|Widely regarded as a man of integrity, Mr. Mwanawasa won praise for criticizing his neighbor, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/associated press/file 2007)|
Levy Mwanawasa; outspoken president of Zambia was democrat; at 59
LUSAKA, Zambia - President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, who broke the African tradition of silence and solidarity among leaders to denounce neighboring Zimbabwe's economic ruin, died in a French military hospital yesterday. He was 59.
Mr. Mwanawasa had suffered a stroke and collapsed at an African Union summit in Egypt in June, which cost Zimbabweans the voice of one of their few champions on the continent.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France called Mr. Mwanawasa's death "a great loss for the African continent" and for democracy.
Mr. Mwanawasa was airlifted from Egypt to France's Percy Military Hospital, where he remained until he had an urgent operation Monday and died yesterday, according to Vice President Rupiah Banda.
Banda made the televised announcement "with great grief and deep sorrow."
Mr. Mwanawasa's illness precipitated power struggles within and between Zambia's political parties and his death leaves a power vacuum. Mr. Mwanawasa did not groom a successor, and Banda was expected to continue as acting president until an election that must be held within in 90 days.
Widely regarded as a man of integrity, Mr. Mwanawasa won praise for breaking the traditional silence of African leaders to criticize his autocratic neighbor, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, which encouraged a few other African presidents to show their displeasure.
Speaking earlier this year of Zimbabwe and the exodus of millions of its citizens, Mr. Mwanawasa said the country "has sunk into such economic difficulties that it may be likened to a sinking Titanic whose passengers are jumping out in a bid to save their lives."
Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was one of the first to pay tribute to a "good friend and comrade" who stood up for democracy in southern Africa.
"His passing-on is a sad day to the Zimbabwean people," said Tsvangirai, who had repeatedly asked that Mr. Mwanawasa replace President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa in mediating the Zimbabwean crisis.
Mugabe was long revered as an African independence hero, but the softly spoken Mr. Mwanawasa, Zambia's third president since independence from Britain in 1964, was not bound by the liberation movement ties of older African leaders.
Mr. Mwanawasa was equally outspoken about Western criticism of the unconditional aid that China is pouring into Africa, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars China has invested in mining Zambian copper.
"You people in the West redeem yourself before you begin attacking China," Mr. Mwanawasa told an audience in the United States last year.
At home and abroad, Mr. Mwanawasa won praise for fighting corruption and modernizing Zambia's economy. But he admitted that he had failed to lift the nation of 12 million people out of crushing poverty.
Born on in the northern town of Mufulira, Mr. Mwanawasa graduated from the University of Zambia and practiced law before going into government service. After a stint as solicitor general in 1986 under Zambia's first president, Kenneth Kaunda, Mr. Mwanawasa became a key figure in the push for multiparty democracy.
Mr. Mwanawasa leaves his wife, Maureen, and six children.