Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe marked his 92nd birthday on Sunday with private celebrations while a lavish event is expected to be held next week as the country still faces a widespread drought.
Mugabe is the world’s oldest head of state and has been in power for 36 years. Public celebrations will be held on Feb. 27 in the southeastern city of Masvingo, near the historic site of Great Zimbabwe.
The birthday party will be held as the country is hit by a drought that has left over 3 million people dependent on food aid mainly supplied by international donors including the United States and the European Union, according to the World Food Program and the United Nations Development Program.
However, the upcoming celebrations have been criticised by Mugabe’s opponents, though the president’s supporters insist the party will go ahead as planned.
"Mugabe and his cronies are planning to feast instead of attending to the resuscitation of the comatose economy and addressing the effects and impact of the drought," said Obert Gutu, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change-T.
Politicians from the ruling party ZANU-PF and businesspeople paid the sum of $5,000 to $100,000 for a table of 10 at a dinner Friday night to raise funds for the birthday party.
Tongai Kasukuwere, a member of the ruling ZANU-PF party's youth wing and the event's organizer said the dinner was sold out on Friday.
"To be able to mobilize resources to honor one of Africa's finest icons during such a difficult time proves our resilience," said Kasukuwere. "It is not like we are taking grain meant for drought programs to feed people at the celebrations. These are voluntary donors."
Some Zimbabweans were bitterly critical of the birthday plans.
"Maybe they have no shame, openly feasting amid such hunger," said Denias Munongoza, 27, a college graduate who sells cigarettes and condoms to feed his family. "This year the president should have said 'no.'"
Mugabe's birthday has been publicly celebrated since 1986 and while the government would not publish the budget for this year's party, in the past the event has cost up to $1 million for transportation, accommodation and food for thousands of guests.