HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s inauguration was graced by only six heads of States and also six former presidents, who have since passed the baton to a generation of younger leaders — yet Zimbabwe’s strongman plods on.
Mugabe, at 89 becomes Africa’s oldest president and the second oldest in the world.
However, when he swore to serve the country for yet another five years on Thursday, among the onlookers were his peers who have since passed the reins to another generation of young and energetic leaders.
After taking oath in 1980 to be the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mugabe has soldiered on and when he cast his vote on July 31, he vowed to see through the arduous and gruelling five-year term as the occupant of the hot-seat.
Analysts say the presence of former African leaders is an indictment on Mugabe’s 33-year-old rule that has been characterised by controversy.
Of course the “wise men”, who have since retired from the highest and demanding office of presidency, did not come on their own but were invited by Mugabe, who must be missing the old days when nationalists like him were the face of Africa.
Now he is alone rubbing shoulders with young statesmen like Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta who is 52 and Tanzanian leader Jakaya Kikwete (63).
Indeed, time waits for no man and it has not stopped for Mugabe whose political survival is intricately linked to his shrewdness, good health and no doubt the balancing act he has successfully managed in his faction riddled Zanu PF.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who was also in attendance, in 2008 came up with the Government of National Unity (GNU) which saved Mugabe from political oblivion after his hiding in the presidential election by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
As he was congratulated by African dignitaries Mugabe appeared nostalgic and he glowed when 71-year-old Mbeki greeted him.
For a moment he posed for a photo, immortalising the moment and obviously grateful to the man who was haunted by his ANC after performing a miracle on him in September 2008.
No doubt Mbeki’s presence was somewhat a symbolic closure to the “three headed creature” called the GNU that was undersigned by the South African second black president after the iconic Nelson Mandela who served for only one term.
But when Mugabe sent his invitations cards he went beyond South Africa, reaching out to former presidents from Botswana, Kenya and Zambia.
Among the club from the archives was former president of Tanzania Ali Hassan Mwinyi, 88, the second President of Tanzania who ruled the African country from 1985 to 1995.
Another former president who graced Mugabe’s inauguration, again from Tanzania, was 78-year-old Benjamin Mkapa who ruled the country from 1995 to 2005 to be succeeded by Kikwete one of the few African presidents who attended Mugabe’s bash.
Ketumile Masire (88), the second vice president of Botswana was also among dignitaries along with 74-year-old Festus Mogae who was president from 1998 to 2008.
Apart from Kenneth Kaunda who ruled Zambia for 27 years the ex-presidents who attended Mugabe’s swearing-in were at the helm for no more than two terms.
The Zanu PF leader is serving his seventh term.
Mugabe will complete his current term at 94 and apart from Kaunda all the other ex-presidents are younger than him.
From across Zambezi came Kaunda an age mate of Mugabe — Zambia’s first black president, who ruled Zimbabwe’s northern neighbour with a heavy hand from 1964 to 1991.
During his reign, Kaunda was referred to as a dictator and ultimately removed from power by the late Fredrick Chiluba, who led the Movement for Multiple Democracy that ended Zambia’s one party state in 1991.
But the presence of a host of former presidents, who at one point or another in their different terms in office rubbed shoulders with the octogenarian Zanu PF leader as fellow African leaders was a reminder that Mugabe belongs to an older generation and is no doubt the last man standing.
Today the other leaders are retired, revered statesmen who are playing an advisory role to their nations and walk with honour among their former subjects.