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Socialismes en Afrique

Françoise Blum
Héloïse Kiriakou
Martin Mourre
et al.

Troisième partie : socialismes transnationaux : coopération et circulation

The Limits of Solidarity: A History of Israeli Cooperative Assistance in Zambia

Lynn Schler

Texte intégral

1In 1966, two years after achieving independence from British colonialism, President Kenneth Kaunda invited Israeli planners to establish a series of cooperative settlements in the Copperbelt region of Zambia. These cooperatives were to be patterned along the lines of Israeli moshav settlement blocs and include clusters of communal farms in the rural areas outside the mining towns. Within months of formalizing the agreement with the Zambian government, Israeli agricultural and technical experts arrived to establish the Kafuba and Kafulafuta settlements. Local farmers were settled into demarcated plots upon which they built uniform box houses and planted vegetable gardens. Israeli experts taught the settlers new techniques in poultry farming and dairy production, and they educated the Zambian farmers in the ideological and practical foundations of cooperative agriculture. Despite some initial difficulties, within three years, the settlements were producing large surpluses of eggs, dairy, and produce that were sold in the mining towns, and farmers were earning handsome profits.

2President Kaunda was immensely pleased with the success of the initiative, as his campaign to establish cooperatives all over Zambia had largely failed outside the Israeli schemes. The Israeli model was seen as the key to the success of Kaunda’s vision for democratic socialism known as “humanism,” and plans for duplicating the program into additional regions were initiated. But before the expansion could be realized, a directive came from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) ordering all member states to sever ties with Israel in the wake of the 1973 October War. President Kaunda expelled the Israelis from Zambia, and the moshav program came to an abrupt end. The cooperatives quickly collapsed and many of the settlers abandoned the projects to look for employment in the cities.

3The decision of the Zambian government to sever ties with Israel came at the expense of a successful development initiative. Although the Israeli schemes played a key role in the advancement of Kaunda’s vision of a cooperative society, they ultimately came into conflict with other elements of the President’s agenda at home and abroad. The history of the establishment, expansion and demise of the Israeli schemes teaches us that socialist agendas were often only one part of a complex web of policies and priorities facing postcolonial leadership in Africa. In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda had made the cooperative movement a cornerstone of his policies to achieve growth, but other political and ideological concerns that loomed larger throughout this era eventually overshadowed the domestic agenda. The following examination of Israeli cooperative assistance in Zambia between 1966–1973 can provide a close-up view of how the socialist aspirations of leadership was sometimes doomed by broader geopolitical concerns that mandated the imposition of alternative policies.

Kenneth Kaunda, humanism and cooperatives

4Kaunda developed a philosophy and a vision for postcolonial Zambia that he called “humanism.” Outlined in a book that appeared in 1966, and declared the Zambian national philosophy in 1967, humanism was to form the foundation of Zambia’s national identity and the blueprint for its economic development (Sekwat 2000: 523). The ideology offered a moral and ideological basis for nation-building, and it reflected a merger of socialist, Christian, and traditional values (Kanu 2014: 376). While humanism shared many similarities to African socialism articulated in other postcolonial states, Kaunda insisted that it was a homegrown philosophy deeply rooted in local traditions. He claimed that the values underlying humanism, such as communalism, inclusiveness, egalitarianism and mutual-aid, were the defining features of precolonial societies (Meebelo 1973: 1–5). As he said in his address to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly following independence: “Our economic life has always been based on what I should like to describe as traditional cooperative way of living. This is the African substitute for the capitalism, socialism, and communism of the East and West. We offer it as our contribution to the world sum of experience” (Legum 1966: 195). In promoting humanism, Kaunda sought to earn his place among the leadership of moral statesmen that emerged in the postcolonial era (Chan 1992: 18). Humanism was to provide Kaunda with a hallmark that distinguished him from other leaders who had risen to ideological prominence, such as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. As Kaunda’s biographer John Hatch claimed, the desire to set himself apart from Nyerere was evident in Kaunda’s ideology. While Nyerere’s socialism was focused on the construction of social institutions that would foster social harmony, Kaunda stressed individual responsibility, and “a personal conversion to spiritual principles” (Hatch 1976: 247). Kaunda did acknowledge there were indeed strong parallels between his humanism and African socialism: “One cannot be a Humanist without being a socialist. It is virtually impossible. […] On the other hand, one can be a socialist without being a Humanist” (Hatch 1976: 245). Within the framework of humanism, the Zambian economy would evolve to a stage of communal ownership over the means of production, as Kaunda wrote:

To a Humanist, socialism is a way of organizing society in such a way to remove, in the final analysis, all forms of exploitation of man by man. The major instrument applied to achieve this objective is to take away all major means of production and distribution from private hands—unbridled capitalism—and put them under the control of the State. This is the first stage of development towards the creation of a socialist economy. The final stage comes when the people themselves have, as a matter of principle and/or belief, begun to control the economy, thereby creating a state in which wealth is commonly owned by all the people, on the basis of one doing unto others as he would have them do unto him. (Hatch 1973: 245–246)

  • 1 Quote by MP Mbilishi, Zambia National Archives (Hereafter ZNA) Loc. 69, Mag 1/8/23.
  • 2 ZNA Loc. 104, Mag 1/21/4, F. 11.

