Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe turned 92 on Sunday and goodwill messages flooded the country’s media as they wished the world’s oldest president a happy birthday.
The country’s media praised Mugabe for his leadership since independence from Britain in 1980 and described him as a “doyen of pan-Africanism”.
But the opposition urged him to celebrate his new age with a long-awaiting special move by bowing out of power.
Born on February 21, 1924, he threw a massive feast on his last year’s birthday with seven gigantic birthday cakes, one of which weighed 91 kilogrammes, plus several elephants slaughtered. This year, the veteran leader marked his big day with a public celebration on Saturday.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwean for about 36 years and he isn’t ready to hand over power.
The president is still firmly in charge of government and has no plans of stepping down any time soon. He, at one time, remarked wittily that he would rule until he becomes 100.
In fact last month, when UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on African leaders not to hold tightly onto power at a summit last month, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe responded by saying he would continue “until God says ‘come’.”
Judging by his comments, the president shows no indication of dropping power- despite being Africa’s oldest leader, having taken over power from Canaan Banana in 1987.
His succession has caused prolonged conflict between politicians with interests in Zimbabwe and this has placed his ruling ZANU-PF at the risk of being ripped apart. This has prompted many Zimbabweans to stay abreast of the health updates of president Mugabe, mainly because of the claim by Wikileaks that he might have prostate cancer – which he denied.
Many fear the government could crash and the country ruptured by instability if he dies without putting to an end the succession problem.
Yet, the old president is heavily running the daily activities of his government. He still takes trips abroad, presides over graduations at all state universities and military passing-out parades.
The president insists that his party will select a successor. But he also stated that he will be contesting in the next election in 2018 when he will turn 94, seeking his last five-year term under a new constitution that would see him through to 99.
His intention to be the president until death beckons, could frustrate the plans of some powerful persons in his ruling Zanu-PF party who have been working so hard for years to rule the country after him.
It will also stir criticism from opponents of the government, who claim internal war is distracting the government from doing its job of dealing with economic crisis and responding to the worst drought in a generation – charges which have been denied by ministers.
According to the president’s critics, his policies – including the seizures and redistribution of white-owned commercial farms – have landed one of Africa’s most promising economies into almost a decade of deep recession until 2008 that cut its output almost in half.
They also say Zimbabwe’s biggest challenges including sluggish economy, low productivity, high unemployment rate placed around 85 per cent – reasons why the country can’t deal with the drought, which has left 3 million people (about a quarter of the population) in need of food aid.
Mugabe defends his land seizures as necessary to put right colonial injustices and says the economy has fallen victim to sanctions by Western countries that are punishing him for seizing white-owned land.
But the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) maintains the 92-year-old-leader should consider if his country, which is in the grips of an economic crisis, would not be better served by his bowing out.
His wife Grace, another super power in her husband’s party, revealed to his party supporters last two weeks that Mugabe was the only one who could keep Zimbabwe “intact and peaceful”.
She also said she is ready to push him in a wheelbarrow to work if he was unable to walk.
Grace is hugely considered in the party as another potential successor, a rumour that has caused many to term Zimbabwean’s government “a family business,” although she says she has no such ambitions.
Whatever the country’s government turns out to be in the next years, we wish the power-thirsty president a happy birthday.