PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe left Harare on Tuesday evening for the Unites States to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York where world leaders gather to tackle some of the most pressing global issues.
Editor’s Memo by Dumisani Muleya
Although Mugabe (91), battling old age complications and frailty, is perfectly entitled to attend the meeting and contribute whatever he has got to say, his latest trip in a year in which his globe-trotting and attendant waste of public resources scaled new heights shows he is not about to slow down on his travels at the expense of urgent government business.
He has been focusing on travelling on mostly unproductive trips rather than fixing the imploding economy. Now he is expected to go to Japan next month, having been all over the place in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, parts of Europe and Latin America.
This does not suggest he has any plans at all to take a back seat and allow his potential successor — whoever that might be — to come in and learn the ropes of statecraft.
In fact, Mugabe now seems to believe life begins at 90, not 40 as they usually say.
Hopefully, his speech at the UN would be different from his usual now stale anti-West tirades which offer no solutions to anything, but grandstanding and hot air.
While some studies have shown that when it comes to brain power, 90 may be the new 80 as those surviving past the age of 90 today are living longer and relatively mentally sharper than nonagenarians born a decade earlier, the truth of the matter is that age is now taking its toll on Mugabe.
Danish researchers a few years ago found that people born in 1915 were almost a third more likely to reach 95 than those born a decade earlier and on average they performed better on mental tests and in daily living tasks.
Their findings were the latest in a small but growing body of evidence which suggest improved nutrition, vaccinations, healthcare and intellectual stimulation are leading to a better quality of life for the elderly.
In the study, stronger, sharper mental agility, among today’s 90-year-olds plus, was now marked compared with earlier generations.
Researchers used physical and mental tests as well as interviews to measure mental impairment, depression and ability to perform daily tasks. The study was the most conclusive evidence yet that the elderly may now be in better health than ever.
However, it is a fact that cognitive abilities — how we understand and interpret the world — of the elderly inevitably decline with age. How people learn, remember, problem-solve, and pay attention rather than how they handle actual knowledge, goes down with age.
This is the reality which Mugabe can’t escape. Like every mortal, he can’t avoid old age conditions like arthritis, cancer and hearing and vision impairments.
Mugabe’s reading of a wrong speech last week in parliament clearly showed beyond doubt that his cognitive abilities have dramatically declined. How on earth can someone labour through a speech they read only last month and fail to realise it unless their memory and mental awareness have badly declined?
This brings me to issues concerning Mugabe’s current capacity and work ethic.
Given his age, it is evident he can no longer cope with the rigours of running a modern government, grappling with the complexities of the current economic matrices and fast-changing global realities.
The Zimbabwean administrative state is now on the ropes. It has become bloated, inefficient, moribund, corrupt and even morally bankrupt.
As a result initial innocuous calls for reform have given way to more insistent demands for change and the need to run government like a business. This requires a sharp, dynamic and much younger leader, not a nonagenarian like Mugabe waging a costly and futile battle to defy ageing.