Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Zimbabwe: Birthday Boy Blues

Robert Mugabe's 86th birthday week started off with a party thrown by the Chinese Embassy and ended with an all night bash in Bulawayo of music and song aimed at the younger generation. In between there was a seemingly endless round of cake-cutting exercises by the faithful. Candles were conspicuously absent either for fear that the heat would melt the fancy icing or that the old man would lack the puff to blow them out.

Nonetheless, by the weekend a visibly wilting Mugabe was snapped nodding off by independent photo journalists at various functions. The soporific repetition of the various praise singers would have tested the attention span of even a much younger or less intelligent man. Somewhere along the line God seemed to have been elevated to Honorary membership of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) with adverts continually referring to the God-given leader. Lightness was not the order of the week nor apparently the quality of the Women's League's baking and icing: the state media ran front page photos of his sturdy sister-in-law giving a hefty helping hand to the cake cracking efforts.

Mugabe's apparent difficulties cutting the mustard will not have been made easier by events off stage. The independent media mischievously reported that the Chinese were pressing for the repayment of some long outstanding loans, while in Davos the Chinese President Hu Jintao was emphasising that China's relationship with Zimbabwe was purely a business one and that they were not especially close friends.

Meanwhile, the prosecution of Roy Bennet, Treasurer of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Deputy Agricultural Minister designate seemed to be floundering in birthday week. Attorney General Johannes Tomana supposedly expert IT witnesses were revealed as very junior technicians who claimed that they had never heard the word 'hackers' before their cross examination by defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. Will Bennet finally be sworn in or can the dread day be delayed by endless appeals?

Just to cap off the birthday blues, it was rather tactlessly announced that Vice-President Joice Mujuru had registered to study at the University of Zimbabwe for a PhD. Mugabe has half a dozen degrees but has always hankered after an academically earned PhD. Even in the early 1990s, he registered with London University to submit a thesis on the Rules of Origin in the PTA, but he never had the time to complete or present it. It is a sore point and Mujuru could have chosen a better time – unless it was an act of subtle sabotage by one of her rivals.

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