PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe marked his 92nd birthday at a nearly $1million grand party organised in Masvingo — one of the severely hunger-stricken provinces — a clear affront to the three million Zimbabweans facing starvation across the country.
Ironically, in his address during the celebrations Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only leader since its independence from Britain in 1980, in passing claimed no one would starve as a result of the drought, which has left 3 million people in need of food aid and prompted government to declare a state of disaster especially in southern parts of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s lavish birthday parties have become an annual pilgrimage for loyalists and those seeking favours, but this year’s celebration in the hunger-stricken province could prove his undoing. As he cut a giant cake made to look like the ancient ruins for which Zimbabwe is named, malnourished school children, foreign diplomats, government ministers and security chiefs were also present.
Yet, Mugabe expended his remaining energy in defending his wife, First Lady Grace, from attacks by the ruling party’s youths and top officials fighting to succeed the 92-year-old leader.
Zimbabwe has appealed for nearly $1,6 billion to help pay for grain and other foodstuffs, but the fact that the nation could spend almost $1 million on an individual’s birthday party is unfathomable. Clearly, the government’s priorities are misplaced if not lost in the political maze. There is no justification for the abuse of State coffers in this way.
While this farming season will be a disaster owing to drought, there is no doubt that the country’s dysfunctional food distribution system, poor governance, corruption and Zanu PF succession fights have contributed to the hunger crisis even before the devastating El-Nino-induced famine compounded the food emergency situation.
We believe there should be a distinction — the people must come first and not the other way round. Mugabe is aware of that, but he chooses to look the other way. Has Mugabe stopped being the people’s leader that he was in 1980? Perhaps! He has become some kind of a deity in Zanu PF circles and no longer cares about the welfare of the majority. What a sad reality!
If there is any proof to that, it is his lavish birthday celebrations on Saturday. If Mugabe was still the people’s leader, he would have cancelled the bash and the resources used to avert hunger not only in Masvingo, but elsewhere.
Zimbabwe has grappled with an economic crisis for over a decade now with successive food crises, the result of a dysfunctional government and its erratic leader.
It is regrettable that in the last 16 years, Mugabe has transformed the severe agriculture decline into a famine that could claim the lives of millions this year.
Signs are that food shortages could plague Zimbabwe, as happened during the 2007-2009 era, yet Mugabe is preoccupying himself with consolidating his stranglehold on power. Is this what the people voted for, really?
How does one man starve a nation of roughly 14 million people? Indeed, by clinging to a broken economic and governance system designed to do little but ensure his own political survival.
We have no doubt that if the leadership crisis in Zanu PF is not resolved urgently, the situation may only degenerate putting the lives of the majority at greater risk. We still wonder how Mugabe always attacks the West, yet begging for food aid from them at the same time.
Is it not clear that if international donor agencies donate food, Mugabe’s wife would step in to distribute the aid along partisan lines and at greater expense to both the opposition and the majority of Zimbabweans?
Besides, are there no fears that much of the food could be stolen by well-connected Zanu PF elites, who would want to re-sell the aid at marked-up prices or use for political campaigns, seeing the centre no longer holds?
Mugabe must self-introspect and bring the warring parties to the table rather than blindly defend his incendiary wife.