NEW DELHI: Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe turns 92 today, that is February 21. Even as reports circulate regarding Mugabe’s declining health (the most recent being a heart attack in January) and a famine grips Zimbabwe, the strongman is pushing ahead with birthday plans. The big party is scheduled for a week later, at a stadium in Masvingo province -- one of the areas worst hit by the devastating drought engulfing southern Africa.

The party celebrations come as Zimbabwe asked the world to help with aid to the tune of 1.5 billion USD to feed a quarter of its population facing starvation this year.

Zimbabwe’s Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa said 95 per cent of the country had received below 50 per cent of normal rains this season, resulting in massive crop failure. As The Nation reports: “Mr Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe needed urgent help from the international community, local businesses, churches and civil society to feed about three million vulnerable people.

The previous week, President Mugabe had declared a state of disaster in most parts of the country’s rural areas due to the drought.

According to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC), the country was facing a deficit of 650,000 tonnes of maize for human consumption and 350,000 for livestock, but those figures were considered to be very conservative by donors.

ZIMVAC also noted that acute malnutrition in children had risen to 3.3 per cent in the previous season and that average household purchasing power, in terms of maize grain, dropped from 300kg last season to 244kg this year.

The government said there was a 60 per cent drop in cereal production and severe loss of household incomes due to reduced labour opportunities in the agricultural sector.

One of the major coalitions of donors — the ACT Alliance — has warned that the response to the crisis was lethargic due to the government’s poor financial position and Zimbabwe’s isolation by the international community.”

Famine or no famine, the party must go on, with the budget for President Mugabe’s big bash set at about 1 million USD. Villagers and rural teachers have reportedly been instructed to contribute donations to the party planners, a revolutionary-style group called the “21st February Movement.” Diamond mining firms and others are all coughing up the cash.

There is criticism, of course. As The Global Post reports: “The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said it was “incomprehensible” that so much money can be spent on one man, “when the government claims that it is broke and failing to pay teachers, nurses and doctors on time.”

The Zimbabwean President, however, is known for his lavish bashes. On his 92nd birthday he made headlines for including wild animals on the menu for his 1 million USD birthday bash. The Independent wrote at the time: “His party took place at an exclusive lodge, spa and golf course in Victoria Falls, and it was estimated to have cost $1million. His guests were fed a young elephant, and two buffaloes, two sables and five impalas were also donated to the president by a local landowner. He also threw in a lion and a crocodile to be stuffed as an extra gift for Mugabe. On top of this, 40 cows were offered to the president by two members of his government. A second elephant is going to be shot and given to the Victoria Falls community.”

We don’t know what’s going to be on the menu this year, but chances are it’s not going to be just chicken.