5The ideal of communal ownership led Kaunda to promote cooperatives as a key mechanism in the economic development of postcolonial Zambia. Members of his party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP), followed his lead in embracing cooperatives as a distinctly “African” tool of inclusiveness that was “a sort of salvation” (Bowman 2011: 208).1 Under the UNIP, the Department of Cooperatives celebrated the return to a way of life in which “the people are used to doing things communally” (Bowman 2011: 208).2 Cooperatives were also recommended as the key to agricultural modernization for Zambia in the Seers Report, a proposal for national developed produced on the eve of Zambian independence by a team of international experts led by the economist Dudley Seers with sponsorship from the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Cooperatives thus emerged as a natural alternative for Kaunda and the UNIP as they faced the many economic and social challenges of the postcolonial era. A particularly acute concern was rapid and unchecked urbanization. As thousands abandoned rural areas to seek employment in cities, particularly in the Copperbelt region, the government sought solutions to rising unemployment and food shortages. Hoping to lure young men back to agriculture, Kaunda proposed the establishment of government- sponsored cooperatives through the 1965 Chifubu Appeal (Albinson 1979: 23). The appeal offered incentives to those who took up the challenge, as Kaunda declared:

I want [a] kind of cooperative society […] to produce vegetables only, on the Copperbelt. I am ready to go forward and those who are interested may come forward. Vegetable growers on the Copperbelt must join with those interested in growing fruit around the Copperbelt. These people must come together. The money is there and the know-how is there. We have lined up these things. We are waiting for the response from the country. The money is there for those who are prepared to work hard. To work hard with their hands, their brains, their minds, their hearts. It is a challenge to you, not to me. I am giving you the money. Come forward. I want to see you […]. For the vegetables and fruit cooperatives, I want the first twenty-four volunteers next week. For egg producing societies—I want the first volunteers—twenty-four—next week. We shall enlarge on numbers as times goes on. There is no time to be lost. What are you doing in town—loafing? There is a farm waiting for you! (Legum 1966: 212).

6According to Lombard, there was a massive response to Kaunda’s appeal, and within five months, there were 2,000 applications for cooperative registration in a broad range of sectors. By 1968, there were 609 farming cooperatives registered, with a membership of 11,500 farmers. The significant growth was linked to the government extension of subsidies, loans, and grants to those registered (Lombard 1971: 18). Several scholars have critiqued the hasty roll out of this program, the political agenda underscoring it, and the massive waste and corruption it engendered (Bowman 2011: 201–221; Siddle 1970: 271–284; Macola 2010: 118–199; Scott 1978: 321–334). In the initial stages, the Department of Cooperatives offered peasants money for stumping and preparing the land for agriculture. Peasants were offered £15 for every acre they cleared, and many chose to maximize profits by clearing low-lying areas where there were fewer trees, despite the fact that this soil was poor for cultivation. Peasants thus exploited the opportunity to earn cash by clearing lands without any intention of eventually cultivating them (Quick 1978: 50–51). The result was that the government had invested immense quantities of funds into cooperatives without adequate control or assessment of its use (Quick 1978: 4). French agronomist René Dumont visited Zambia in 1967 to conduct a review of the agricultural cooperatives, and his findings led him to a cynical conclusion: “The Zambian peasants have gone in for cooperative farming not because of their African tradition of mutual help, but because they realized it was the best way to get money out of the government.” He claimed that peasants were enticed into forming cooperatives by offers of loans and grants for tractors, seed, fertilizer, and petrol, often equaling £6,000 in subsidies (Dumont, Mazoyer 1973: 128). At the same time, the Department of Cooperatives failed to offer an educational curriculum that would help peasants to understand how to actually establish and run a cooperative farm (Quick 1978: 56). As Dumont wrote, “It would be rash to say that the African peasants want to move towards socialism, because first they have to have a clearer idea of what it is” (Dumont, Mazoyer 1973: 135). Lombard echoed this claim, saying that many of the registered cooperatives were defunct because peasants had no real knowledge of what cooperatives were. He, too, concluded that the program had been poorly planned and executed, resulting in a massive waste of funds (Lombard 1971: 23–25).

7Recent scholarship has linked the failure of these initiatives to the UNIP political struggles underlying them. According to Giacomo Macola, the real purpose of the loans was to reward UNIP members, and to encourage the opposition to join the ruling party. Thus, loans were actually handouts given out on the basis of political loyalty rather than economic considerations (Macola 2010: 109). Andrew Bowman has similarly argued that the credit extended to cooperatives was actually aimed at augmenting the political control of the UNIP within the local population (Bowman 2011: 213). Thus, while Kaunda and the UNIP imbued the cooperative initiative with socialist ideals and rhetoric, the resources provided to establish these cooperatives were aimed at a much broader agenda. As Bowman put it, “development had become a political battleground” (Bowman 2011: 214). At the same time, the failure of Kaunda’s cooperative appeal also had wide-ranging implications that resonated far beyond the failed schemes themselves. As Larmer and Macola have argued, disappointment with failed development initiatives such as the cooperative campaign fostered discontent among the local population who faulted the government for not delivering on post-independence promises. In the case of the Mushala rebellion, this discontent eventually translated into violent insurgency in the 1970s (Larmer, Macola 2007: 471–496). Likewise, the rise of two opposition parties, the United Progressive Party (UPP) and the African National Congress (ANC), have both been attributed to popular discontent in the wake of failed state-led developmentalism under the UNIP (Larmer 2006: 49–83; Macola 2010). Thus, for Kaunda and the UNIP, the stakes of developmentalism were very high. This undoubtedly contributed to the enthusiasm they extended to the Israeli moshav schemes as one of the few bright spots in an otherwise failed agenda.

Background to Israeli aid and programs in Zambia

  • 3 Israel National Archives (hereafter INA), Zambia General 1926/4.
  • 4 INA 1926/4, 26 June 1964.

