Biography of Levy Patrick Mwanawasa

Respected statesman and third president of an independent Zambia

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa during a press conference

Marcel Mettelsiefen / Getty Images

Levy Patrick Mwanawasa was born on September 3, 1948, in Mufulira, Northern Rhodesia (now known as Zambia) and died August 19, 2008, in Paris, France.

Early Life

Levy Patrick Mwanawasa was born in Mufulira, in Zambia's Copperbelt region, part of the small ethnic group, the Lenje. He was educated at Chilwa Secondary School, in Ndola district, and went to read law at the University of Zambia (Lusaka) in 1970. He graduated with a Bachelor of Law degree in 1973.

Mwanawasa started his career as an assistant in a law firm in Ndola in 1974, he qualified for the bar in 1975 and formed his own law company, Mwanawasa and Co., in 1978. In 1982 he was appointed Vice-chairman of Law Association of Zambia and between 1985 and 86 was the Zambian Solicitor-General. In 1989 he successfully defended former vice-president Lieutenant General Christon Tembo and others charged with plotting a coup against then-president Kenneth Kaunda.

Start of a Political Career

When Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda (United National Independence Party, UNIP) approved the creation of opposition parties in December 1990, Levey Mwanawasa joined the newly created Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) under the leadership of Fredrick Chiluba.

Presidential elections in October 1991 were won by Frederick Chiluba who took office (as Zambia's second president) on 2 November 1991. Mwanawasa became a member of the National Assembly for Ndola constituency and was appointed vice president and leader of the Assembly by President Chiluba.

Mwanawasa was seriously injured in a car accident in South Africa in December 1991 (his aide died at the site) and was hospitalized for an extended period. He developed a speech impediment as a result.

Disillusioned With Chiluba's Government

In 1994 Mwanawasa resigned as vice president claiming the post was increasingly irrelevant (because he was repeatedly sidelined by Chiluba) and that his integrity had been "put in doubt" after an argument with Micheal Sata, minister without portfolio (effectively the cabinet enforcer) in the MMD government. Sata would later challenge Mwanawasa for the presidency. Mwanawasa publicly accused Chiluba's government of endemic corruption and economic irresponsibility and left to devote his time to his old legal practice.

In 1996 Levy Mwanawasa stood against Chiluba for the leadership of the MMD but was comprehensively defeated. But his political aspirations were not finished. When Chiluba's attempt to change Zambia's constitution to allow him a third term in office failed, Mwanawasa moved to the forefront once again - he was adopted by the MMD's as their candidate for president.

President Mwanawasa

Mwanawasa achieved only a narrow victory in the December 2001 election, although his poll result of 28.69% votes cast was sufficient to win him the presidency on a first-past-the-post system. His nearest rival, out of ten other candidates, Anderson Mazoka received 26.76%. The election result was challenged by his opponents (especially by Mazoka's party who claimed they had in fact won). Mwanawasa was sworn into office on 2 January 2002.

Mwanawasa and the MMD lacked an overall majority in the National Assembly - due to voter distrust of a party Chiluba had brought into disrepute, from Chiluba's attempt to hold on to power, and because Mwanawasa was seen as a Chiluba puppet (Chiluba retained the post of MMD party president). But Mwanawasa moved quickly to distance himself from Chiluba, starting an intensive campaign against the corruption which had plagued the MMD. (Mwanawasa also abolished the Ministry of Defense and took over the portfolio personally, retiring 10 senior military officers in the process.)

Chiluba gave up the presidency of the MMD in March 2002, and under Mwanawasa's guidance, the National Assembly voted to remove the former president's immunity to prosecution (he was arrested in February 2003). Mwanawasa defeated a similar attempt to impeach him in August 2003.

Ill Health

Concerns over Mwanawasa's health arose after he suffered a stroke in April 2006, but he recovered enough to stand once again in presidential elections -- winning with 43% of the vote. His nearest competitor, Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) received 29% of the vote. Sata typically claimed voting irregularities. Mwanawasa suffered a second stroke in October 2006.

On 29 June 2008, hours before the start of an African Union summit, Mwanawasa had a third stroke -- reportedly much more severe than the previous two. He was flown to France for treatment. Rumors of his death soon circulated but were dismissed by the government. Rupiah Banda (a member of the United National Independence Pary, UNIP), who had been vice-president during Mwanawasa's second term, became acting president on 29 June 2008.

On 19 August 2008, in hospital in Paris, Levy Patrick Mwanawasa died of complications due to his earlier stroke. He will be remembered as a political reformist, who secured debt relief and led Zambia through a period of economic growth (partly bolstered by the international rise in the price of copper).

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Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Biography of Levy Patrick Mwanawasa." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2021, Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2021, July 29). Biography of Levy Patrick Mwanawasa. Retrieved from Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Biography of Levy Patrick Mwanawasa." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).