Exploring Kenneth David Kaunda’s Legacy in Zambia: The Economic Benefits and Losses of Nationalization

BY BERNADETTE DEKA-ZULU (PhD Researcher-Public Enterprises)

A. Overview of Kenneth David Kaunda’s Legacy in Zambia

Kenneth David Kaunda, also known as KK, was the first President of Zambia, having held office from 1962 until 1991. He led the country to independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. During his time in office, he nationalized the country’s industries and businesses, making them state-owned and managed. His legacy is credited with modernizing and developing the country, although his policies have also been criticized for abolishing multi-partism and introducing a one party state and allowing corruption and cronyism also causing severe economic difficulties along the way.

Kenneth Kaunda’s decision to nationalize state institutions was successful in providing profits to the country in the short term, allowing the government to fund public services. However, the long-term effects of this policy were less positive. The Zambian economy was heavily reliant on copper exports, and when these exports declined due to world recessions and falling copper prices, the economy suffered. This, combined with other factors such as corruption and cronyism, led to the country’s economic decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We then examine the impact of Kenneth Kaunda’s nationalization policy on the Zambian economy, both in the short and long term.

II. Nationalization during the Kaunda era

A. State owned enterprises and the economic benefits

Under the leadership of Kenneth David Kaunda, Zambia nationalized many of its industries and businesses. This led to the creation of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the early 1970s. These SOEs were large-scale companies that provided essential services and products to the public. This nationalization of Zambian businesses was meant to increase economic growth and provide the people of Zambia with a more equitable and prosperous future.

The economic benefits of SOEs were seen in their ability to provide employment to Zambian citizens, stimulate the local economy, and foster economic diversification. Through the establishment of SOEs, Zambia was able to increase the availability of essential goods and services, such as electricity, water, and telecommunications, and to strengthen the country’s infrastructure. SOEs also provided the government with a source of revenue and helped reduce poverty.

B. Planned economies and the growth rate

In addition to the establishment of SOEs, Kenneth David Kaunda also introduced a planned economy in Zambia. A planned economy is an economic system where the government sets prices, controls production and distribution, and makes decisions about the use of resources. This system was meant to ensure that the resources available in the country were used in a way that would benefit the majority of people living in Zambia.

The introduction of a planned economy in Zambia led to a significant increase in the country’s economic growth rate. This was due to the fact that the government was able to direct resources towards projects that had the potential to benefit the entire nation. The growth rate also benefitted from the increased investment in infrastructure and the improved availability of essential goods and services. All of these factors combined to create a more prosperous and stable economy for the people of Zambia.

III. Zambia’s Economic Losses (Periodic world recessions and Dips in copper prices)

The economic losses that Zambia experienced due to Kenneth David Kaunda’s nationalization policies were substantial and long-lasting. While Kaunda’s intentions may have been to create a more equitable economic structure, the reality was that the nationalization of key industries led to a variety of economic losses.

Firstly, during the period of nationalization, Zambia suffered from periodic world recessions, which had a negative impact on the nation’s economy. This was particularly true for Zambia’s mining sector, which was highly dependent on copper prices. As copper prices declined as a result of the global economic downturn, Zambia’s mining sector also suffered, leading to a decrease in production and income.

Secondly, Zambia’s economy was also adversely impacted by dips in copper prices. During the period of nationalization, the Zambian government was unable to adequately control the price of copper, which led to a decrease in demand and income for Zambia’s copper-producing industry. This decrease in demand and income, in turn, had a ripple effect on the rest of the Zambian economy (most of Zambia’s economy was heavily dependent on this sector) leading to an overall reduction in economic activity and growth.

Finally, Zambia’s economy was also negatively impacted by the nationalization of its key industries. This nationalization led to a decrease in foreign investment, as investors were hesitant to put money into an economy that was controlled by a single party. This decrease in foreign investment, in turn, led to a decrease in economic growth and development, as the government was unable to provide the necessary resources and infrastructure to spur growth.

IV. The introduction of Privatization and its Impact 

A. The Positive and Negative consequences of privatization

The introduction of privatization in Zambia began in the late 1990s, when the government of Kenneth David Kaunda was overthrown by that of 2nd Republican President-FJT Chiluba government and began a process of economic liberalization. This process of liberalization included the privatization of state-owned enterprises, in order to reduce the role of the government in the economy and encourage foreign investment. The privatization process involved the sale of publicly owned companies to private investors, as well as the transfer of control of some public services to the private sector.

The process of privatization in Zambia had both positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, privatization allowed for increased foreign investment and the transfer of control of public services to the private sector. This led to increased competition and better services for consumers. In addition, privatization allowed for the creation of new jobs, as private companies were able to hire more people.

On the negative side, privatization led to job losses in the public sector, as many state-owned enterprises were no longer able to compete with their private counterparts. This resulted in a decrease in employment opportunities, as well as a decrease in wages in some sectors. In addition, privatization often led to higher prices for consumers, as private companies sought to maximize profits. Finally, privatization also led to an increase in inequality, as the wealthy were able to benefit more than the poor from the privatization process.

B. “Whoever Controls Copper Controls Zambia”

The phrase “Whoever Controls Copper Controls Zambia” was a popular saying in the Kaunda era as Zambia relied heavily on the production and sale of copper. The privatization of the copper industry was a major moment in the country’s history as it had a significant impact on the Zambian economy. The privatization of the mining industry allowed foreign investors to enter the market, which allowed for increased production and efficiency. However, the privatization of the industry also led to job losses, decreased wages, and less control over strategic sectors of the economy. Additionally, the increased foreign control over the industry also led to a decreased sense of national identity, as the industry which was once controlled by the Zambian government was now largely controlled by foreign investors.


The legacy of Kenneth David Kaunda has had a lasting impact on Zambia’s economy. He was successful in his nationalization of the mining industry, which allowed Zambia to gain control of its most valuable natural resource “Copper”. This allowed Zambia to benefit economically from copper by increasing its exports and revenues, as well as creating employment opportunities for the local population. Despite the positive economic effects of nationalization, the lack of adequate foreign investment and the lack of diversification of the economy have been limiting factors for Zambia’s economic growth. As such, it is important for Zambia to continue to develop its economy and diversify its sources of income in order to maximize the benefits of nationalization. Furthermore, Zambia must also ensure that the foreign investments it attracts are beneficial to its economy and do not lead to exploitation of its resources.


In order to continue to benefit from the legacy of the first President of the Republic of Zambia, Dr Kenneth David Kaunda, Zambia must focus on increasing foreign investment and diversifying its economy. It is important for Zambia to attract more and meaningful foreign investments that will bring about economic growth that tangibly benefit its people. Additionally, Zambia needs to focus on intentional diversification of its sources of revenue in order to reduce its reliance on copper production. This can be done through vigorous investments in other sectors such as agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing. Finally, Zambia should also ensure that its natural resources are managed in a robust and sustainable manner to ensure that they are available for future generations.


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