PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will literally spend half the year gallivanting around the world at an enormous cost to the cash-strapped government that is battling to meet its obligations, while the economy which continues to decline at an alarming rate needs his urgent attention.
Mugabe’s absenteeism will worse this year as he globetrots across Africa as the chairperson of the African Union (AU) and Southern Africa Development Community, shuttling to the Far East for regular medical treatment.
Several trips are already lined up for the President in the next three months. Mugabe, currently in Algeria for a three-day state visit, is scheduled to travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, India, Ivory Coast, Singapore and twice to South Africa for regional meetings and personal business.
This year alone he has been in and out of the country eight times since January.
Mugabe has been to the Far East three times this year. He extended his annual holiday by a week in January to allow him time to recuperate after he reportedly underwent what was said to be a prostate cancer operation at Parkway Cancer Centre at state-of-the-art Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore.
Mugabe is battling health problems, among them reportedly prostate cancer, eye and knee problems and his trips to the Far East are increasing.
Since his return from Asia Mugabe first flew out to Zambia where he attended the inauguration of Edgar Lungu, who replaced President Michael Sata who died last year.
Mugabe then left for Ethiopia for the AU summit where he was elected chairperson.
After spending less than three days in Harare, Mugabe left for the Far East where he went to collect his ailing wife, who was admitted at a private hospital.
He was in Zimbabwe for two weeks before flying out to South Africa for the Sadc troika summit on Lesotho, in his capacity as Sadc chair.
Last week he was in Singapore for medical treatment and Japan for the United Nations summit on disaster and risk management where he spent a week.
Upon his return Mugabe spent just a day in the country before flying out to Namibia to witness the swearing-in of new President Hage Geingob.
He then spent two nights in Harare before leaving for Algeria on Monday evening.
Top government sources say Mugabe will travel to Arusha, Tanzania, for a Chinese youth summit from Algeria and perhaps to Singapore to check on his wife, Grace, who is there for medical treatment.
According to the sources, Mugabe is set to fly out to Addis Ababa for the 18th summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa to be held from March 30 to March 31, and then South Africa for a three-day visit from April 7-9. Thereafter, the sources said, Mugabe plans to fly out to Singapore for a week or so not only to check on his wife, but also for his medical check-up.
The president, at the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is also likely to also visit India. This is part of India’s lobbying efforts for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
“The Indian Prime Minister met with President Mugabe in Japan and he asked him to lobby the African Union, as its chair, for India to get the permanent seat in the UN. The dates have not been set but indications are that he will visit India soon,” said a government official.
Other trips lined up include a Sadc troika meeting in South Africa, an AU summit in June/July also in South Africa, and an African Union meeting in Ivory Coast, which will coincide with the African Development Bank (AfDB) annual general meeting end of May in Abidjan, where the new AfDB president will be elected and the 50th anniversary of the bank marked.
According to media reports, Mugabe’s trips have so far gobbled more than US$10 million since January at a time government is battling to pay civil servants and grow the imploding economy. Government revenues continue to dwindle at an alarming rate due to a severe liquidity crunch which has caused low capacity utilisation, company closures and job losses.
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority is failing to reach its revenue collection targets, with figures from January indicating a 14% deficit.
Net collections from January to date have amounted to US$468,53 million against a target of US$542,08 million.