|ZAMBIA'S THIRD PRESIDENT: Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, a profile
Updated: 28 December 2001
by By Kondwani Chirambo and Hugh McCullum in Lusaka
The burly 53-year-old lawyer who has become Zambia's third president finds himself thrust onto a platform more controversial than he may have expected.
Having been personally chosen by former president, Frederick Chiluba to be his successor as the Movement for Multiparty Democracy's (MMD) candidate for Zambia highest elective office, Mwanawasa will have to carry his predecessor's legacy into State House and MMD.
It is a tricky mission. He campaigned to change Zambia dramatically. Chiluba campaigned equally vigorously for Mwanawasa on his record for the past decade. The question for Mwanawasa say his critics is how can he change Zambia without abandoning the principles on which his party has run the country since 1991.
"I agree that mistakes have been made, but I also believe that MMD has the capacity to correct these mistakes," he says.
During the campaign, Mwanawasa stressed his belief in the rule of law. "There will not be two sets of laws, one for the leadership and one for the citizens. If a leader transgresses the law, he will be punished.
Mwsanawasa may have been referring the scandal-riddled second term of MMD's rule or even Chiluba's abortive attempt to seek an unconstitutional third term in office which ultimately was rejected by a massive outcry in civil society and a split in the MMD.
Mwanawasa was not in the party leadership when those disastrous events occurred. In 1991, when MMD was formed, he had little political experience or influence but was quickly spotted as a bright new face by the ambitious Chiluba and given the position of vice-president. Three years later in 1994, he quit both party leadership and the vice-presidency on a matter of principle following a row with then minister-without-portfolio Michael Sata. Mwanawasa did not wish to be a figurehead leader.
Integrity and honesty are words that even opposition critics do not use against the new president. Nevers Mumba, leader of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), a televangelist turned politician and a candidate for the presidency who acted as spokesperson for the opposition attempt to overturn the election results, says there is no dirt on the new president.
"Levy is highly respected for the integrity he has shown in public life." More questionable is Mwanawasa's health which became a vicious campaign issue. In 1992, while still vice-president, he was almost killed in a suspicious car accident that sent him to hospital in South Africa for almost a year with severe head injuries. He had been driving alone at night without a driver or bodyguard when the accident occurred in mysterious circumstances.
Opposition politicians seized on his sometimes slurred and slow speech and occasional lapses in syntax as an indication that he was physically unwell and could not handle the heavy duties of a president. Although Mwanawasa vigourously denies these allegation and says he is "fit as a fiddle" the suspicions gained notoriety. The word "vegetable" caught on and quickly became "cabbage". During the massive protest demonstrations lead by the newly united opposition parties, cabbages became a frequent symbol of their rage as he slowly took the lead in the vote counting.
After his resignation from the vice-presidency, Mwanawasa returned to his increasingly successful law practice and stayed away from public view until Chiluba anointed him his successor last year.
Although he belongs to a small ethnic group in central Zambia called the Lenje, he was born and brought up and educated in the Copperbelt province. He earned a bachelor of laws degree from the University of Zambia in 1973 and has been practicing with distinction ever since. He was the first Zambian lawyer to be appointed an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
Ironically, one of the many cases he took up which few other defence lawyers would touch, was a treason trial in 1989 against Lt.-General Christon Tembo who was charged along with others with plotting to overthrow then President Kenneth Kaunda. Tembo retired and went on the join MMD, became its vice-president, the same job as Mwanawasa had held, and then split during the third term controversy, to form the breakaway Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD).
Tembo was seen as a potential winner although in the end, he trailed to third place in the presidential campaign.
Mwanawasa intends, according to his campaign pledges, to stress strong institutions that promote good governance including the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Drug Enforcement Commission and the Human Rights Commission. The economy will undergo some changes such as imposing exchange controls to rein in currency speculators and traders.
Job creation and poverty eradication through government creating a climate of new investment are also campaign promises he must address urgently.
He intends to emphasize agricultural production, establish a grain marketing authority and prompt fertilizer delivery. Foreign policy will be based on regional concerns, good neighbourliness and a continued role in conflict management. As current chair of the African Union, Zambia will push a continental agenda. Mwananasa is married to Maureen, also a successful lawyer, and they have five children. (SARDC)
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