ZIMBABWE’S president Robert Mugabe turned 93 this week, after deflecting the most robust challenge to his rule in at least a decade with popular mobilisation around the #ThisFlag movement.
It started with an impassioned video posted on Facebook by Pastor Evan Mawarire,an “accidental” revolution; filmed on a camera phone balancing on the pastor’s desk last year. Mawarire says he was wondering where he would get school fees for his children and just wanted to share his frustrations. The rest, as they say, is history.
It seemed the sabres seem to rattling for the Mugabe regime, with analysts seeing a possible end of the road for a ruler who has been in power since 1980, the second-longest serving incumbent on the continent.
Working in the protestors’ favour was that the ruling ZANU-PF party is hopelessly divided, possibly the most it has ever been.
Still, Mugabe is going strong, fuelled by extraordinary energy for political survival, and a capacity for stifling dissent and opposition – even with failing health and a house falling apart around him.
But perhaps what will ultimately tip the scale isn’t necessarily popular upheaval, it is simply the power of time to impose an expiration date.
At the age of 93, Mugabe is not only Africa’s but also the world’s oldest president. In fact, only one African president has been in office as a nonagenarian, that’s Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, who was 96 (ninety-six!) – some accounts put his age at 100 then – when he stood for re-election in the country’s first multiparty election in 1994.
At that point he had already been in power for 33 years. He was roundly defeated by Bakili Muluzi, and died three years later when he was at least 100 years of age.
Several African heads of state have been in office in their eighties, including Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Sobhuza II of Swaziland. Paul Biya remains in office at the age of 83.
More recently, Senegal’s former president Abdoulaye Wade just turned 90, having exited office in 2012 at the age of 86.
But Mugabe’s longevity is remarkable, considering that he has two agemates in Africa who left office long ago: Daniel arap Moi of Kenya and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia were both born in 1924, like Mugabe.
Moi has been tending his cows since 2002, and in Kaunda’s case, it has been a whole quarter century (1991) since he last waved his white handkerchief in that authoritatively presidential manner.