Zimbabwe’s long-time leader will celebrate his 93rd birthday on Saturday at a lavish ceremony in Matabeleland. Protests are expected.
The decadent commemoration will cost taxpayers $2 million, drawing heavy criticism at a time of economic crisis. A shortage of cash, coupled with chronically high unemployment, has driven Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground (again) in recent years, sparking serious political unrest in 2016.
Political instability will be aggravated by Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front endorsing his re-election campaign for 2018. But Mugabe’s advancing age has divided the party over who should succeed him, with some backing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and others supporting the incumbent’s rule even in the event of his death.
While the military’s support has propped up Mugabe’s regime in spite of its controversial policies, his death could provide a critical opportunity for change. Whether these changes would be peaceful is uncertain. What is certain is that the intensity of Saturday’s protests is likely to paint a grim picture of Zimbabwe’s future.