Zambia’s first president Kenneth Kaunda, 97, has been admitted to hospital

His office announced Monday, as the southern African country battles a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Kaunda asked for “all Zambians and the international community to pray for him as the medical team is doing everything possible to ensure that he recovers,” according to the statement issued by Kaunda’s administrative assistant Rodrick Ngolo.

The short statement did not specify the cause of Kaunda’s illness, but Zambia is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and the country’s founding president was admitted to Maina Soko Medical Center, a treatment center for the disease in the capital, Lusaka.

Zambia’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen dramatically over the past two weeks from 1.44 new cases per 100,000 people on May 30, to 8.91 new cases per 100,000 people on June 13.

Zambia, with a population of about 18 million people, has a cumulative total of nearly 108,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,348 deaths, according to figures released Monday by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kaunda was a leader of the campaign that ended British colonial rule and he became Zambia’s first democratically elected president in 1964.

He led the country, which became a one-party state, until 1991 when he was defeated in an election following the introduction of multiparty politics.

Kaunda, a leader of the campaign that ended British colonial rule in the former Northern Rhodesia territory, is still remembered for making Zambia a center for anti-colonial groups and guerilla organizations that fought to end the white minority rule in southern African countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

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