POSTED: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 10:00am
UPDATED: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 10:04am
NBC News — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe turns 89 thursday. In power since 1980, Mugabe charmed global leaders with humor and intelligence during his early years in office and his country won praise for its education and social system. More than three decades later he is a pariah in the west. Mugabe has been blamed for running the economy into the ground and for massive human rights abuses committed to maintain his grip on power.
Now he faces an uphill battle to hold onto office. He set March 16th as the date for a referendum on a proposed new constitution, a crucial step towards a general election late in the year to end a four year coalition government. He and the prime minister have shared power since a disputed vote in 2008 and both agreed to hold a fresh election after a new constitution is adopted.