Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, celebrated his 92nd birthday with an enormous party — and inspired plenty of rage along the way. His critics pointed out that his pricey bash was held in a region battling a devastating drought.
The longtime leader of Zimbabwe (who shows no sign of stepping down from his post, despite his advanced age) marked his Feb. 21 birthday with several parties earlier this week. But the main event was Saturday’s massive celebration in Masvingo, which was attended by thousands of Zimbabweans.
During the event, children performed military drills and recited poems praising Mugabe, The Associated Press reports, while Mugabe himself (who wants his birthday declared a national holiday) released 92 balloons into the air and spoke for more than an hour.
And, of course, there was cake.
Mugabe, who has been the leader of Zimbabwe since 1980, throws himself a birthday celebration every year. But this year’s party has inspired more criticism than usual, Reuters reports, because Zimbabwe is suffering from a devastating drought — and Masvingo, the site of the party, is one of the hardest-hit regions.
The area has lost 75 percent of its corn crop, the region’s staple food, because of the drought, the wire service says.
During his birthday celebration Mugabe said that no one would starve because of the drought. But he also suggested he’d be willing to turn down food aid from the West, Reuters writes. He’s requested almost $1.6 billion in such aid.
Specifically, he said that he’d reject any aid that came with the stipulation that Zimbabwe accept same-sex marriage — a condition, Reuters notes, that no aid organization is known to have suggested.
“We don’t want it. It is rotten aid, filthy aid and we won’t have anything to do with it,” Mugabe said.
Mugabe’s birthday party cost $800,000, Reuters reports, an expenditure that has upset his critics:
” ‘The money that is being budgeted for this ill-conceived birthday bash should actually be used to import maize to avert the impending starvation in Masvingo province and other parts of the country,’ Obert Gutu, a spokesman for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said in a statement.”
“Critics blame Mugabe for many of the problems facing the country. They say his policies, including the seizures and redistribution of white-owned commercial farms, drove one of Africa’s most promising economies into nearly a decade of deep recession.”
Zimbabwe’s economic crisis eased in 2008. But Mugabe has continued to spark criticism. Opponents call him corrupt, authoritarian and profligate.
The AP reports that at Saturday’s celebration, meanwhile, Mugabe’s supporters were calling him “dear father” and “the Moses of Africa.”
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