8Already at the start of 1964, Israel sent a representative, A. Avishai, to Lusaka to establish diplomatic relations in anticipation of Zambian independence, which came in October.3 Israel was the first country after Britain to offer aid assistance to Zambia, suggesting a range of programs, including courses for radio operators, adult literacy education, training for police and security, and the establishment of a youth national service program. As independence was still months away, local officials were reluctant to make commitments, but Avishai claimed that the Zambians were overall positive about the establishment of relations. He reported that future Minister Simon Kapwepwe said, “I want you to know that we will need your help and we will greatly appreciate it, but currently the British are not rushing to hand over the government, and we must achieve everything through pressure, but after we gain our independence, it will be different.”4

9Israel’s overtures to Zambia were part of a broader history of Israeli development initiatives in Africa in the 1960s. In 1958, Israel established an international aid agency, MASHAV, to achieve both political and ideological goals. Through its aid program, Israeli politicians hoped to strengthen ties with newly independent African and Asian states and off-set diplomatic isolation resulting from the Arab-Israeli conflict. At the same time, the opportunity to provide assistance to developing countries was seen as a moral imperative among key political figures such as David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir (Oded 2013). The agency expanded rapidly to offer an immense array of technical assistance and training programs that were concentrated largely in Africa. MASHAV activity included ambitious schemes in agriculture, irrigation, regional planning, community development, health care and youth movements. Between 1958 and 1971, tens of thousands of Africans were trained in MASHAV courses both in Africa and Israel, and over 2700 Israeli technical experts were sent to provide assistance in local projects (Peters 1992). Israel’s enormous investment in Africa prompted Newsweek to describe this as “one of the strangest unofficial alliances in the world” (Decalo 1971: 162).

  • 5 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, 23 December 1964.
  • 6 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel, 7 May 1965 and 11 May 1965.

10From the Israeli perspective, Zambia was a particularly desirable candidate for aid assistance, as Kaunda had expressed enthusiasm for agricultural development based on socialist models, and his country had copper revenues to invest in projects (Schwartz, Hare 2000: 18). But among Zambian politicians, there was some trepidation about accepting the Israeli offers. From the start, the issue of the Middle East conflict loomed in the relations between the two countries, and there was reluctance to establish ties with Israel in light of these political tensions. Two months following the Zambian declaration of independence, a circular from the Foreign Ministry exposed the deliberations: “The President said that Zambia’s policy was complete non-alignment and that aid would be accepted from anyone provided it was useful and provided there were no strings attached. However, the sense of recent Cabinet minutes indicates that there is still a reluctance to accept aid from Israel.” The memo claimed that Israel did not appear on the list of countries that received the Cabinet’s approval as “politically acceptable donors of aid,” and therefore advised ministries to await further instructions before committing themselves to accepting Israeli assistance.5 In later correspondence, the foreign minister questioned “whether on balance Zambia stands to gain more by accepting this aid, taking into account the risk of incurring the displeasure of the Arab members of the OAU.”6

  • 7 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel, 30 April 1965.
  • 8 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel Ministry of Housing and Social Development to Cabinet, 29 December 1964; (...)
  • 9 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel.
  • 10 INA 13546/2 Letter from Zafti, 18 June 1965.

11Notwithstanding Kaunda’s policy of “aid from anywhere without strings,” some ministers felt that the risks of close relations with Israel outweighed the potential benefits. As one secretary argued, it was best to reject Israel’s offer to conduct short agricultural training courses because these brief trainings could ultimately “spoil our name.”7 At the same time, officials from ministries who stood to benefit from Israeli programs made the case for accepting the aid without delay. The Minister of Housing and Social Development, for example, facing acute shortages in the building industry, “strongly favour[ed] the acceptance of technical assistance from Israel to train cartographic draughtsmen and surveyors.”8 The issue was finally resolved when Aaron Milner, Secretary of Home Affairs, made the unequivocal recommendation to accept aid from Israel as part of the “aid from anywhere” policy.9 Given the centralized nature of Kaunda’s rule, it is clear that Milner’s directive reflected the President's wishes (Chan 1992: 14–24). In a 1965 meeting, Kaunda himself assured the Israeli ambassador that he was not worried about political fallout from Israel’s involvement in Zambia, and he was anticipating friendly relations between the two countries.10

  • 11 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.

12Once political concerns had been set aside, Zambian officials in several ministries quickly accepted Israeli proposals because they offered some advantages over other offers. Israel represented a welcomed alternative to Britain as the former colonial power. There was also a belief that Israel had great success as a young developing nation and could teach Zambia from its own experience in overcoming the same development challenges that Zambia faced. Israelis also promoted an approach tailored to local needs. As MASHAV’s Shimon Amir explained: “Israel is a small country which has its own development problems. We cannot offer capital assistance, nor technical assistance in mass. What we can offer is technical aid in some few fields and here we would like to learn from you what your needs are. […] We will not send any experts abroad who are not fit for the job. If we have started a project, we consider it our obligation to carry it on. Now we would like to hear about Zambia’s future requirements. We are willing to offer technical assistance if it is needed, wanted and within our possibilities.”11

  • 12 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel memorandum of Vice President, n.d.
  • 13 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.

13The Zambians did believe that Israel had a proven record of success from which they could learn. Particularly with regard to cooperatives, some officials claimed that Israel had unparalleled expertise, and had earned “a worldwide reputation in the field.”12 Israelis had invented the moshav, a model for cooperative farm settlements that played a major role in the early agricultural development of Israel. The model emerged in the 1920s as a reaction against the intense collectivism of the kibbutz. Unlike the communalist kibbutz, the moshav was based on the nuclear family as the basic unit of production. Farmers in each settlement formed cooperatives for sharing equipment and supplies, marketing, credit arrangements, a portion of fields and industries, and individual small holders relinquished some control over their economic decisions to the collective decision-making bodies of the community. The success of the moshav model earned Israel an international reputation as a leading innovator in the area of cooperatives. But MASHAV officials knew that this success could not be blindly replicated elsewhere, as Shimon Amir said, “when advising on cooperatives, our experts adapt to local conditions. What is suitable in our country does not have to be so in other countries.”13

The rise and fall of Israeli moshav in the Zambian Copperbelt

  • 14 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel 9/5/67 Department of Cooperatives, youth and social development (K.C.M N (...)

