WASHINGTON DC —
Over the years President Robert Mugabe has crisscrossed the world on government and private business.
At 91 many expected him to slow down but the veteran politician is not showing any signs of starting to delegate foreign policy matters so he could at least concentrate on national issues.
His recent trips abroad and the continent have ignited fierce debate on social media with critics attacking the ruling Zanu PF party for abusing their leader. His backers on the other hand strongly believe that his foreign trips are part of his mandate to run the country, Southern African Development Community and the African Union, the two continental bodies he is currently chairing.
In just two weeks President Robert Mugabe has been to Japan and Namibia to attend the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and President Hage Geingob’s inauguration respectively.
And barely 48 hours after that Mr. Mugabe was packing his bags again, this time he’s heading north to Algeria for a state visit.
Add to that; the president has been on the plane since January when he came back from holiday in Singapore and headed straight to Zambia for President Edgar Lungu’s inauguration.
He then went to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia where he assumed the chairmanship of the pan African organization. From there he went back to Harare for a few days before jet-setting again, this time to pick-up his ailing wife from Singapore where she was being treated.
For a 91-year old, that’s a lot of air miles and jetlag, leading him to tell a gathering at Kutama Mission, his former school, at the weekend that he had only slept for two hours due to his travels from Namibia back to Harare before leaving again for Algeria.
President Mugabe has always had a penchant to travel but what is setting social media on fire is more of concern for his age and the money that is being gobbled on all these trips.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change last week said the country, with a sliding economy, is now on auto-pilot.
Southern African Political and Economic Series director Ibbo Mandaza says Zanu PF is overusing Mr. Mugabe, who is the world’s oldest president.
Regional MDC-Renewal leader, Albert Mhlanga, echoes the same sentiments, adding that the president should not commit himself to many of these international political engagements.
He says these trips have affected all crucial Zanu PF Politburo and cabinet meetings.
Other critics believe that the president’s trips are gobbling millions of dollars in a country where the lowest paid state worker gets just over 300 dollars a month. The Treasury department was not at liberty to discuss this issue. Mr. Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba was not available for comment.
Mr. Mugabe’s backers are adamant that he was mandated by the people who elected him in the 2013 presidential election to perform local and international duties.
Party activist and political commentator, Fidelis Fengu, says the president’s critics are wrong.
He further says some of these trips are beneficial to the people of Zimbabwe.
Political analyst Professor Shadreck Guto of the University of South Africa says President Mugabe is working for his nation, the African Union and SADC.
He adds that in some cases, Mr. Mugabe is engaging in these trips to look for friends although Zimbabweans are paying for almost all these trips.
Indications are that President Mugabe is set to travel on A-U and SADC business soon after leaving Algeria. This is expected to generate more anger among his critics while boosting his political base at home, which seems to be cheering what they say is clear endorsement on the continent and beyond for a veteran leader in his hey days.