President Robert Mugabe. Picture: REUTERS
President Robert Mugabe. Picture: REUTERS

As he marked his 93rd birthday on Tuesday, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe signalled that he had no intention of retiring any time soon and voiced support for US President Donald Trump’s policy of putting his country’s interests first.

Speaking softly and haltingly in an interview with the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, Mugabe said he would heed calls to step down only from within his ruling Zanu (PF).

"They want me to stand for elections," he said. "If I feel I cannot do it any more, I will say so to my party so they relieve me. For now, I think I can’t say so. Also the majority of the people feel that there is no replacement actually, no successor who to them is acceptable as I am."

The world’s oldest-serving leader, Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from the UK in 1980 and overseen an economic meltdown that has left more than 90% of the workforce without formal employment. He will seek to extend his rule next year, with Zanu (PF) nominating him as its presidential candidate.

Two Zanu (PF) factions are vying for power when Mugabe does leave office — one that backs his wife Grace and the other coalescing around Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former spy chief.

While Mugabe said he was not grooming a successor, he saw no reason why his wife should not participate in politics and described her as "well seasoned" with "a very strong character".

"Leaders will have to be, you know, given time to develop and to have that ability to meet with the people and be judged by the people," he said. "The people, you know, would want to judge everyone else on the basis of President Mugabe. I have been at it for a longer period than anyone else."

Mugabe said while he was surprised by Trump’s election, the US president needed to be given time to prove himself.

"America for Americans, on that we agree," he said. "Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans."

Bloomberg

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