14Israeli assistance to Zambian cooperatives began with a rocky start, as Zambians were confronted with unexpected demands from the Israelis. While other countries offered aid for free, the Israelis required payment for their services. Moreover, they requested salaries based on Israeli civil servant pay scales, which were higher than those paid in Zambia. Many of the Israeli experts lacked the educational qualifications that were normally prerequisites for government employment in Zambia, but MASHAV officials insisted that the professional experience of their staff made them qualified for the job. The experts also brought their families with them, as many of them stayed for several years, and this was an additional expense for the Zambian government. Particularly within the Department of Cooperatives, these terms of employment were a source of discontent and even before the projects got underway, some officials considered limiting their scope and duration. As one official wrote, “My Ministry is firmly of the opinion that this Government has not come out of this deal very favorably and though admittedly comparisons are odious, we would appear to be far better served in terms of economics by many other foreign governments whose experts come to us on a more voluntary basis.” This official’s frustrations with Israeli demands reignited the political debate surrounding Israeli aid, as he wrote “perhaps insufficient attention has been given to Israel’s destructive role to the OAU and Pan Africanism.”14

15Despite these objections, it was decided in June 1966 that Israeli technical experts would take charge of several projects that were on the brink of failure. Israelis would assume responsibility for two existing cooperatives near Lusaka, Tubalanga and Zambia Independence, and also oversee a refugee settlement in Mkushi. In addition to these smaller projects, the Israelis were to be entrusted with planning and implementing a large cooperative farm settlement scheme in the Copperbelt region (Yadin 1969).

16Soon after the first group of Israeli technical experts arrived, they made recommendations for broad, fundamental changes in the economic, social, and physical organization of the settlements as well as changes to the production and marketing practices of the settlers. The Zambians were wary of some of these ideas, particularly the recommendation to shift away from communal farming to a cooperative settlement based on small holders. The Israelis claimed that this shift was essential to encourage individual initiatives among the farmers that lacked motivation in the communal system. The proposal was met with considerable resistance within the Department of Cooperatives, as many believed it betrayed Kaunda’s vision, and would meet with his disapproval. According to the delegation leader, Dan Yadin, the Israelis were able to convince the Department of Cooperatives to allow them to initiate an experiment at the Zambia Independence Cooperative, giving farmers their individual plots to maintain. Yadin later reported that there was symbolic importance behind the choice of Zambia Independence because Kaunda was a member of the cooperative. If the change proved positive, it would be possible to implement the recommendation elsewhere. This plan worked, and by the end of the first growing season, the Israelis demonstrated significant improvements in outputs on the individually farmed lands. Surprised and pleased with this outcome, the Department of Cooperatives authorized the Israelis to implement similar changes at the rest of the settlements (Yadin 1969: 29).

17The projects in the Copperbelt would prove to be far more significant both in scope and in the impact they made on local communities. These projects would also play a pivotal role in promoting the moshav model and establishing the Israelis’ reputation as highly capable technical experts. The stakes were indeed highest in the region, where social and economic problems were of growing concern to the ruling party. As masses of Zambians migrated from rural areas in search of well-paying jobs, the cities of the Copperbelt experienced a population explosion that was accompanied by rising rates of unemployment, a growth in slums and shortages in housing and food (Tordoff 1974: 376). Hoping to return these urban migrants to working the land, the Department of Cooperatives entrusted the Israelis with the task of planning and implementing Kafulafuta, a large-scale settlement block that would cover 13,000 acres located 40 miles south of the city of Luanshya. The Department of Cooperatives also requested that the Israelis take control over the Kafubu block, an existing settlement scheme that was experiencing some difficulties (Yadin 1969: 4).

18The Kafubu settlement was hastily established by the government in 1966, with inadequate planning and investment plaguing the venture from the very start. The site chosen for the settlement was attractive for its proximity to Luanshya, but the soil was not optimal for agriculture and only 5,000 of the 12,000 acres were suitable to farming. Tree roots were hard to remove and the water supply was inadequate. The early settlers were drawn from among the unemployed in mining cities, and came to Kafubu following government promises for resources and training that were not fulfilled (Yadin 1969: 35). They faced many hardships and struggles as they lacked knowledge and experience in establishing a cooperative farm settlement, and the Department of Cooperatives offered little assistance (Schwartz 2002: 80–81). By the time the Israelis arrived, many of the first settlers had already abandoned the area and the project was near collapse.

19The Israelis set about making significant changes to the Kafubu cooperative structure. A cooperative union was established, and new organizational structures were introduced, with regulations instituted to ensure more oversight over planning, marketing, and financing. In addition, the smaller cooperatives were regrouped into larger villages based on individual holder farms, all of which came under the supervision of the Union. Following the success at Zambia Independence, this last change did not meet with resistance from government officials. But the settlers themselves were not initially enthusiastic about the Israeli intervention. According to Yadin, settlers had become used to living off government grants, and resented Israeli efforts to take control over the finances and administration of the settlement. The Israelis had a poor impression of the early settlers, described by Yadin as “aggressive, lazy, and unable to organize themselves.” Some of the settlers were equally hostile to the foreigners, and one submitted a complaint that accused the Israelis of coming to destroy Zambia (Yadin 1969: 37).

