Feb. 21 - As Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe turns 90, he's in Singapore following an eye operation. Africa's oldest leader has been in power since 1980, and as Ivor Bennett reports, critics say he has turned one of Africa's most promising economies into a basket case.
90 years old, and still going strong. Birthday boy Robert Mugabe is Africa's oldest leader, and one of its longest serving. He's been in power in Zimbabwe since 1980. But according to Professor Stephan Chan from London's School of Oriental and African Studies, Mugabe's swan song could be soon. SOUNDBITE (English) STEPHEN CHAN, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, SOAS, SAYING: "I think you're really looking at an end game of about two years. Other African presidents, and the African Union, and the southern African development community, seem almost hard at work preparing a glorious, valedictory end-game for him, so he can go out in a blaze of glory. But the subliminal message of all of that, that it is time, even in a blaze of glory, to consider his succession" When Zimbabwe gained independence, Mugabe was hailed as a model African democrat. But today's president is widely seen as a tyrant, blamed for bringing one of Africa's most promising economies to its knees. Stagflation and food shortages are regular features. Aid agencies say last year's food shortfall was the worst in 4 years. But instead of growing more maize, many farmers are now growing tobacco instead. A far more lucrative crop. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FARMER, GILBERT KALEMBA SAYING: "I did a small portion of maize but it's very dangerous for the country, just because everyone is now growing tobacco not maize, because there will be shortfall of food in the country." Western governments have shunned Mugabe after a succession of disputed elections. But it's a policy that seems to be easing. The EU has just lifted sanctions on 8 of Mugabe's entourage. Although the president is still under sanctions, these are considered encouraging signs, which may increase investor confidence and get the country back on its feet. SOUNDBITE (English) STEPHEN CHAN, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, SOAS, SAYING: "I think the West will start to turn a blind eye to the arguments it's had with Zimbabwe. There are going to be much greater problems in dealing with the prospective meltdown in South Africa for instance. And that's of far greater importance to the West than what happens in Zimbabwe in the future." Mugabe's celebrating his birthday in Singapore. The party line is he's had an eye operation and will return in time for official celebrations on Sunday. But many believe he's suffering from prostate cancer. Whether true or not, Mugabe still hasn't ruled out running for President in 2018. At the ripe old age of 94.