President Robert Mugabe has cancelled his traditional birthday interview two days before turning 92. The Zimbabwe leader will celebrate his birthday on 21 February.
Mugabe traditionally provides state media with an interview on the eve of his birthday, touching on a wide variety of topics. However, presidential spokesperson George Charamba announced on 19 February that the interview would not be taking place for at least another week.
Charamba said: "Owing to the president's congested programme, the high-profile visits as well as preparations towards the 92nd birthday celebrations in Masvingo, President Mugabe has not been able to find time to do the traditional interview which comes on the eve of his actual birthday."
The spokesman added that Mugabe has agreed to do the interview soon after his birthday celebrations are over, allowing him to "reflect on his life and contemporary developments". The announcement comes after local media reported that the president is due to have a massive birthday celebration with a budget of roughly $1million (£698,000).
Many have responded angrily to the announcement of the extravagant birthday celebrations as Zimbabwe has been suffering from a severe drought. On 9 February Zimbabwe appealed to domestic and international backers to help assist with nearly 2.5 million of its people who are going hungry. The El Nino weather phenomenon has resulted in low rainfall and high temperatures, with 95% of the country reportedly receiving below 50% of normal rainfall this season.
Mugabe's birthday celebrations also clash with increasing tension amongst the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). On 18 February Zimbabwe's former vice-president Joice Mujuru announced the creation of an opposition party to challenge ZANU-PF. Mujuru worked as Mugabe's deputy for 10 years until she was fired in 2014 on corruption charges and plotting to overthrow the government.