20These early hostilities soon abated when the Israeli methods proved to be successful. Although the first growing season did not produce results, the changes introduced by the Israelis began to bear fruit in the second year. Despite early resistance, the model based on the production of family units enabled the majority of farmers to generate a surplus of crops. The Israelis recommended moving away from maize and introduced a larger crop variety, including several kinds of fruits and vegetables. In 1967–1968, a total of 650 acres were sown with good results, while in 1968–1969 there were even higher yields on 1,000 acres, and by 1969, 3,000 acres were yielding crops (Yadin 1969: 38). Families began marketing their vegetables in town and earning income from the surpluses.

21Israelis also introduced poultry and pig farming. The poultry sector was particularly successful, with 1,500 broilers and 3,750 layers introduced in June 1967. Within four months, chickens were laying eggs at the same yield level that had been achieved in Israel. The poultry farming expanded, and families involved became the envy of the entire settlement as they used profits to build themselves brick houses. Yadin claimed that families were not accustomed to large cash flows, and some social tensions arose as a result (Yadin 1969: 40–41). Despite these frictions, the poultry branch became the showcase project of the entire Kafubu block. Production was so great that in 1971, the Israelis made an urgent appeal to find consumers for a surplus of six million eggs. Kaunda announced that he had made good on his post-independence promise to provide each citizen with one egg a day (Schwartz 2002: 94).

22Unlike the Kafubu block, the Israelis planned the Kafulafuta project from the beginning, working closely with local leadership, and they therefore did not encounter difficulties with already established settlers. At the same time, geographical conditions were different and presented their own challenges. Trees were larger than at Kafubu and tree clearance was more difficult and time-consuming, delaying the project overall (Schwartz 2002: 89). By 1968, nearly 3,000 acres were cleared, and the Israelis introduced pig farming, along with vegetable growing and some poultry. From 1970 until 1973, production gradually increased at both the Copperbelt settlements, and farmers’ gross income per capita reached 130 kwacha per annum, as compared to the average rural income of 26 kwacha per annum in the rest of Zambia (Schwartz 2002: 91).

23The success of these projects soon had implications for the entire cooperative movement in Zambia. In 1968, the government commissioned a Swedish agricultural economist, Gunnar Olund, to study cooperatives throughout the country and make recommendations to improve productivity. Olund examined many under-functioning cooperatives, but his report also included a study of the Kafubu block. The review found that the small-holder model enabled significant increases in productivity. He reported that under the communal system, it had taken 298 families two months to cultivate 600 acres, whereas the family-based farms established under the Israelis had cultivated 1,100 acres in one month (Lombard 1971: 25). According to Quick, Kaunda directed the Minister of Rural Development to adopt the recommendations of Olund and reorganize cooperatives in the rest of the country according to the individual holder model (Quick 1977: 112).

  • 15 INA 4191/36.
  • 16 The Observer, 15 December 1971.
  • 17 Zambian Farmer, 17 August 1971.
  • 18 INA 4581/39 Report of the ceremony of the arrival of the new Israeli ambassador, 14 October 1971.

24Faced with the large-scale failure of his own initiative, Kaunda lavishly praised the work of the Israeli experts in public and private forums alike. As he told the Israeli ambassador in 1968: “only the cooperatives in which the Israelis are involved are worthy of their name.”15 In a 1971 Observer article entitled “African Kibbutz,” Kaunda said, “These settlements are the pride of our nation. If we can duplicate these experiments in all the other districts of Zambia, we will be on our way to establishing a self-sustaining economy.”16 In another interview in 1971, Kaunda proclaimed: “This is an achievement which deserves the admiration of the country as a whole […] here we maybe be pretty close to the answer to grassroots development for which we have been searching since independence” (Amir 1974: 32).17 To the incoming Israeli ambassador in 1971, Kaunda expressed his appreciation for the Israeli expertise: “One of our cornerstones in the country is the construction through the cooperative effort and we do realize that in this respect you are one of the few who specialize, and indeed we have learned from our experience here, that those areas where our Israeli friends have worked alongside with their Zambian brothers we have succeeded in creating a successful cooperative effort in the Republic. We appreciate this very much indeed.”18 It was common practice at the Foreign Ministry to bring visiting statesmen and dignitaries to visit the projects, and the Zambian moshav projects became a showcase for Kaunda’s cooperative policy.

  • 19 ZNA FA/1/367 Technical Assistance From Israel, 28 January 1969, A.M. Sikota.
  • 20 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.

25In the Department of Cooperatives, initial uneasiness with the Israeli terms of employment gave way to tremendous enthusiasm once the success of the programs became clear. The contracts were extended in 1969, and Minister Sikota was unequivocal in his support: “It is true that the conditions Israel offers are not very favorable, but in view of the fact that Israel is herself a kind of developing country it maybe be understandable. If the services of the Israeli experts are restricted to the cooperative field, in which the Israelis probably have more experience than any other people, it will not be too expensive for Zambia to continue the cooperation.”19 Similar praise for the Israelis was heard at a meeting between officials of the Minister of State and the Israeli delegation in 1969, as one Zambian official said: “the personnel we have received from your country have proved to be the right type of people. They have demonstrated their skills. I have seen the Zambia Independence cooperative and was very impressed.”20

  • 21 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel, letter from Kenneth Kaunda, 28 August 1969.
  • 22 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.
  • 23 INA 4832/2, August 1973.

26The decision to extend the duration and scope of Israeli activity came after Kaunda’s visit to the Kafubu block in August 1969. As he wrote, “I was deeply impressed by the performance of the Israeli team responsible for the Kafubu Block Development project. […] I have found it necessary to ask for the assistance of your government to provide teams of Israeli experts to work in each district in the Western Province […] in this exercise to which I attach very great importance for it will serve the interests of our people greatly.”21 In another initiative, Nkwabilo suggested that Israelis assist in developing small industrial concerns around the cooperatives, such as bakeries and garages, to entice settlers who did not succeed at farming to stay in the rural areas.22 The Israelis also proposed establishing a regional agricultural high school for Kafulafuta and Kafubu, to serve hundreds of students from the two settlements.23

  • 24 NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel, 13 June 1969.
  • 25 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.

