Levy Mwanawasa ,who died in 2008 aged 59, was President of Zambia and one of Africa’s few outspoken critics of Robert Mugabe’s ruinous regime in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Mwanawasa had a furious row with Mugabe at a summit last year after he accused Zimbabwe’s dictator of turning his country into a “sinking Titanic”. During a heated exchange, Mugabe responded by labelling Zambia’s President a stooge of unnamed “Western intelligence agencies” and accused him of selling out to the “white man”.
Visibly shaken by the vehemence of Mugabe’s attack, Mwanawasa took his revenge by pointedly declining to recognise the outcome of Zimbabwe’s violent presidential elections on June 27. He denounced the failure of other African leaders to do the same as “scandalous”.
Mwanawasa’s open criticism of a pillar of the anti-colonial struggle took considerable courage. A solid, deliberate man, who was popularly known as “the Cabbage” and unjustly derided for being dull and slow, he overcame low expectations to become one of Africa’s most progressive leaders.
After taking office as Zambia’s President in January 2002 he was brave enough to expose the appalling financial excesses of his disastrous predecessor, Frederick Chiluba, and helped make his country an island of relative stability in southern Africa.
This achievement was threatened by Zimbabwe’s steady implosion. Migrants fleeing economic collapse streamed over the Zambezi river into Zambia, and Mugabe’s behaviour discredited southern Africa in the eyes of global investors.
Mwanawasa was shrewd enough to grasp the damage Mugabe was doing — in stark contrast to many other African leaders, notably President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who preferred to gloss over these concerns.
Moreover, he also saw how to exploit Zimbabwe’s self-immolation for his own country’s benefit. Tourists visiting the Victoria Falls, which span the border between the two nations, once flocked to Zimbabwe, which boasted the best hotels and infrastructure outside South Africa.
Thanks to Mugabe, the tourists fled in droves. Mwanawasa spotted his chance and dramatically revived the Zambian town of Livingstone, situated beside the Falls, turning this backwater into one of the tourism hubs of southern Africa. By 2004 Livingstone boasted two five-star hotels and an international airport.
When Mugabe drove Zimbabwe’s white farmers off their land, Mwanawasa made clear that they would be welcome in Zambia. Several hundred duly relocated across the Zambezi, where they significantly increased domestic food production and revived Zambia’s export sector by growing tobacco.
Meanwhile, Mwanawasa gave quiet but consistent encouragement to Zimbabwe’s opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, pointedly inviting him to a summit of African leaders in Lusaka after the presidential election’s first round in March.
It is public knowledge that late president Levy Mwanawasa had health problems during the entire period he led Zambia. In fact everybody knows that the man who became president of Zambia in 2001 was sickly.
But that does not eliminate the possibility of foul play in his death. A sick person can also be killed.
So what happened? We do not know. But Maureen was there and could help the nation by saying what happened instead of releasing bits and pieces of information as it suits her.
What is of public knowledge is that president Levy Mwanawasa travelled to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for an African Union Summit. He was chairperson of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
He was supposed to present the SADC consensus on Zimbwabe at the AU summit on Monday June 30, 2008. On Sunday, June 29, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was sworn in having just won the elections boycotted by the main opposition.
President Mugabe said that day that he was going to attend the Summit in Egypt to see “who is going to point a finger at me”. He had said that most African leaders present at that summit did not go through credible elections.
On that Sunday, Mwanawasa (59) is said to have complained of sharp chest pains while in a pre-summit meeting or just after the meeting.
He was flown to France where we are told he died. But rumors have lingered that he died in Egypt and was just flown to France for political interests.
A lot of medical opinions have been expressed on why Mwanawasa could have just collapsed and died, but why at this particular time when he had had been sick and survived similar attacks on several occasions.
It is possible that it was due to his sickly condition but we have a doubting voice from someone who was present and this warrants full attention, whether we like the person speaking or not.
Trying to trivialise what Maureen said by concetrating on the smaller issues she mentioned won’t do. It won’t make the matter go away. It is true that whatever Maureen said in that interview, her main point was what happened to Mwanawasa before he collapsed.