The condition of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has suddenly worsened. Mr. Mwanawasa, who was elected in 2002 and is in the middle of a second four-year term, has been under treatment in a Paris hospital since early July after suffering a stroke. Zambian Vice President Rupiah Banda, who is governing the country in the president?s absence, said in a statement yesterday that doctors noticed a deterioration in the 59-year-old leader?s condition late Sunday night. He had been flown to the French military hospital after being stricken in Egypt on June 29. In Lusaka, Radio Phoenix reporter Sanday Chongo Kabange said the timing of the president?s stroke was unfortunate, as he was due to play a key role in the debate on the election crisis in Zimbabwe, both at the African Union (AU) summit that was just getting underway in Cairo and at last weekend?s Zimbabwe discussions at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

?I think it?s really been sad that the president has not been at the SADC summit. You know, Mr. Mwanawasa had been the SADC chair. He was the rotating chairman that is held for about a year and Mr. Mwanawasa had been one of the main critics of the Robert Mugabe regime, so I think his absence might have been felt. And I?m sure that there are certain things that he wanted to mention, might have a lot of contributions he would have made if he himself had attended this summit that was held over the weekend in South Africa,? he said.

During his term as SADC leader, President Mwanawasa was outspoken against the violence and political and economic instability in Zimbabwe that contrasted with positions taken by other neighbors of Zimbabwe. Journalist Kabange says those views were missing, not only from last weekend?s SADC discussions, but also from the African Union summit that opened in Cairo back in June. President Mwanawasa suffered his stroke on June 29 on the eve of the AU meeting, which commenced three days after Zimbabwe?s controversial runoff election. Robert Mugabe easily won that vote, running unopposed after his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, pulled out of the race because of unmitigated violence against members of the opposition, most notably in Zimbabwe towns and rural areas.

?His absence may have definitely played a negative role in the negotiations for free and fair, or maybe a partial government in Zimbabwe because early on, Zambia was actually considering going to boycott or snub the South Africa SADC summit. Well I?m sure Zambia was supposed to be part of the SADC summit in South Africa, probably, one, because Zambia?s outgoing chairperson, Mr. Mwanawasa, was outgoing chairperson. So he was supposed to be there in order to hand over the chair from Zambia to South Africa, who are the incoming chair of the group. So if Mr. Mwanawasa was there in person, I?m sure he would have boycotted, because like in the case of Ian Khama (president) of Botswana, who says he could not attend because he?s not content with the government of Robert Mugabe. So if Mr. Mwanawasa was there in person, I don?t think he would have taken part. Or if he had come, he would have gone there just because he was supposed to hand over the chairmanship of the 14-member grouping. So it?s really a blow to the negotiations in Zimbabwe that President Mwanawasa himself did not attend,? said Kabange.

At home, Kabange says Zambians are struggling with the suspended state of their leader?s rule. He says Vice President Banda has been doing more to preserve citizen confidence by keeping the public informed about changes in the president?s condition.

?There was too much anxiety. There was some point where we were told that the president had died. So that kind of anxiety had continued in some areas and some people remained concerned. But he (Vice President Banda) has tried to run the country and maintain peace. There might be a few incidents that are taking place, but he has used his managerial ability to run the country and maintain law and order,? said Kabange.