It seems Levy Mwanawasa was more loved by the people of Zambia than he realised during his often contrary presidency. Dour, and described by many as unapproachable and non-communicative, his popularity was not due to his charm and affability, but because of the way he economically transformed Zambia from one of Africa's poorest countries into an upwardly mobile state with a promising future, simply by getting on with the job.
His death in a Paris hospital on 22 August after suffering a stroke provoked an outpouring of grief as Zambians wept on the streets of the capital, according to journalist Lewis Mwanangombe. Parliament suspended its session and even a doctors' strike was called off as the central African nation mourned its president. Mwanawasa, 59, had been receiving treatment in a French military hospital since suffering a stroke in June. The Zambian flag flew at half mast throughout the country, and radio and television stations replaced normal programmes with messages of condolence at his passing.
"President Mwanawasa was a true servant of the people who served this country with dignity and honour," Kenneth Kaunda, the founding president of Zambia, said in a message broadcast on state radio and television. "We have lost a great leader who had a real vision for leadership and the problems that face the country."
Vice-President Rupiah Banda will continue as acting president until an election is held, which must take place within 90 days of Mwanawasa's death.
Mwanawasa will not be remembered as Africa's most flamboyant politician, but the making of his now indelible legacy came in the last few months of his life when he broke ranks with the majority of his fellows in the African Union by holding that Africa should not tolerate the situation in Zimbabwe. He stunned his peers by challenging their culture of silence in the face of gross democratic breach by their eastern neighbour. He will be remembered as the leader who, along with a handful of "honourable brothers", called for Mugabe's isolation.
He came out strongly in support of President Ian Khama of Botswana, Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya and Sierra Leone's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf by branding Mugabe's sham, one-man presidential election "a disgrace to Africa's democracy".
Speaking earlier this year of neighbouring Zimbabwe and the exodus of millions of its citizens, Mwanawasa said the country "has sunk into such economic difficulties that it may...