Over the past week, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe marked his 92nd birthday with a number of celebrations. These included the cutting of an elaborate cake in Harare, the capital, and another lavish event further south in a drought-stricken region of the country.
There the nonagenarian potentate, who has now been in power for more than three and a half decades, was feted at a party organized to the tune of nearly $1 million. Ninety-two balloons were released into the sky, while supporters read out poems and sang songs in Mugabe's honor. He ate another cake that came in the shape of a vaguely accurate political map of the African continent.
"Mugabe’s birthday," a state-run newspaper had trumpeted earlier, "is like that of Jesus Christ."
Meanwhile, as myriad reports noted, there's a "state of disaster" declared in the country's rural areas, with some 3 million Zimbabweans in dire need of food aid. A severe drought has compromised some three-quarter of the country's maize crop. Last month, the government requested some $1.5 billion in aid from the U.N. World Food Program.
But Mugabe, who has ruled the country since 1980 despite reports of his ill-health, maintained his dogged anti-Western line. In a speech, he rebuffed possible assistance from the international community if it meant having to also put up with supposedly foreign values.
"If aid, as I understand, is to be given on the basis that we accept the principle of gay marriages, then let that aid stay where it is," Mugabe said. "We don’t want it. It is rotten aid, filthy aid and we won’t have anything to do with it."
Not all in the country have the luxury of seeing things that way. Opposition groups circulated a photo from the weekend, tweeted below, of an ordinary woman in flip-flops scavenging through the leftovers at one of the VIP tables at Mugabe's birthday bash.
In January, opposition parties had decried a potential move to enshrine Mugabe's birthday as a national holiday. "As a nation, Zimbabwe should promptly move away from this medieval and archaic tradition of creating strong personalities as opposed to creating strong institutions," a spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai said, describing the obsession over Mugabe's birthday as "an absurdity of the highest order."
More on WorldViews