I am totally baffled why some African leaders from the independence era (1950-80) are viewed as “heroes” today, considering how much harm they did to their countries. Many Africans have high esteem for post-colonial presidents like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Robert Mugabe or our very own first Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda.

Yet history unequivocally shows that these presidents destroyed their nations either with despotic rule or Socialist economics, condemning millions to a lifetime of poverty. Many of them had an affinity for hero-worship. Like Kamuzu Banda and Mobutu Sese Seko, Kaunda was a dictator who imprisoned and eliminated opponents but is revered today.

In sharp contrast, many Zambians have nothing positive to say about the late second president Frederick Chiluba. Yet Chiluba largely tolerated a free press, liberalized the economy, began privatization and began untangling the mess Kaunda left. But all he is remembered for is stealing from the state coffers.

Mugabe has been praised by many people (Zimbabweans included), for “standing up” to the West and getting back the land “stolen” by the whites, never mind that Zimbabwe now is among the bottom five countries in the world by GDP per capita, or that it now has the lowest life expectancy in the entire world! Mugabe got a standing ovation at the OAU summit in Zambia in 2001, this after losing a 2000 referendum to take land by force from whites which he ignored by allowing “war veterans” to invade the white-owned farms, pillaging, raping, torturing and murdering while the toothless and hapless OAU watched.

Nyerere has been similarly praised but his Socialist policies destroyed the Tanzanian economy and reduced it to a third world country. Same thing happened in Zaire (Congo DR) under Sese Seko, Malawi under Banda, Uganda under Milton Obote / Idi Amin, Kenya under Jomo Kenyatta / Daniel Arap Moi, etc. Much of the destruction of African economies happened within 20 years of inheriting healthy middle income economies from the “evil” colonialists (Mauritius and Botswana are among the few exceptions that prospered by largely retaining free markets).

Could someone explain to me why people like Kenneth Kaunda are viewed as heroes today?