- Yoweri Museveni celebrated his 79th birthday, while Emmerson Mnangagwa turned 81 on the same day this weekend.
- During his celebration, Museveni expressed that all wars in Uganda could have been avoided.
- Mnangagwa expressed gratitude towards his deputy and wife for saving his life from ice cream poisoning in 2017.
Two of Africa’s most seasoned leaders, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, 81, and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, 79, share a birthday. Both leaders took the opportunity to reflect on their pasts during their respective celebrations this month.
Museveni celebrated in advance on September 8th at Kololo Independence Grounds, while Mnangagwa held his celebration on his exact birthday, September 15th. Mnangagwa’s wife, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, hosted a dinner at State House in Harare for close friends and political allies.
Both leaders had much to contemplate.
In a statement commemorating their birthdays, Museveni expressed that Uganda’s history could have been different if not for the politics of self-interest that prevailed since the early days of independence.
“I am pleased that the grandchildren agreed to combine my 79th birthday celebration with our struggle. In this case, the battles of September 1972 and 1985,” Museveni referred to the coup that initially removed Milton Obote from power and the Battle of Kampala that eventually ousted him after his return more than a decade later. “All the past wars in Uganda were unnecessary because there was always an alternative path to resolving problems peacefully,” he added.
As one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, having been in power for 37 years, Museveni faced criticism for his regime’s similarities to Obote’s in terms of nepotism and sectarianism.
Mnangagwa, the ultimate survivor
Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa also rose to power through a coup, although he was on the civilian side, unlike Museveni.
His birthday celebration referenced his recent disputed electoral victory, implying that the ruling Zanu-PF party was growing in strength.
“As Zanu-PF, we are becoming increasingly stronger, while our detractors are growing more and more furious. I take pleasure in seeing our detractors angry,” he addressed the party’s politburo.
During a more intimate gathering, Mnangagwa revealed that he had faced death three times and miraculously survived. He claimed to have narrowly escaped death in Iringa, Tanzania, and avoided hanging as a teenager because he was not yet 21. He had been arrested for allegedly bombing a railway.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa inspects the guard of honor after being sworn in as President during an inauguration ceremony in Harare.
To this day, Mnangagwa advocates for the abolition of the death penalty. In 2017, he was poisoned through ice cream during internal power struggles within Zanu-PF, but he was saved by his current deputy, General Constantino Chiwenga, who later orchestrated the coup against Mugabe.
“I owe my life to this young man [Chiwenga]. He and the first lady hurriedly took me to South Africa, where I survived. They tell me about the journey, but I have no recollection. I was unconscious, resting on Chiwenga’s lap,” he recounted.
There were rumors of a strained relationship between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga, but the birthday celebration suggested otherwise. Chiwenga is expected to succeed Mnangagwa after his current and final term.