Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe threw himself a lavish party Saturday to celebrate his 91st birthday, reportedly spending $1 million on the festivities despite the fact that his country remains one of the poorest in the world.
As many as 20,000 people gathered under massive white tents festooned with flags and patriotic banners on the grounds of a golf course next to the scenic Victoria Falls, Reuters reported. Guests feasted on elephant meat and a herd of wild impala, which were freshly slaughtered and donated to the event by a local Zimbabwean game farmer.
The day-long event was organized by Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, and also included a parade by schoolchildren dressed in patriotic uniforms, music and dance performances, and a speech by Mugabe, which lasted more than an hour.
Mugabe has been the sole ruler of Zimbabwe since the country achieved independence in 1980. He shows no sign of relinquishing power anytime soon. Last December, his party again selected him as candidate for president in the next election in 2018.
Mugabe's old age, however, has caused many within his party to begin planning for his succession. Last year, Mugabe ousted his Vice President Joice Mujuru after accusations surfaced that she was plotting to kill Mugabe and stage a coup. In December, Mugabe also got rid of 15 top ministers and political officials, as well as many other top members of the party who were allied with Mujuru.
The decadent celebration reignited controversy over Mugabe's leadership. Critics see him as a corrupt and despotic autocrat who has done little to ameliorate his country's dire economic situation. Mugabe has also been accused of committing human rights abuses and brutally repressing any opposition to his ruling ZANU-PF party, which has allegedly rigged elections to remain in power. But many others see Mugabe as a nationalist hero who liberated the country from colonial rule and created modern Zimbabwe.
"We regard him as our father," Tendai Musasa, the game farmer who donated the elephant meat to the celebration, told the LA Times. "Our provider, our hero. We regard him as a very courageous man."
Mugabe is the last African leader still in power from the days of post-colonial liberation struggles on the continent and is lauded for his continual support of African independence movements. He is also, however, subject to travel restrictions from the United States and European Union after he refused to allow outside inspectors to examine Zimbabwe's contested 2002 elections.
His opponents, however, are urging him to step down. "Mugabe has seen better days and he is now a big liability to the generality of the people of Zimbabwe for as long as he remains as the county's head of state and chief executive," Obert Gutu, a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party told Al Jazeera.
Unemployment is rampant in Zimbabwe and more than 72 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to World Bank data.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons