HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s botched trip to an insignificant cultural festival in India earlier this week continues to raise dust, with political opponents ganging up on the increasingly frail nonagenarian and calling on him to call it quits in his own interest, that of his family and the nation.
The ever globe-trotting 92-year-old was forced to abandon his much-criticised excursion to a low-key music and dance bash being hosted in New Delhi, which even the Indian leadership, including the South Asian giant’s president, Pranab Mukherjee, was not intending to attend.
In addition, not a single noteworthy national or international leader, or prominent personality for that matter, has been reported to be attending the gig.
At the same time, government insiders claimed in briefings to the Daily News yesterday that Mugabe and his typically huge travelling party had once again gobbled “$3 million on this non-event” — at a time that the Zimbabwe economy is dying and the government itself has said it can hardly meet its obligations, including paying its workers.
“Each time the president travels on these useless trips he takes with him a huge team and they use more than $3 million of badly-needed funds in hiring an Air Zimbabwe plane, other logistical costs and the allowances of the travelling party,” a miffed insider said.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said on Wednesday that the “cancellation” of the trip had been necessitated by the late communication from the organisers of the festival, pointing to inadequacies in protocol and security arrangements around the event.
But irate opposition groups noted sarcastically yesterday that Mugabe’s “dodgy holiday” to India had come just two weeks after his “extravagant” birthday celebrations in Masvingo, which is said to have gobbled up $800 000, at a time that the country was reeling from drought and people were dying needlessly in public hospitals due to shortages of drugs.
“This is a complete and total embarrassment for the Zanu PF regime. How a whole president would find it fit and proper to fly all the way to New Delhi to attend a dubious cultural festival that even the host president of India has decided to boycott, simply boggles the mind,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
He added that the fact that Mugabe had still wanted to go there showed that there was something wrong with the Foreign Affairs department, as the nonagenarian had been accompanied by Foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi in “this embarrassing jaunt”.
“A thorough due diligence exercise should have been undertaken . . . Why would he (Mugabe) leave Harare on a Monday to attend an event that is supposed to take place in New Delhi on Friday? Last time I checked, a direct flight from Harare to New Delhi takes less than 10 hours,” he said.
The Welshman Ncube-led MDC said Mugabe was surrounded by “a useless, lazy and ineffective deadwood Cabinet” which had failed to offer the nonagenarian proper advice on matters of national interest.
“If all Zimbabweans, including those in his Cabinet were to speak candidly and decisively, truthfully and frankly, honestly and boldly, they would admit that Zimbabwe cannot afford another day with this man in office. Mugabe’s gallivanting all over the globe, and spending on himself is robbing Zimbabweans of freedom and opportunity by putting their priorities last. While the government has said that there is no money, the president’s spending this year alone could have made a huge difference to different sectors of the economy.
“Mugabe needs to take just one leaf out of President John Magufuli’s book of a servant leadership and retain what little dignity he has left,” spokesperson Kurauone Chihwayi said.
The newly-elected Magufuli has banned all but essential foreign travel, and restricted first and business class travel for all officials except the country’s president, vice president and prime minister.
Chihwayi added that it was not okay for Mugabe to “take off on the spur of the moment jaunts halfway across the world” for a cultural event when Zimbabwe was burning from its worsening myriad crises.
“At some point, Zimbabweans will need to rise up against such kind of leadership that does more harm than good. As MDC, we condemn strongly this flagrant display of wasteful expenditure by Mugabe,” he said.
Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party described the trip as an embarrassment to the country.
“The trip proves that Mugabe is not only a national security threat, but has now become a danger to himself and the whole nation,” PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume said.
“He can no longer tell the difference between an international summit and a street carnival with naked dancing women. The political opportunists have their claws in his back and they are playing him like a puppet, while they keep telling him that he is very wise. He reminds me of the story of the naked emperor. Unfortunately, there is no one brave enough in Zanu PF to tell him that he is naked. He is now parading all over the world in his naked glory. The nation is doomed,” Mafume said.