Jonah Hull :The power of one
It will be a birthday marked by rumours about his failing health. Any appearance the apparently ailing Mugabe makes will be closely watched for signs of sickness that give the lie to his spokesman's claim that Mugabe's only problem is a gammy eye.
Mugabe has just returned from Singapore, a trip officially acknowledged as his annual holiday, slightly extended to accommodate post-operative treatment following eye surgery.
Zimbabwe's non-government media isn't buying it. One newspaper contains reports that he in fact received cancer treatment, arriving back in the country looking frail, allegedly in a wheelchair.
Last month a British newspaper wrote that Mugabe had undergone a prostate operation in Malaysia – hotly denied by his aides.
Mugabe's state of health is the most closely guarded of state secrets, yet it is widely believed that he has been treated for prostate cancer in the past. His 87th birthday falls in interesting times.
As a number of countries up north smoulder, their leaders have either fled or fight on. In Zimbabwe too, and among the diaspora, there is quiet talk of an Egypt-style uprising. Or at least the faintest possibility of one.
Zimbabweans are fed up, to be sure. Millions are desperately poor. But what counts in Mugabe's favour is that so many have fled. By some counts more than five million reside and work in neighbouring South Africa. The educated middle class – the sort who might have brought Tahrir Square to Harare's Africa Unity Square – has largely gone too.
Mugabe has placed great store in keeping his security forces sweet, the upper echelons at least: the officers are kept in food and pay, the generals in land and riches. It's likely that even as he watches the north of Africa burn, Mugabe feels fairly secure.
Ask Hosni Mubarak if 2011 started on anything other than a carefree note and the answer would likely be, No. And why not? Not far away, Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali would have thought little of a man setting himself alight in a village south of Tunis on December 17th. When the self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi led to protests Ben Ali sent in the riot police, again thinking little of it.
Weeks later Mubarak and Ben Ali find themselves in curiously similar straits, not only out of power but also gravely ill. Both are rumoured to be comatose.
Is that what happens to autocrats and dictators when their worlds come crumbling down? Is it power, and the abuse of power, that keeps them alive?
Just a thought for Robert Mugabe to ponder at the end of his 87th year of life, his 31st year in power. Many happy returns, a close few will sing. The rest will watch closely, and wait.
Jonah Hull is a roving correspondent based out of Al Jazeera's London broadcast centre
. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.
Editor's Note: This commentary was published by Al Jazeera on Feb 20, 2011. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.
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Petroleumworld News 02/21/2011
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