Mugabe's massive Sadc summit entourage

HARARE - With an entourage of 67 people, President Robert Mugabe arrived in Maputo amid a huge razzmatazz for the special Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit on Zimbabwe.

Mugabe and his bloated delegation joined regional leaders that gathered in Maputo yesterday for the crucial extra-ordinary summit on Zimbabwe held at the Joaquim Chissano International Conference Centre where member states reaffirmed their commitment to a fair poll in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwean president was seen taking off from the Harare International Airport on Friday with 67 hangers-on, including medical personnel. Also on the plane was Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and dozens of senior government officials.

A senior government source said in the entourage were Munhumutapa Building political aides, national security personnel and specialists from other government departments.

Mugabe has demonstrated his penchant for big delegations.

At least 67 names for the “Zanu PF delegation” were listed at the Accreditation Centre, and included Lovemore Madhuku, National Constitutional Assembly chairman, who was listed as a “legal expert.”

Charity Manyeruke, University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, was also on the Zanu PF delegation, curiously under Justice and Legal Affairs ministry, even though she does not work there.

Jonathan Moyo was listed under the President’s Office, even though he is not employed in government, together with more than two dozen other officials.

The delegation also included about 10 State-controlled media journalists.

The high-level meeting brought  together several heads of State and government including President Jacob Zuma, Hifikepunye Pohamba, Joseph Kabila, Ian Khama and Zambian deputy President Guy Scott, to reaffirm the political commitments made in 2008 to help Zimbabwe stage a fair contest after a disputed 2008 vote claimed over 200 lives.   

Mugabe’s entourage of 67 people adds to an already bloated foreign travel budget.

The president and his entourage were scheduled to blow millions during this trip, according to top government sources who cannot be named for professional reasons.

In his 2013 national budget proposals, Finance minister Tendai Biti warned against the escalating foreign travel budget saying the executive had blown over $40 million on foreign trips last year alone.

This means government was blowing more than $4 million on jet setting each month, a top line ripple for a bankrupt administration appealing for financial aid from Sadc to bankroll the forthcoming election.

Meanwhile, Mugabe had the biggest entourage as compared to other heads of State, and he and his delegation informed the summit organisers that they have come prepared for a very short meeting, behaviour which could be interpreted as somewhat bullish as the Zimbabwe issue needed more time.

Just before the summit began, Joel Guebuza and Zuma had a closed door 30-minute briefing at the conference venue.

Earlier, Mugabe had met Pohamba at his villa.

Ahead of the summit on Friday, the Sadc facilitation team held bilateral meetings with the negotiators from Zimbabwe’s three ruling political parties.

As the summit got underway, McDonald Lewanika, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition executive director addressed a news conference calling on Sadc to remain resolutely committed to the conduct of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe.

He said over 65 civil society groups had signed a petition presented to Mozambique Foreign Affairs minister Oldemiro Baloi  for onward transmission to Sadc heads of States asking them to make any financial support for Zimbabwe’s election expressly conditioned on implementation of key electoral reforms, and demanding a non-violent, free, fair, credible and legitimate election in Zimbabwe.

“After four years of commitment and tirelessly accompanying the people of Zimbabwe in their quest for democratic reforms, I do not think that Sadc is ready for another June 27, 2008 sham election,” Lewanika said. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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