Mugabe celebrates 93rd birthday, praises Trump | Africa | DW | 20.02.2017
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Mugabe celebrates 93rd birthday, praises Trump

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has just turned 93. A lavish party on Saturday to celebrate his birthday is expected to cost more than $2 million (1.88 million euros). 

This year's celebration of President Robert Mugabe's birthday is to take place in Matobos southwest of Harare on Saturday. Some Zimbabweans are calling on Mugabe to use the money to address the myriad of problems besetting the country while others are planning to celebrate their leader's birthday.

"We regard President Mugabe's birth so highly that we take him as second only to Jesus Christ. So his birthday is something we cannot miss as Zimbabweans. We are advocating for that day to be a national holiday," said one supporter in Harare.

Mugabe has been ruling Zimbabwe since 1980, when the country got its independence from Great Britain. Since then, Zimbabwe has religiously celebrated his birthday.

This year, a coalition of civic organizations called "21 Days of Activism Zimbabwe" told DW that Mugabe should not celebrate his birthday this year.

Simbabwe Robert und Grace Mugabe (Getty Images/AFP/A. Joe)

The power couple: President Robert and wife Grace Mugabe

"We are highlighting key issues that need to be prioritized by government instead of spending millions of dollars on birthday celebrations when currently we have a massive cash crisis that needs to be dealt with," said Sam Farai Munro, one of the activists in the anti-birthday movement.

"So if the government can fundraise millions, then those millions should be dedicated to fixing up hospitals, or providing books in schools or paying teacher bonuses from last year," he added.

Trump supporter?

In an interview that ran the state-run TV channel on the eve of his birthday on Tuesday, President Mugabe expressed respect for US President Donald Trump.

"When it comes to Donald Trump, on the one hand talking of American nationalism. Well America for America, America for Americans, on that we agree. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans," said Mugabe.

Mugabe has consistently opposed Western intervention in Zimbabwe, and his country has recently been criticized by Western governments for prosecuting Evan Mawarire and Phillip Patrick Mugadza, two pastors who have been vocal critics of his rule. Mugabe hopes that Trump will be different.

"We are just now under sanctions imposed not by Donald Trump but by Obama. What arrogance is that?" asked Mugabe.

Priorities versus parties

Zimbabwe's government is broke and has often failed to pay its workers salaries on time. It has not indicated when it will pay its workers their bonuses, which were due last November. And 5 million Zimbabweans depend on Western food aid following the ongoing El Nino-induced drought. 

Evans Mawarire Demonstration Harare (picture-alliance/AP Photo/T.Mukwazhi)

Mugabe is well known for cracking down on critics, including Pastor Evan Mawarire

Garikai Chamalima, a unemployed graduate with a degree in engineering, still thinks that the celebrations should take place.

"It is the president's birthday. Had it not been for him, the country would be so underdeveloped," he said.

Last year, a fan of Mugabe donated an elephant to be slaughtered and the meat was part of the meal provided at the celebration.

At a political rally earlier this month, first lady Grace Mugabe, who many say is being considered as a successor to the president, told a crowd of thousands of supporters that they should back her husband, even if he died.

"If God decides to take him, then we would rather field him as a corpse," she said. "We will put his name on the ballot paper just to show that people love their president."

Columbus Mavhunga contributed to this article.

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