27Criticisms of the Israeli terms of employment were replaced with concerns that the experts would leave too soon. When news reached some officials that Yadin, the head of the Israeli delegation, was scheduled to return home, A.M. Sikota pleaded with the Israeli ambassador to extend his contract. Ambassador Dagan refused the request, but he celebrated it as proof of success: “It is indeed gratifying to hear that the Department of Cooperatives is highly impressed with the work the Israeli experts are doing. I am sure that every effort will be made that the teams of experts, albeit without the leadership of Mr. Yadin, will continue to merit these praises.”24 The experts themselves believed that the fate of the program would only be tested when the experts all departed and the program would have stand on its own. As Shimon Amir wrote, “We do not want to perpetuate our presence anywhere, because really we do not know whether a project has been successful or not, until the experts have left. Then it will show whether they paid enough attention to train Zambians. So on the one hand we must phase out, on the other hand we must continue and expand a successful scheme. This is our dilemma.”25

28To Amir’s surprise, this test would come soon than expected in 1973, when Zambia abruptly severed ties with Israel. MASHAV workers and local communities were astonished by the abrupt turnaround, as the technical advisors were expelled from the moshav projects within weeks. The Israelis departed with their capital resources and expertise, and the projects experienced a quick demise over the course of months. Almost as soon as the Israelis left, debts mounted, funds disappeared, and equipment was repossessed by banks. By the end of 1976, both Kafubu and Kafulafuta cooperatives had collapsed completely.

29The failure of the projects led to complaints among local politicians and the press, who questioned the decision to oust the Israelis and abandon what was once the showcase of postcolonial development in Zambia. Cooperative members blamed the Government for abandoning them, and the Government blamed cooperative members for not maintaining what the Israelis had built, as seen the Daily Mail on 26 November 1975:

Two years after the Kafubu Block Cooperative was launched and managed by a team of Israeli experts, the Block was both the envy of other cooperatives and showpiece of the nation. Workers and villagers tilled the land side by side. What was important was the fact that they were able to feed themselves as well as to eke out a living from the land out of their hard work.
[…] For reasons unconnected with the members of the Kafubu Block Cooperative, the Israelis left this country and members of the cooperative were given the challenge to make their cooperative prosper. Two weeks ago, this newspaper reported that things were not going well with the Kafubu Block Cooperative. Members put the blame on the Poultry and Egg Marketing Union.
[…] [The authorities] blamed the members for having allowed themselves to be spoonfed by the Israelis who left two years back.

  • 26 “Bring Back Expert Israelis,” Times of Zambia, 6 May 1976.

30Within a few years, a romanticized view of the Israeli era took hold, as seen in a 1976 article from Times of Zambia, “Bring Back Expert Israelis,” which quoted an MP: “We want the Israelis back. Ten of them did more for us than a thousand of the present advisors.” Another MP, Valentine Cafoya from the Bhati district, praised Israelis as miracle workers who could turn sand into fertile soil: “This was proved time and again here, when they worked wonders and helped our ignorant villagers to transform their plans into farms and flower-gardens.” Since their departure, he claimed, “flourishing farms and gardens have been reduced to arid wilderness, and proud villagers, formerly self-sufficient, are not cutting down timber and destroying valuable natural resources in order to eke out a livelihood.” He expressed his lack of faith in the Arabs to replace the Israelis, “Egypt is not a land of food growers. How can they teach us farming when they import most of their own fresh food?”26

31These sentiments were out of step with the government position. While Kaunda leaned on Israeli expertise to advance his cooperative agenda, ties to Israel came in conflict with other geopolitical concerns. As it will be seen, the moshav program was abandoned as part of broader set of calculations made by Kaunda is his efforts to navigate an immensely complicated political terrain that extended far beyond the Copperbelt cooperatives.

Beyond socialism: Kaunda’s “humanist” foreign policy on the international scene

32The Israelis had hoped that their contribution to Zambia’s development would insulate them from criticism on political issues, but Kaunda had no intention of letting aid donors influence Zambian foreign policy. On the contrary, his humanist ideology was firmly aimed at protecting Zambia’s autonomy. As he wrote on the eve of independence: “It is all too possible for an African country to emerge from the colonial prison to find itself enmeshed in a net of financial, diplomatic, and ideological obligations which effectively destroy its freedom of action” (Shaw 1976: 93–94). Aid would not force Zambia into new kinds of dependencies: “We will not purchase economic development at the cost of a new type of colonialism. Technical assistance and aid have contained tendencies towards a new type of dependence just as difficult to throw off as the old. It is our view that bargains have no part to play in technical assistance. Therefore, we ask that countries which offer us their aid should not exploit our need in order to infringe our sovereignty, for this is something we shall guard jealously” (Anglin, Shaw 1979: 55–56).

33Kaunda’s decision to break ties with Israel must be seen as the outcome of a complex set of deliberations around Zambia’s national, regional and international priorities. While some historians have attributed the OAU decision to break off relations with Israel to the widespread African capitulation to Arab demands, others have insisted on the need for a more nuanced approach that looks at the specific interests of each state in arriving at the decision (Quick 1977: 43–58). In the case of Zambia, ties to Israel were just one piece of a complicated puzzle that Kaunda struggled to keep in place while articulating his political, economic, and ideological agendas. Ultimately, relations with Israel exposed the incompatibility between domestic and foreign policy goals. Kaunda’s push for rural development based on cooperatives brought the Israeli experts to Zambia, but relations with Israel became inconsistent with other political priorities.

