ZAMBIA’s leader Edgar Lungu will have treatment abroad for throat surgery, the presidency said Monday, only a day after he was diagnosed with malaria after falling in public.
Lungu collapsed on the podium while presiding over a Women’s Day celebration in Lusaka Sunday, and an official statement later said he was receiving treatment for malaria and there was no need for concern.
“I am feeling much better and have been told I have high levels of fatigue and should take some rest,” Lungu was quoted saying, adding: “There is nothing to worry about.
He later told a press briefing at the hospital: “I am looking forward to going home. Doctors have done their tests and they have found traces of malaria, but they are doing further tests and they will let me know what next after before the end of the day.
The latest statement on Monday said he was suffering from a narrowing of the oesophagus which needed “high-tech medical procedure which is currently unavailable in Zambia”.
“There he has been referred for specialised treatment abroad,” it said, but did not specify when he would have the operation.
It added that this was a recurrence of a condition for which he was treated 30 years ago.
In another country, a bout of presidential ill-health and the shifting diagnoses might have been shrugged off easily. Not Zambia.
Lungu came to power in January after the death in office of president Michael Sata, then 77, in October.
Rumours that Sata was ill had circulated widely before his death, but were always denied by the government.
Sata was Zambia’s second leader to die abroad in office in six years, sparking calls for presidential aspirants to undergo medical checks to guarantee their fitness.
In August 2008, Zambia’s third republican president, the reformist Levy Mwanawasa also died in office.
During the campaigns ahead of the January emergency elections, Lungu was dogged by what his supporters dismissed as a “smear” campaign, that suggested that he was too much of a tippler, and that the bottle had undermined his health.
His allies stridently denied reports he was sick and he offered to undergo a medical check-up.
His latest brush with medical setbacks will have unsettled some Zambian nerves, and given currency to the hordes on social media who have argued that the country’s presidency is “jinxed”.
More importantly, the sight of a fainting Lungu will have set off unease in his ruling Patriotic Front (PF).
The government is involved in delicate negotiations with mining companies to resolve a dispute over mining royalties, that were doubled from three to six percent late last year.
The mainstay of Zambia’s economy, mining companies have threatened closures.
Lungu needs to be seen as strong and in-charge for his government to close the negotiations.
To compound matters, the country’s currency, the kwacha, has taken a body blow against international currencies, and by end of February had fallen by nearly 20% over the previous year against the US dollar.
The biggest headache for the ruling party though is that Lungu is only serving out the remainder of Sata’s term until 2016, when the general elections are scheduled.
Lungu’s victory wasn’t convincing, as he won with 48.3% of the vote against his closest challenger, Hakainde Hichilema, of the United Party for National Development (UPND), who got 46.7% of the vote.
It was a close shave, and without a record of achievements under his belt, and good health, Lungu would be vulnerable to the physically more robust and energetic Hichilema who will be waiting to pounce.