What does Mugabe’s $800k birthday celebration say about the controversial leader?

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, was honoured over the weekend with ‘big shots’ rolling out the red carpet in celebration of his 92nd birthday. Despite the recent economic downturn and rising unemployment rates in the country, the ‘birthday bash’ took place in the drought-ridden Masvingo province. The very obvious contrast; farmers are lamenting over wilting crops as a result of moisture stress, while very important personalities are arriving the town, lodging in hotels and disrupting activities in the province by shutting down the area in order to celebrate a man who will not be stepping down from his ivory tower anytime soon.

According to the New Zimbabwe, Mugabe has lent his support to calls by several young people to make his birthday, February 21st, a national holiday called the Robert Mugabe Day. Although he may have been flattered by the suggestion, he has, however, deployed the decision making process to his political party and parliament.

Masvingo, Matabeleland and Midlands are said to be the hardest hit regions by the drought in Zimbabwe, which began as a result of the El Niño phenomenon. Early this month, Mugabe declared a state of disaster in several rural areas hit by drought, also, the vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, mentioned the country was in dire need of $1.5 million for food aid. He said over 70 percent of crops in the southern part of the country were wiped out by drought conditions which placed 3 million people and 16,681 livestock at risk in rural provinces.

If only the money for the birthday party was used to ease the suffering of those hit by the drought in the country, then those singing his praises as a revolutionary leader would be right. After all, $800,000 is just $700,000 shy of $1,500,000.

Mugabe’s birthday was celebrated under the theme; “Youth Celebrating an African Icon through Enhanced productivity.” The bash featured a giant cake depicting Zimbabwe’s historical ruins, started around 9am and was still on at about 8pm. There is really no rationalization for the birthday celebration which is indeed a white elephant project. However, Mugabe is not the first African leader to celebrate personal milestones with outrageous funds in the midst of his people’s suffering, while this kind of character is a recurrent fixture in what obtains on the continent, it is off-putting just the same.

In 2006, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, allegedly spent up to $400,000 during a five-day stay as a guest in the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. The Waldorf Astoria suite occupied by the Congo President reportedly incurred £12,000 worth of room service charges during a five-night stay. He still rules the country, nobody bats an eye when stuff like this happens and, at best, there will be a twitter campaign where all and sundry express their grievances about the matter but after that, it is business as usual.

Who is to say that if the Zimbabwean government gets some aid money to save the crops from dying in some drought-ridden communities in the country, they will actually make use of all the money for the benefit of the people? Probably not. In 2011, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, allegedly made use of £30 million to acquire a Gulfstream G550 private plane for himself out of the £70million aid money sent by the United Kingdom for poverty alleviation. Museveni, who recently won his fifth term as president of the country, has been in power since 1986.

It is likely that something is very wrong in Zimbabwe, if a sitting president flaunts excess food and entertainment in a town where the masses are hungry as a result of stringent weather conditions, what does that say of his concern towards the general population?

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