Mugabe to party amid distress

2010-02-27 09:06

Bulawayo - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe celebrates his 86th birthday on Saturday with a lavish party as the economy struggles to recover from crisis, showing no sign of planning to retire after 30 years in power.

Mugabe's Zanu-PF party will fete the veteran ruler, whose birthday was actually on February 21, with an all-night concert among festivities which some critics estimate will cost $500 000.

A power-sharing government set up by Mugabe and his bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, has stabilised the economy after the crisis which many Zimbabweans blame on Mugabe's policies. But aid agencies say over two million Zimbabweans will still need food aid this year.

Government workers, who earn an average $160 per month, went on strike this month to press for higher wages, while the majority of the population lives below a $1 a day.

"Holding these huge celebrations, even as civil servants strike for better wages, shows that the inclusive government has done nothing to change the arrogance of ZANU-PF, which insists on maintaining a personality cult around its leader, Mugabe, by nationalising what should be a private affair," said John Makumbe, a veteran political commentator and Mugabe critic.

"It also shows the party's priorities are not in line with the people's aspirations."

Zanu-PF will stage the party in Bulawayo, a city controlled by Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)

Critics say the combative Mugabe, who looks fit for his age, should step aside for a younger leader. But he won a fresh five-year mandate to lead Zanu-PF at its congress last December. Mugabe would be 89 at the next elections, which are expected in 2013.