“All I want for my birthday is absolute power. Oh, and diamond mines. And maybe a nice motor coach.”
Robert Mugabe didn’t actually say this. But actions and words around his 83rd birthday celebration suggest that the old man doesn’t plan on going away any time soon:
“If I want to lengthen my term, I can stand next year,” he said. “I can stand and then have another six years for that matter and what will the MDC do?”
That quote is a reference for Mugabe’s plans to “merge” next year’s upcoming presidential poll with Parliamentary elections in 2010, to “save money”. What he may be trying to save is increasingly fierce rivalries between members of his ZANU-PF party to position themselves as his successor.
As for what MDC – the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party – can do, the answer seems to be: “Not much”. While there’s a rising tide of discontent apparent to anyone reading blogs from the country, the demonstrations some had hoped for this week haven’t come off. Instead, the government has banned demonstrations for three months in parts of Harare with strong MDC presence, in a move that could be viewed as an unannounced state of emergency.
According to the Washington Post, the Herald (the official government newspaper) included a 16-page special section celebrating the President’s 83rd birthday, filled with congratulatory announcements from
government departments and Zimbabwean businesses. The Post points out that some of the companies running announcements are Zimbabwe’s failing electricity company and fuel import board. Oddly enough, the Herald story on the President’s birthday doesn’t mention the crackdown on protests or the jockeying for position within ZANU-PF. Or that the party allegedly cost $1.2 million USD, a huge sum in a country that’s having trouble keeping the lights on.
It does, however, mention the bus – an official presidential motorcoach provided by the Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe. Mugabe describes China as Zimbabwe’s “all-weather friend” and the Herald notes that this is the first luxury motorcoach provided by the Chinese government to a head of state.
As for the diamond mines? Mugabe has announced that the government will nationalize two diamond mines, including one owned by international mining conglomerate Rio Tinto. This is evidently the latest part of a strategy designed to stop illegal, small-scale mining, a crackdown that’s already led to the arrest of 25,000 small-scale, informal miners. According to Mugabe, “Only government will mine diamonds.”
Given that he’s feeling so hale and hearty at 83, maybe it’s time to give him a pick and a shovel. I’ll take up a collection.