Elephant on menu as Mugabe turns 91

As Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe prepares for an “obscene” $1m birthday party, the European Union made it clear they would not be bringing any gifts to his table.

Mugabe, the world’s oldest leader, is turning 91. And as his country plunges further into poverty, Mugabe is having a lavish birthday party, reportedly costing $1m with a feast of animals, including two elephants, for his 20,000 guests.

The leader of the Progressive Teachers’ Union, Raymond Majongwe said schoolteachers were being forced to contribute up to $10 each towards the feast.

The EU has taken a different stance. It has renewed for another year its sanctions against Zimbabwe, including a travel ban and asset freeze on President Mugabe and his wife, according to a notice in the EU’s Official Journal.

“The restrictive measures should be renewed until February 20, 2016,” the notice read. “The application of the travel ban and asset freeze should be maintained for two persons.”

Since imposing sanctions in 2002 over electoral fraud and human rights abuses, the EU has eased measures to encourage political reform in Zimbabwe, although it has kept its ban on Mugabe and his wife Grace, as well as an arms embargo.

This week it gave Zimbabwe €234m in aid, its first since sanctions were imposed. And earlier this month, EU officials said the president might be allowed in on an exceptional basis during his year-long chairmanship of the African Union.

The Official Journal, however, made clear EU governments are not yet convinced that Mugabe had changed enough to merit a final lifting of restrictions. Representatives of the 28 member states had “carried out a review” of sanctions “taking into account political developments in Zimbabwe”, the notice read.

And they would remain in force.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 and has frequently clashed with the West. EU states were divided in their response when Mugabe won a fifth term in a 2013 election that was denounced as fraudulent by the opposition.

The EU invited Mugabe to attend an EU-Africa summit in Brussels last April, but he stayed away because his wife was not invited. Following Mugabe’s protest, South African president Jacob Zuma also decided to stay at home.

But the birthday party must go on and is scheduled to take place on February 28. It will be hosted at a luxurious hotel in the prime resort town of Victoria Falls, with ordinary workers footing the bill at $10 each.

The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), called for the funds “collected to bankroll this obscene jamboree” to be used instead to rebuild derelict hospitals and school.

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