Another birthday, another party, another year in power. But will Bob slow down, or keep on dancing? At this point, the Zimbabwean president has spent more than a third of his life ruling the country. TENDAI MARIMA reminds us of five facts we might’ve forgotten about the long-serving leader.
One year closer to achieving his dream of being in power until he’s 100, Zimbabwean President Robert Gabriel Mugabe turns 91 on Saturday February. Celebrating with a $1 million feast to be attended by 20,000 guests, Mugabe’s grand party will be held next weekend on February 28 on the golf estate of the luxurious Elephant Hills Resort in Victoria Falls.
1. A Feast of Beasts
A platter of game, including elephant, buffalo, and impala meat, is on the menu for Mugabe’s 91st birthday party next weekend, according to local press reports. Kicking up a storm, angry conservation activists and the political opposition have blasted Mugabe’s carnal extravagance. But it’s not the first time animals will be killed and served en masse at Mugabe’s birthday banquets. At last year’s celebrations, 90 beasts were slaughtered in Mugabe’s honour to feed the partying multitudes at Rudhaka Stadium in Marondera, a small farming town near the capital, Harare. And in 1999, ignoring stark hunger and hyperinflation, 8,000 lobsters, 4,000 portions of caviar and 100kg of prawns were reportedly imported into the landlocked nation for Mugabe’s 85th birthday.
2. Safari Mugabe?
Seeking an animal kingdom of their own, the Mugabes are trying to evict more 200 resettled villagers from Manzou Farm in Mazowe, just outside Harare. In and out of court over the past months, the villagers have successfully challenged attempts at evicting them so as to make way for a wildlife sanctuary project allegedly overseen by First Lady Grace Mugabe. However, despite the court victories, 100 zebras have been moved onto the land and more animals are expected. Once on the front lines supporting Mugabe’s land seizures of white-owned farms, the villagers now face forcible eviction by the police or, as they claim, being overrun by the wildlife.
3. Nobel Prize Nominee
Long before former Prime Minister and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was twice shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role as a human-rights defender, Mugabe himself was nominated. Shortly after independence in 1980, Mugabe and Lord Carrington, the British Foreign Secretary at the time, were shortlisted for the prize in 1981 for their role in crafting the Lancaster House Agreement, the 1979 peace settlement for Zimbabwe. However, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was ultimately awarded the price in recognition of its efforts in assisting millions of refugees, particularly in Afghanistan, Vietnam and Ethiopia. The award has often courted controversy for its selection of nominees. Mugabe, the peacemaker turned dictator, is among the ranks of less illustrious nominees, including Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, to whom he once compared himself in defence of his controversial land-reform programme.
4. Robert Mugabe Day
Even without the Nobel, Mugabe is still considered a hero in his own party. Zanu-PF’s Youth League has recently proposed 21 February become a national holiday in honour of the founding leader’s achievements and his support of pan-Africanism. Comparing Robert Mugabe Day to Mandela Day in South Africa, the Zanu-PF secretary for youth affairs has reportedly tabled the suggestion. A response is yet to be given by the government.
5. Four years to go
At 91 Mugabe is currently Africa’s oldest sitting president, but he’s not the continent’s oldest-ever ruler. He still has four more years to go before beating the record set by the late Malawian president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who stepped down at 95 after 33 years in power. The son of a Malawian migrant and a Zimbabwean woman, some locals attribute Mugabe’s longevity to his parentage, but the veteran ruler insists a good diet and sober habits are the secrets to his long life. Seeking another term, Mugabe is expected to stand for re-election in 2018 when he’ll be 94.
Almost seven years shy of equaling his ally, the late Libyan president Muamar Gaddafi’s 42 years of rule, Mugabe sits among Africa’s longest-serving leaders. Despite concerns of his advancing age, the veteran shows no signs of slowing down as he holds the posts of regional chairman of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and, more recently, chairman of the African Union.
Tendai Marima is a freelance journalist and academic researcher. Follow her on Twitter at @i_amten.
– Featured image: Via @khayadlanga on Twitter.