Kaunda was the son of Christian missionaries. He began work as a teacher and became a principal. In 1949 he joined the anti-colonial Northern Rhodesia African Congress and eventually became the leader of the independence movement, advocating a policy of positive nonviolent action.
He was President of Zambia from its independence from the UK in 1964 until 1991. After independence Kaunda faced tribal factionalism which he tried to solve by making Zambia a one-party state. In the 1980s he focused chiefly on Zambia's huge foreign debt.