into shapes that restrain freedom, shackle democracy and handicap justice.

Mbikusita Lewanika was receptive to European modernization and political democratization, but his generation of leaders searched for what of, and in what way, this could be accomplished on African soil and among African people, without what Okot p’ Bitek depicted as uprooting the pumpkin in the Song of Lawino. They did not advocate for wholesale recreation of systems and structure of pre-colonial African kingdoms, rather they were keen to adopt positive and progressive aspects of what was availed from European and other contacts. They upheld knowledge, respect and pride over what may be on offer, available and desirable from the Western and modern world. In this regard, questions are raised as to whether the failure of any heart and soul nation building in post colonial Africa may not be due to this lack of positive regard for traditional African governance systems and cultures and the more balanced admixture of the African traditional with the European modernization advanced by the first generation of planter of the independence movement, including John Dube the founder President of the African National Congress of South African.



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