34For Kaunda in the first decade of independence, the most pressing foreign policy issue was the one closest to home: the situation in southern Africa. At the time of independence, land-locked Zambia shared a border with four white-minority regimes: Rhodesia, Mozambique, Namibia, and Angola. From 1965, the Unilaterial Declaration of Independence (UDI) in Rhodesia created an ongoing crisis situation that constituted not only a political and ideological challenge, but also a danger to Zambia’s economic survival. The conflicts threatened Zambia’s stability, leading to incidents of violence across borders, economic shortages and racial tensions. As Mwanakatwe wrote, “no other independent country in the southern Africa sub-region experienced as much loss and suffering from liberation wars than Zambia” (Mwanakatwe 1994: 66). Kaunda marshaled available resources and opportunities to oppose minority rule on his borders, and he turned continually to international organizations and forums to draw attention to Southern African conflicts (Shaw 1976: 83). His relentless appeals to the United Nations and the Organization of Africa Unity to rally support for southern African liberation movements lead some critics to claim that this fixation was at the detriment of Zambia’s domestic interests (Anglin, Shaw 1979: 13).

35Just as with domestic policy, Kaunda invoked humanism as the basis of his foreign policy platforms. As Timothy Shaw has argued, the principles of dignity, respect, racial equality, and autonomy that were the pillars of the ideology were also mobilized as guiding principles in the formulation of Zambia’s foreign policy. In particular, humanism afforded Kaunda a strong foundation upon which to build his position regarding the white minority regimes. Racial equality and mutual respect were non-negotiable principles in the engagement with colonial rulers that threatened Zambia on nearly every border. With an eye to these regimes, Kaunda persistently promoted a rhetoric of non-violence and non-aggression among nations, and he quoted humanist principles in the pursuit of human rights and in opposition to colonialism and the color bar (Shaw 1976: 83).

  • 27 INA 4581/39 Report of the ceremony of the arrival of the new Israeli ambassador, 14 October 1971.

36These ideological positions had clear repercussions for Kaunda’s engagement with conflicts in the Middle East, but his policies evolved over time. Following independence, Kaunda rejected attempts of Arab countries to block Zambia’s recognition of Israel. As he said to the Israeli ambassador: “Politically, as you know, the fact that you are here means that we accept the presence of the State of Israel on this earth and we have no quarrel with her at all.”27 Kaunda’s decision to recognize Israel did not prevent him from later becoming a vocal critic of Israeli policies towards its neighbors. The watershed was the June War of 1967, which resulted in the Israeli invasion and occupation of Arab lands. For Israel and Zambia, this was the point at which the scales began to tip from relations of cooperation and affinity to relations fraught with tensions and critique. Kaunda attempted to position himself as the liberator of colonized peoples, and he rallied for international condemnation of the human rights violations perpetuated by the colonial regimes of southern Africa. He therefore strongly disapproved of the Israeli occupation, and he took a leading role in condemning Israel in international and regional forums. In Ambassador Mwemba’s address to the Emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly on 27 June 1967, it is possible to see that Zambia’s interest goes beyond the Middle East conflict:

  • 28 ZNA FA/1/208 Israel-UAR Conflict - Middle East Crisis.

[…] we are concerned by the state of Israel’s resort to the use of force in setting international disputes. My government which shed the colonial yoke only a few years ago strongly believes in the development and maintenance of friendly relations with other nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and to that end my government has maintained and enjoyed friendly relations with both the Arab states and the state of Israel. The Middle East has cooperated with my country in its effort to solve economic, social and cultural and other human problems. The government and the people of Zambia have no quarrel with Israel. […] [but] aggression in the eyes of Zambia is inadmissible and worth nothing but strong condemnation. It should not be said that some states adhere to the United Nations charter only when it suits them. Members of a club must stick to the rules of the club without which the club is dead.28

  • 29 ZNA FA/1/208 Israel-UAR Conflict - Middle East Crisis.
  • 30 ZNA FA/1/208 Israel-UAR Conflict - Middle East Crisis.

37The Ambassador’s expression of strong support for the United Nations as the forum within which international disputes should be resolved was undoubtedly related to Zambia’s own efforts to use the United Nations in the struggle against colonial regimes in Africa. The links between Zambia’s concerns in southern Africa and its position regarding the Middle East conflict were clear in Mwemba’s remarks: “It is this Israeli policy of territorial aggrandizement and expansionism that my delegation strong deplores and condemns. In the second half of the 20th century, Zambia cannot and will not lend itself to the law of the jungle which can only give comfort to the enemies of self-determination, freedom and human dignity.”29 Mwemba’s condemnation of Israel was an opportunity to make broader arguments about problems much closer to home. “It must be realized that the crisis now under consideration concerns all mankind, particularly young nations who are most vulnerable and require the protection of this organization and all those who believe in the peaceful settlement of dispute and who regard the rule of law as the sine qua non of international relations.”30

38Zambia’s total condemnation of what was described as the Israeli colonialization of Arab lands was raised over and over. This could be seen in notes from a meeting between the Zambian Foreign Minister Mudenda and the Israeli Ambassador Elron in Lusaka, in September 1967. Elron came to voice strong disapproval of Zambia’s sponsorship of resolutions condemning Israel, but he was met with a rather unsympathetic response. Mudenda claimed that until the 1967 war, Zambia had taken all the necessary steps to show the Arabs that Zambia “does not question the existence, the national independence, and sovereignty of Israel.” But, he claimed, the June War created new concerns:

  • 31 ZNA FA/1/208 Israel-UAR Conflict - Middle East Crisis.

