‘Mwanawasa suffered a stroke’

In a statement on Thursday in the wake of mounting public concern over the president’s health, government issued a statement saying Mwanawasa has suffered a minor stroke. “He is now awaiting assessment by doctors to determine whether he is fit to return home,” Vernon Mwaanga said in a brief statement in Lusaka. The Statement, which did not say when or where the president suffered the stroke, came shortly after vice president Lupando Mwape had sought to assure the restless nation that all was well with their leader. Mwape sent waves of a mixture of shock and relief when he announced at the weekend that President Mwanawasa is out of danger and that every morning “he goes jogging” in the dreary weather of London. However, Mwaanga later told The Southern Times by telephone that he had spoken to Mwanawasa on Thursday morning and that he had “sounded well”. “The vice president spoke to the president today and I also spoke to him this morning and he sounded well,” Mwaanga said. He refused to comment on the vice president’s statement that Mwanawasa was undertaking daily early morning rood runs. “I will restrict myself to what I have said as government spokesperson,” he said when pressed to comment. Also this week, scores of Mwanawasa’s supporters marched in Lusaka “in solidarity with the president”. Controversial and outspoken opposition Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata has since written to the Chief Justice Ernest Sakala to constitute a Board which should make an inquiry in President Mwanawasa’s health in order to determine whether he is still capable of ruling the country as provided by the constitution. Zambia’s Chief Justice has in turn referred Sata’s request to cabinet which in accordance with Article 36 of the republican Constitution should first discuss the matter. If cabinet deems it fit for such an enquiry, it should notify the Chief Justice who in turn should appoint the board comprising at least three people including medical doctors. “If the board reports that the President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office, the Chief Justice shall certify in writing accordingly and shall table such certificate, with the report of the board before the National Assembly who shall on a motion, passed by a two thirds majority’ Ratify the decision of the board, and thereupon the President shall cease to hold office,” further reads Article 36 in Section 2. Opposition Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) president Edith Nawakwi who is Lusaka’s Munali Constituency MP earlier wondered in parliament why Mwanawasa continued staying in London at the expense of the taxpayer if he was fit enough to go for road runs. To sum up the raging debate about the health of the 57-year old leader of the resistive Southern African country, leading daily newspapers The Times of Zambia and The Post have had opposing opinions. The Times which is publicly owned says in an Africa setting it is taboo to dramatise or politicise someone’s illness. “In the African context, it is out of culture to speak ill of someone who is sick. It is unheard of to say bad things about a person who is afflicted, whether he or she is in hospital or suffering at home. But sadly, that is the level of politics Zambia has reached,” said the Times of Zambia. “In villages, the’ opposition leaders would have been ostracised or denounced, if not kicked out of a village. This is the punishment that is meted on people who step out of cultural norms and values,” added Zambia’s oldest newspaper. It said those familiar with the level of some opposition politicians in Zambia, would not be surprised by the opposition making political capital out of President Mwanawasa’s medical check-up in the British capital. “We have mentioned in this column before that the problem with opposition party leaders in Zambia is their failure to tackle issues and would rather dwell on trivialities if that will get them some publicity,” charged The Times of Zambia. On the contrary The Post which is the largest private newspaper in Zambia said Zambians needed to know the truth about their leader’s condition. “We are not saying it is wrong for the President to receive treatment in London or to be accompanied by his wife and other immediate family members. All that we are saying is that those who are paying for his treatment and stay there deserve and have the right to know what is happening to him,” said The Post. “Surely, Zambia is not the Soviet Union where leaders would fall ill and disappear from the public eye for many months without any explanation from anyone, just to be told many days or weeks later that they have died,” added the paper. It said even the Israelis were doing much better than Zambia because: “Even Ariel Sharon, when he fell ill as prime minister, the public saw him on their television screens being taken to hospital. And an hourly update was given to the world about his condition. His illness was not kept a secret. The public was told and knew what he was suffering from. The same was true with Yasser Arafat – the late Palestinian leader,” said The Post referring to the Israeli prime minister who has remained comatose since January 4 and his long-time rival late Palestinian leader Arafat. The Post argued that if one chose to live on public funds, he should be prepared to account to the same public for that life. “This is not asking too much. This is not an intrusion in one’s private life. This is not being insensitive to Levy’s welfare. We may disagree with him on a lot of issues but we will always wish him good health. No one should have a problem with Levy’s good health,” said the paper. Zambians and other interested parties have remained guessing in which London hospital President Mwanawasa is and when he will return home.

April 2006
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