IRANIAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit has exposed differences between the country’s three main political parties after the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC snubbed his arrival ceremony at Harare International Airport yesterday.Prime Minister Tsvangirai and senior government officials from his party did not turn up to welcome the Iranian leader describing his visit as a “scandal”.
Even Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and ministers from his MDC faction did not turn up to receive the guest of honour to this year’s Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF).
“As a party, we feel that a country is defined by its friends,” the MDC-T said. “We want to place it on record that judging by his record, Ahmadinejad is coming not as a friend of Zimbabwe, but as an ally of those that unilaterally invited him.”
Ahmadinejad arrived in the country yesterday amid tight security from both the Zimbabwean security forces and the Iranian leader’s security team that were milling around the airport.
Four fighter jets were flying over the airport for more than 30 minutes before the Iranian leader arrived in his official Islamic Republic of Iran plane marked EP-AJD. There were ululations from Zimbabwe’s Muslim community and praise singing from Apostolic church members.
Helicopters flew over Harare for the better part of the day before Ahmadinejad’s arrival and continued to fly hours later in a show of protection for the Islamic leader who is currently engaged in a war of words with the United States and its allies.
Ahmadinejad took close to seven minutes before disembarking because the stairway was not properly fitted to the giant aircraft.
Employees from the National Handling Services had to run around to fix the stairway with close supervision from Ahmadinejad’s security personnel.
The Iranian leader was received by a 21-gun salute and inspected a guard of honour before leaving the airport to visit Modzone, a textile company based in Chitungwiza and financed by Iran, and Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries.
Ahmadinejad will officially open the ZITF today before leaving the country for Uganda later in the day, according to official information from the Iranian Embassy.
Political tension within the country’s fragile inclusive government is likely to worsen after the MDC led by Tsvangirai described Ahmadinejad’s invitation as a unilateral Zanu PF decision.
“Choice of friends defines character and inviting the Iranian strongman to an investment forum is like inviting a mosquito to cure malaria,” the party said. “Hobnobbing with dubious political leaders confirms stereotypes that we are a banana republic.”
But Welshman Ncube, the secretary-general of the Mutambara-led MDC, said there was no boycott by his party because most ministers were already in Bulawayo attending the economic forum discussion that was going on at the ZITF.
“There was certainly no boycott (by his party) because most of the ministers are already in Bulawayo. I was also in Bulawayo but have returned (to Harare) for the Iranian president’s tour of Modzone and the Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries,” said Ncube.
Information minister Webster Shamu declined to comment about the “snub” arguing that he was not the MDC spokesperson.
“Why should I be talking to you about someone who is not here? I am not their spokesperson so you rather go and ask them why they are not here,” said Shamu before walking off to join the kilometres-long motorcade.
Iran and Ahmadinejad in particular has been under harsh criticism from Western nations for pressing ahead with uranium enrichment programmes it says are to produce nuclear energy amid fears the militant Islamic state could develop nuclear weapons.
Iran is the biggest exhibitor at the trade exposition Ahmadinejad is scheduled to open.
Ahmadinejad is the first leader from outside the African continent to open the exposition since Independence.