Zimbabwe will be planning a lavish concert to celebrate longtime dictator Robert Mugabe’s 92nd birthday, his official photographer announced, despite Zimbabwe’s dire economic state. The concert will be named “Well Done, Bob”—an attempt to make Mugabe appear more relatable to young people.
Joseph Nyadzayo, Mugabe’s longtime photographer, announced his plan to organize the “Well Done, Bob” concert, though he has yet to give a date for the event. Mugabe will turn 92 on February 21. “I feel as Zimbabwe we do not appreciate him as we should,” Nyadzayo told Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mail, adding that Zimbabwe’s current inability to finance large events to honor its leader is precisely why the concert is necessary. “I say that it is even more important to hold these celebrations now when times are hard because it gives more weight to our recognition of his works,” he noted.
Nigeria’s News24 notes that Zimbabwe’s “young and trendy acolytes” often refer to the dictator simply as “Bob,” and that a campaign to make Mugabe appear more approachable has largely revolved around this nickname. “The snappy moniker has helped make Mugabe seem much more ‘with-it,’ the article notes, adding that clothing with Mugabe’s signature has increased in sales.
“Critics too talk of Bob, or Uncle Bob, though with much less fondness,” News24 notes.
Mugabe has previously spent millions of Zimbabwe’s public funds on parties for himself. Last year, Mugabe spent $1 million for a 20,000-person party in which guests consumed “a young elephant, and two buffaloes, two sables and five impalas.” Mugabe received a live lion and crocodile to be stuffed in his honor.
Under Mugabe’s direction, Zimbabwe’s currency has dropped in value to such an extent that the government is working on phasing the local dollar out of circulation. In June 2015, Zimbabweans could trade 175 quadrillion local dollars for $5 USD. “At the height of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis in 2008, Zimbabweans had to carry plastic bags bulging with bank notes to buy basic goods like bread and milk. Prices were rising at least twice a day,” Reuters notes.
Mugabe has begun circulating the Chinese yuan, as well, as a reserve currency, so as to avoid potential dependency on the U.S. dollar.
As news of an expensive event to honor Mugabe begins to circulate, Mugabe himself concludes his term has the head of the African Union. On Sunday, Mugabe gave his final speech as the leader of the regional coalition, a speech scheduled to last ten minutes but that ran for an hour. During the speech, Mugabe vowed to control Zimbabwe until he dies and that those who called for him to step down were “undemocratic.” “I will be there until God says come, but as long as am alive I will head the country, forward ever, backward never,” he told the audience.
Mugabe also spent much of his speech condemning American President Barack Obama for alleged racial violence in the United States. “There is Obama today. What is he? A voice made to speak their language, not our language… Blacks suffer in the US today, there is no education for all, health for all,” Mugabe protested.
Upon stepping down from his post, Mugabe gave incoming African Union President, Chadian President Idriss Deby, a “mock bang on the head with the chairperson’s gavel.”
A spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change—Tsvangirai, the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, described Mugabe’s term as head of the African Union as a failure for both Africa and Zimbabwe. “He travelled out of Zimbabwe a record 44 times, gobbling more than $60 million from the bankrupt national Treasury in the process, while the Zimbabwean economy remains in a comatose condition,” Obert Gutu told reporters, adding, “Mugabe didn’t do anything meaningful and tangible to resolve the various political problems in these troubled African countries.”
While Robert Mugabe’s tenure today is wrought with political oppression, running a nation where calling a 91-year-old man “old” is a crime, Mugabe’s rise to power involved significantly more bloodshed. In the 1980s, Mugabe took charge of “Operation Gukurahundi,” a genocidal military operation in which more than 20,000 Ndebele ethnic group members were killed, ostensibly for their lack of support for Mugabe. Mugabe is believed to have directed the genocidal orders, carried out by soldiers trained by North Korea.