[…] Zambia [has tried to] convince the UAR and her Arab friends that Israel as a state is there to stay and deserves recognition. […] Zambia is continuing to play this role but difficulties have been encountered, since the Arabs are bound to ask which Israel Zambia is referring to. Is it the Israel that existed before the outbreak of the war, that is on the 4th of June 1967? Or is it the Israel which is the result of annexation as a result of the Six Day War in June? I emphasize that this is a question which it would be important for all people interested to resolve.31

  • 32 ZNA FA/1/272 Israel-Arab Conflict - Middle East Crisis.

39From the perspective of the Zambian political elite, the occupation had transformed Israel into a colonizer. As UN Ambassador Vernon Mwaanga claimed, through the progression of hostilities between the Israelis and Arabs between 1948, 1956 and 1967, Israel was slowly transformed from Zambia’s postcolonial ally to a occupying aggressor: “Each war has brought about a changed situation. The first brought about the establishment of Israel, the second consolidated her position and the third brought her an Empire.”32 As a leader in the fight against colonial regimes in Southern Africa, the Israeli occupation was unacceptable.

40The 1967 war was the beginning of a shift in Zambia’s position regarding Israel, but it did not lead to the complete souring of relations. Even as criticism in the international sphere became more vocal, at home Kaunda attempted to maintain a business-as-usual attitude towards Israeli cooperative assistance. Locally, Zambia continued to foster strong ties with Israel, and even hoped to expand upon Israeli involvement in Zambia’s domestic development efforts. But enthusiasm with Israeli technical assistance did not soften Zambian criticism of the Israeli occupation, and over time the duality of Kaunda’s approach became increasingly difficult to manage. It was clear that on the eve of the October War in 1973, he was losing patience. Kaunda called the Israeli ambassador for a meeting at the end of September, and asked him to convey the following warning to the government in Jerusalem:

  • 33 INA 4832/2, 24 September 1973.

[…] we are more worried than ever before by the situation in the Middle East, just like we are worried about the situation in the southern continent of Africa. As a friend we want to say what is on our hearts and that includes a feeling that the leaders of Israel are intransigent. Israel is putting up obstacles in the way of realizing UN resolutions. Other countries in Africa have cut they relations with Israel and other are threatening to do so, but we are among those who think that by maintaining relations with both sides, we can offer the moderate suggestions of a friend. Thus, through you we are asking the leaders of your country that they will act in a way that history will not prove us wrong. You win in war and you are stronger in your technological abilities, but time is not on your side and the time will come when the Arabs will also make progress in science and technology. It is difficult if not impossible for the defeated side to come to negotiations as you are asking them to while their lands are occupied. […] In the name of expanding the relations and deepening the friendship between the two countries we are asking you to explain our perspective and our concerns to your government.33

41The plea became irrelevant within one month. Following the outbreak of the October War and the OAU resolution, Zambia finally cut ties with Israel and sent the technical advisors home.

42The history of Israeli cooperative assistance reveals that Kaunda’s socialist development agenda was only one part of a broad spectrum of geopolitical concerns facing postcolonial Zambia. Kaunda struggled with conflicting priorities and eventually, achievements in the area of socialist development were sidelined for other urgencies. Despite the success of Israeli assistance in promoting one of Kaunda’s main domestic platforms, the moshav program was abandoned when it came into contradiction with other political objectives. The Israelis learned that solidarity based on socialist agendas was not a guarantee of allegiance in other areas, and they failed to leverage the success of the Zambian moshav program as a bulwark against political critiques. From the Zambian perspective, the growing criticism of Israel and the ultimate demise of the moshav schemes reveals the conflicts and contradictions that postcolonial leadership confronted in advancing political, ideological and economic agendas all at the same time.


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1 Quote by MP Mbilishi, Zambia National Archives (Hereafter ZNA) Loc. 69, Mag 1/8/23.

2 ZNA Loc. 104, Mag 1/21/4, F. 11.

3 Israel National Archives (hereafter INA), Zambia General 1926/4.

4 INA 1926/4, 26 June 1964.

5 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, 23 December 1964.

6 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel, 7 May 1965 and 11 May 1965.

7 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel, 30 April 1965.

8 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel Ministry of Housing and Social Development to Cabinet, 29 December 1964; INA 13546/2 Letter from Avishai to Avrieli, 9 October 1964.

9 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel.

10 INA 13546/2 Letter from Zafti, 18 June 1965.

11 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.

12 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel memorandum of Vice President, n.d.

13 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.

14 ZNA NCDP 2/3/2 Aid Israel 9/5/67 Department of Cooperatives, youth and social development (K.C.M Nyalugwe) to Ministry of Foreign Affairs (M.C. Chona).

15 INA 4191/36.

16 The Observer, 15 December 1971.

17 Zambian Farmer, 17 August 1971.

18 INA 4581/39 Report of the ceremony of the arrival of the new Israeli ambassador, 14 October 1971.

19 ZNA FA/1/367 Technical Assistance From Israel, 28 January 1969, A.M. Sikota.

20 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.

21 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel, letter from Kenneth Kaunda, 28 August 1969.

22 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.

23 INA 4832/2, August 1973.

24 NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel, 13 June 1969.

25 ZNA NCDP/213/11 External Aid Policy Israel Minutes of a meeting, 29 July 1969.

26 “Bring Back Expert Israelis,” Times of Zambia, 6 May 1976.

27 INA 4581/39 Report of the ceremony of the arrival of the new Israeli ambassador, 14 October 1971.

28 ZNA FA/1/208 Israel-UAR Conflict - Middle East Crisis.

29 ZNA FA/1/208 Israel-UAR Conflict - Middle East Crisis.

30 ZNA FA/1/208 Israel-UAR Conflict - Middle East Crisis.

31 ZNA FA/1/208 Israel-UAR Conflict - Middle East Crisis.

32 ZNA FA/1/272 Israel-Arab Conflict - Middle East Crisis.

33 INA 4832/2, 24 September 1973.


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