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Zambia’s lost leader

Former Zambian president, Patrick Levy MwanawasaAs the Zambian Jesuits mourn their dead president, their grief and sense of loss goes far beyond the conventional. Though Patrick Levy Mwanawasa was the third Zambian President, he was the first to die. A lawyer by profession, he kept the country united. Nobody was exempt from the law. He won praise for keeping the lid on once-rampant inflation and public spending. He had made a change in the presidency because of his upholding of honesty and his constant fight against corruption. Follow the ‘read more’ link to read the report of Jerry O’Connell SJ, who has spent most of his Jesuit life in Zambia.

We gained Independence on 24th October 1964. Our first President was Kenneth Kaunda (K.K.). He lasted until l991. Our second President was Frederick Chiluba (F.J.T.Chiluba) who served for two terms of five years each until 2001. Our third President was Patrick Levy Mwanawasa who served from 2001 until l9th August 2008. He was in his second term of office. I had told some of you during my recent leave that while he was attending an Organisation of African Unity conference in Egypt at the end of June he suffered a severe stroke. He was hospitalised and underwent an operation in Egypt. After two days he was transferred to a hospital in Paris. As far as we know he never regained consciousness and died (RIP) on 19th August, three days after I returned from leave. He was our first President to die and what’s more he died in office. He had made a change in the presidency because of his upholding of honesty and his constant fight against corruption. The economy of the country had greatly improved during his term of office. One can point to many projects that he initiated. He kept the country united and in a way he did not accept nonsense. He was a lawyer by profession and nobody was exempt from the law. Zambia had no experience of the burial of Presidents and had to work out everything from scratch.

With his death three weeks of national mourning was declared which will continue into the middle of next week. That means that national television will take on only a sombre mood, and sport or any kind of variety will not be broadcast. All gathering of groups for any kind of public entertainment is prohibited. Parties attached to weddings, i.e., in hotels, may not take place. The Church ceremony may take place. TV will broadcast solemn music and NEWS only. Etc., Etc. However business continues as usual.

To bring back his body from Paris President Sarkozy supplied his own presidential jet. There was a Mass at the hospital before the remains departed which was later shown on our Zambian TV. The French gave his body full military honours as it left Charles de Gaulle airport. On arrival here it was, of course, received with full military honours at the airport. The body lay in state for one or two days and crowds went to pay their respects. Then it went on a tour of the country by plane visiting 9 provincial capitals so that the whole country could mourn our loss of our serving President. They covered two capitals per day. And so back to Lusaka and a few days more of lying in state.

Fourteen Heads of State from African countries came for the funeral today. You may not have known about the one who died in Europe and America, but he was much respected in Africa. He is being buried in a local park in Lusaka and the crowd who would want to attend could not find room there. So the public were asked not to attend the funeral (admission is by ticket) but to watch it on TV.

Naturally the death of our President has brought about a special election (for President only). It must be within 90 days of his death and they have decided that it will be for a period of three years only so that they can keep together parliamentary and presidential election in 2011. The pity is that some type of canvassing had to start before the burial took place because time is very short. Everybody will tell you that we must continue the legacy of our late President. The ruling party has fourteen candidates for the position and almost immediately after the funeral a committee of the ruling party must meet and pick just one candidate to represent the party. He/she will be contesting against candidates from other parties.

I ask you to pray for our country so that we have a peaceful election and that we get the candidate who will carry on the present legacy and not one who is seeking for power, etc. Personally I never liked election times in Zambia and I pray that this one will go smoothly also.