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Mugabe has cake and eats it while much of Zimbabwe goes hungry

Robert Mugabe had his cake and ate it, too, as you can see from this photograph. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters).

In fact it was a cake weighing 187 pounds and painted like a Zimbabwe flag. It was for Mugabe's 85th birthday party held over the weekend in the northwestern town of Chinhoyi, near the president's birthplace, Zvimba. More than 3,000 attended the festivities.

Never mind that more than half of Zimbabwe’s people are going hungry. Never mind that Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown has brought about unemployment of more than 80 percent and inflation at more than 230 million percent. Mugabe carried on with his tradition of throwing lavish birthday parties. This year his birthday bash was estimated to cost US$250,000.

The cake was cut by his bejeweled wife, Grace, 43, who was recently in the news for allegedly assaulting a photographer taking snaps of her shopping for luxury handbags in Hong Kong.

Much has been made of the expense and extravagance of the party while so many in Zimbabwe are going hungry and thousands more are suffering from the deadly cholera outbreak. More than 80,000 have sickened from cholera and more than 3,800 have died, according to the February figures from the World Health Organization.

Perhaps the worst news from the birthday celebrations came from Mugabe himself. He gave a special interview to the state television and he gave a speech at his party. Mugabe declared that he will not change policies despite joining a new power-sharing government. He rejected calls from new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to fire central bank governor Gideon Gono, who is widely blamed for the hyperinflation and corruption. Mugabe said Gono will stay. Mugabe also said he will not listen to Tsvangirai’s call for a new attorney-general to help restore the rule of law. Mugabe went on to incite his followers to continue seizing white-owned farms. He dismissed calls to left press restrictions as “nonsense”. In short Mugabe’s words showed that he is sticking to the policies that have driven Zimbabwe to ruin.

Oh yes, and Mugabe said that he did not purchase a multi-million dollar mansion in Hong Kong. He said he was merely renting it for his daughter, Bona, who is attending university there. That should relieve Zimbabwean taxpayers.

“It was an egregious speech that shows Mugabe has not changed one iota. It shows that despite the new power-sharing government, Mugabe intends on keeping all the power to himself. It is bad news for the rest of us,” said a Zimbabwean journalist who watched Mugabe’s interview and speech on state television.

Mugabe’s invective and his recent refusal to reform his ways make it virtually certain that neither Britain nor the United States will offer the new government the $2 billion it says it needs to get the country back on its feet. Given Mugabe’s stubborn stance, it is hard to see what other donors will step in. Even South Africa and other neighboring countries in the Southern African Development Community decided last week to hold off on giving aid to Zimbabwe. They want to see signs of positive change, and Mugabe is giving the opposite.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai decided to stay away from Mugabe’s birthday bash and instead visited Harare’s main hospital, which is barely able to keep a few wards open. He said $1.5 million is needed to re-open the hospital and save lives. Tsvangirai was cheered by hospital staff and patients, but it is far from certain that he has enough power to get the hospital back in operation.