Paul Theroux once said you could always tell a politician in sub-Saharan Africa by their size-
unlike the people they governed, politicians always made sure they were well-fed. In Zimbabwe it seems you can tell a politician by their age. Under Mugabe, life expectancy in Zimbabwe has fallen to 37. But the 'great man' himself is still going strong at the age of 82.
Mugabe plans a lavish party as nation suffers
By Peta Thornycroft in Harare (Filed: 22/02/2006)
Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe turned 82 yesterday in robust health, in contrast to the state of his country.
Life expectancy for Zimbabweans is plunging, three quarters of the population is short of food and inflation is 613 per cent. However, President Mugabe is as healthy as a man his age could be. He recently told the state press that a doctor said his "bones were not exactly as a boy of 26, but certainly someone of 30".
A shortage of bread has pushed the price up to Z$45,000
To mark his birthday, which comes in his 26th year in power, the state-controlled Herald newspaper ran congratulations, mostly from bankrupt state companies, carried in a 16-page supplement.
The notices described him as a "beacon of light", and a "statesman, an icon, a living legend". The National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, unable to import fuel for a year, said in its quarter-page birthday advertisement that it valued his "wisdom". The Zimbabwe National Water Authority, unable to supply clean drinking water to the capital Harare, congratulated his "legendary existence".
The United Nations recently estimated that the average life span for Zimbabweans had dropped to 37 years, due chiefly to the unchecked spread of Aids. More than 1.6 million people, one in 13 of the population, have HIV-Aids, but only 8,000 can afford anti-retroviral drugs.
About 4,000 mostly young people die every week from complications of the disease, exacerbated by poor nutrition and a collapsed health service.
Mr Mugabe's Zanu PF party is meanwhile beset by internal squabbles about who will succeed him when he steps down, perhaps in 2008. He has begun lashing out at his cabinet colleagues, blaming them for the disintegrating economy. Acknowledging a poor harvest despite good summer rains, Mr Mugabe has now blamed ministers for the crop failures. There is no maize, the staple food, in shops and bread is in short supply.
For decades about 40 per cent of Zimbabwe's foreign currency was provided by agricultural exports. This has changed since 2000 when Mr Mugabe confiscated 95 per cent of white-owned farms.
On Saturday Mr Mugabe's motorcade will speed 165 miles east to Mutare, the mountain resort on the border of Mozambique, for his birthday party.
"It's awful that he is coming here when so many people are suffering," said Misheck Kaguabadza, the elected mayor of Mutare, who was sacked by the government seven months ago. His crime was to show the UN around Mutare's poor suburbs last year after Mr Mugabe ordered bulldozers to demolish thousands of small houses.
The UN said more than 700,000 people were made homeless in the mid-winter campaign entitled "Clean out the Trash".
Mr Kaguabadza said: "They are going to spend billions of dollars on a party for him and our clinics have no drugs and people are dying of malnutrition."