Levy Patrick Mwanawasa was born 3 September 1948 in Mufulira, Copperbelt, a province in central Zambia. He was the second of ten brothers in a family that belongs to the Lenje ethnic group. In a country where ethnic and tribal loyalties play a major role in daily life, Mwanawasa's Lenje heritage is important.
Mwanawasa attended primary school in his home community, and received his secondary education in Ndola near the DROC border. In 1970, he enrolled in the University of Zambia in the capital, Lusaka, where he studied law. He returned to Ndola to practice law, establishing Mwanawasa & Company in 1978. He was named the country's solicitor general in 1985, a post he held for one year before returning to his private law practice. In December 1991, after being appointed vice president of Zambia, he again gave up the practice of law to enter public service.
In 1992 Mwanawasa was involved in a serious automobile accident of suspicious origin. Because the other vehicle was owned by the government, there were suggestions that the accident may have been planned by opponents in the government or by a rival ethnic group. Mwanawasa was President Frederick Chiluba's vice president at the time, and in the aftermath of the accident, Mwanawasa resigned the vice presidency in July 1994.
Mwanawasa, whose health has been relatively poor since the 1994 accident, is a Christian, and his second wife, Maureen, was excommunicated by the Jehovah's Witness following Mwanawasa's declaration of his candidacy for president. The couple have four children—Chipokota, Matolo, Lubona, and Ntembe. Mwanawasa also has two other children, Miriam and Patrick, from his first marriage. In addition to his law practice, Mwanawasa also owns three Zambian farms.