Of bad leaders, foreign trips and sacrifice

IF there are any substantial economic benefits to accrue from President Robert Mugabe’s increasingly frequent junkets abroad then they must be very long in coming, for there is no evidence the country is getting any return.

Mugabe who this year has already travelled to Singapore (twice), Algeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Namibia, Japan and South Africa is currently in the Far East — where he has become a frequent visitor – for the Asia-Africa Summit as well as a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Bandung conference in Jarkata, Indonesia.

Incidentally, South African President Jacob Zuma last Saturday cancelled his state visit to Indonesia after deciding his immediate priorities lay at home where he has to deal with an alarming wave of anti-immigrant violence. He thus sent his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.

Zuma’s decision contrasts sharply with that of Mugabe. Dates for the Zimbabwe International Trade fair, an important annual fixture on the country’s economic calendar, have been moved from April 21-25 to April 28 to May 2, apparently to accommodate Mugabe’s Indonesia trip. A cabinet meeting was brought forward for the same purpose.

Mugabe might be going to Congo Brazzaville next week.

While Mugabe soaks up the peer esteem in Jarkata, amid Foreign Affairs minister Simbabrashe Mumbengegwi’s disingenuous claims that the Asia-Africa forum “is really a resounding vindication of the correctness and foresight of the President who many, many years ago enunciated the Look East Policy…”, the situation appears ever gloomier back home.

On Tuesday the IMF issued a grim prognosis for Zimbabwe’s ailing economy this year, warning growth which slackened in the last three years would weaken further.

“…The external debt remains precarious and the country is in debt distress. Key risks to the outlook stem largely from a further decline in global commodity prices, fiscal challenges, and possible difficulties in policy implementation,”it said.

Instead of tackling such issues head on, or at least giving such an impression, Mugabe continues to clock up the miles in foreign trips with no tangible economic benefit in return. The trips’ drain on the fiscus is well-documented; millions in taxpayers’ money go towards footing Mugabe and his often bloated delegation’s bills.

Upon his return from his annual vacation overseas in late January Mugabe pleaded with restive civil servants to be patient with his government which is struggling to pay salaries. “…We are experiencing difficulties in paying you, please bear with us because these are difficult times which call for sacrifice from all of us,” Mugabe implored.

He didn’t see the irony, of course.

Mugabe would do well to take heed of the late Nathan Shamuyarira’s caveat. Writing for South African magazine Drum in 1963, Mugabe’s long-time ally and confidant said: “A good leader travels less and spends more time with his people.”

If only Mugabe would listen