An African leader's sensitive message to the West; The Riddle of Violence, by Kenneth Kaunda. San Francisco: Harper & Row. $8.95

As a young African nationalist, Kenneth Kaunda received instruction about Gandhi and nonviolence from an Indian storekeeper in Lusaka, capital of Zambia, the nation of which Dr. Kaunda is now president.

In winning the campaign for political independence, the young Kaunda largely succeeded in practicing Gandhian methods. Then came the unilateral declaration of independence by white colonials in Rhodesia, Zambia's neighbor to the south.

Harold Wilson, then Britain's prime minister, ruled out the use of force against white "kith and kin" as an option in answering this colonial challenge.As a result, Rhodesian independence lasted 15 years. Zambia suffered, first economically, then, physically as well, when guerrilla warfare spilled across its borders.

The Rhodesian UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) confronted Kenneth Kaunda with the riddle of violence. As a practical politician, he saw that ideals cannot always be translated into action. Eventually he became a prime supporter of Zimbabwe guerrilla movements and allowed guerrillas sanctuary on Zambian territory.

This book, addressed mainly to British pacifists and clergymen, explains the reasons for these actions. It is valuable to other Western readers as a view of events in southern Africa seen from the perspective of a leader who belongs to the West's Christian tradition of ethics, but who is racially and culturally African.

Dr. Kaunda restates the proposition that, when applied as policy, racism and colonialism are forms of violence. Not only are they supported by symbols of legitimacy (however fictitious), by legal systems, and by police forces; they also do violence against subject peoples through assumptions of superiority and control of the news media and the educational system. the Zimbabwe situation showed Dr. Kaunda that subject peoples can challenge these subtler forms of violence only by the crude form of guerrilla warfare.

If Dr. Kaunda were an academic, some of his ideas might have been tested by criticism as well as events. Had that happened, his notions, for example, about when a guerrilla is or is not a terrorist would be more precise.

And there might be more clarity in communicating across the cultural gulf. He does say: "If there is one thing the African people are good at, it is forgiving their enemies," but this is the one moment when he allows himself to suggest the important cultural differences between Africans and Westerners. More attention to these differences might have made the book more useful to American readers.

Still, it is beneficial to all humanity when a world leader seeks to sort out his thoughts on an important subject and give them systematic expression. Given the rhetoric of last year's presidential campaign. Americans might wish their leaders were moved to make similar attempts.

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