President Robert Mugabe’s frequent foreign trips have infuriated several Zimbabweans, who are now calling on the 91 year-old leader to stay at home and address the country’s faltering economy.
Since assuming the rotational chairmanship of both the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, President Mugabe has hardly spent a week in Zimbabwe as he has been travelling to several countries in Africa and beyond to attend to business involving the two continental organizations.
But many Zimbabweans such as Kudzai Gombedza say Mr. Mugabe should not only address issues affecting Africa but also focus on problems bedeviling his own country.
Gombedza says the president’s trips are draining the national fiscus.
It is unclear how much Mr. Mugabe spends per trip in travel expenses, personal allowances and related costs for his entourage always numbering more than 70, including some top state officials, bodyguards and family members.
Indications are that some of the trips are funded by the A.U and SADC.
Luke Tamborinyoka, spokesman of former prime minister and Movement for Democratic Change founding president, Morgan Tsvangirai, says the president should prioritize issues affecting Zimbabwe than the entire continent.
His views are echoed by Pride Mukono, former president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union or ZINASU, who adds that Mr. Mugabe should pay more attention to the country’s economy which is currently declining fast.
The World Bank and other international institutions are projecting that Zimbabwe is likely to record a marginal one point five percent growth this year, a figure that is causing panic in state corridors following promises by the ruling Zanu PF party in the run up to the 2013 general elections that it will provide more than 2 million jobs.
Against this background, Mkono says it is difficult to revive the national economy as government business is normally on a standstill when the president visits other nations.
But political analyst Goodson Nguni, who has links with Zanu PF, says the president does not use local resources when he is travelling on AU and SADC business.
However, Mkono insists that Mr. Mugabe should delegate his deputies at the AU and SADC to take care of most issues in order to allow himself to attend to critical matters back home.
Promise Mkwananzi, director of the Zimbabwe Informal Sector Organization, concurs, noting that the president’s frequent foreign trips are affecting the nonagenarian leader’s ability to deal with important Zimbabwean issues.
Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, however, says Mr. Mugabe has no choice given his position at the AU and SADC as he has to attend to a devastating Boko Haram onslaught in Nigeria, terrorism in Mali, political conflicts in Burundi, South Sudan and others.
He says Mr. Mugabe should use those trips and his position in the two blocs to improve Zimbabwe’s relations with the international community.
Mr. Mugabe is expected to travel to Botswana early next month for the SADC summit of heads of state and governments in which Botswana president Ian Khama is the next SADC chair.
The Zimbabwean leader’s AU term comes to an end next year.
Some analysts say Mr. Mugabe is likely to cut his foreign trips when his terms at the helm of AU and SADC come to an end.