Globetrotting, public funds and taxpayers

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has yet again been in the spotlight of late; for all the wrong reasons. Mugabe, who has become the latter-day Vasco Da Gama after gobbling more than US$30 million in the first 10 months of both 2015 and 2016, flew in from Singapore on Sunday where he had gone for medical reasons on Wednesday last week only to dash to Ghana for the country’s 60th independence celebrations less than 24 hours later.

MUCKRAKER
Twitter: @MuckrakerZim

Mugabe — who now truly behaves like the 15/16th Century Portuguese explorer and navigator who was the first European to reach India by sea — is now like a visiting leader to Zimbabwe. For some reason, he seems not to like being in the country. It’s a mystery, yet not very difficult to understand.

Zimbabwe, which used to be one of the greatest countries in Africa before Mugabe’s regime destroyed it through corruption and incompetence, is now a hostile environment to live in due to its toxic politics, economic implosion, poor service delivery, collapsing infrastructure symbolised by potholed roads, poverty and suffering. Even if Mugabe is cushioned from the country’s harsh environment, he breathes the same air of failure which engulfs the nation and drives on the same rutted roads.

That’s why he may not like being here all the time. Of course, there could be personal and domestic reasons for that, but the rundown state of the country and the choking environment are major push factors in this case.

Indefensible

Back to Vasco Da Gama-like travels. Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba defended his boss’ costly and wasteful globetrotting, claiming diplomacy is “not cheap”.

This is one of Charamba’s most unimaginative spin-doctoring exploits yet. While we appreciate that it’s very difficult to do effective public relations for a discredited leader like Mugabe amid a political crisis like this to win hearts and minds, Charamba’s remarks sounded odd; they confirmed government’s poorly fashioned public relations strategy based on denial; always defending the indefensible.

There is no way anyone serious about life out there and the country’s progress can try to defend an untenable situation in which a president of a country is always away from work, especially in the middle of such an economic crisis and attendant problems.

As Mugabe flew out to Singapore, nurses at public hospitals joined junior doctors in a two-week strike that was meant to pressure his government into paying 2016 bonuses due last December. Government was to later succumb to pay US$181 million in bonuses, money which it simply does not have.

Visible frailty

Battling old age and concomitant health complications, as well as increasing frailty, Mugabe now struggles to walk — in fact, he now walks slowly and with heavy steps, typical of dotage, or trudges — and is rarely far from his aides or wife for support.

Mugabe’s public speeches are sometimes slurred and monotonous; rambling, repetitive and tedious. They are vacuous in terms of ideas and detail, showing he is now bankrupt on progressive thinking and implementation of serious policy programmes on the national development agenda.

While he still pretends in spirit and rhetoric to be fit, his body and movements tell a different story: that of frailty. His infirmity and thus unfitness to govern can’t be camouflaged anymore. And that his health is failing is also abundantly clear.

That’s why he frequently shuttles to Singapore for medical check-ups at the state-of-the-art Gleneagles Hospital, running away from local health facilities which his government has destroyed.

Even though Mugabe’s aides say he has some eye cataract, the story about prostate cancer which has metastasised has refused to go away just like his succession race.

Costly diplomacy

Charamba claims diplomacy is costly in a bid to justify Mugabe’s globetrotting and waste of taxpayers’ money. Well, while it is obvious countries invest in enhancing diplomacy for the national good, it is also true that some nations get poor returns from their investment in diplomacy. Others reap a great dividend.

In Zimbabwe’s case, it’s a waste of resources and taxpayers’ funds. It’s a raw deal which Mugabe is giving the nation. He attends every event around the world he has an opportunity to — from children and women’s conferences to the United Nations General Assembly summits — but usually squanders those opportunities to market the country through awfully empty rhetoric and sleeping in public.

Surely, diplomacy does not involve snoozing during the proceedings as footage of his recent slumbering in Ghana shows. Sleeping in public fora has reduced Mugabe, and Zimbabwe as well, to a laughing stock. As evidenced by the clip on video-sharing platform You Tube, which shows Mugabe literally slogging towards the high table, the focus was more on his struggles to carry himself around and sleeping.

So Cde Charamba, why should poor taxpayers pay through their noses for Mugabe to attend conferences and meetings, some of them inconsequential, only for him to spend most of the time dead to the world?

Retarded idolisation

Zanu PF Youth League secretary Kudzanai Chipanga has always been a few sandwiches short of a picnic. His remarks that Matobo, the venue for Mugabe’s recent birthday celebrations in a sea of poverty, would soon receive rains because of the nonagenarian leader’s rants and that this would be a sign he had received divine blessings, is evidence of this.

However, his remarks in an interview with our sister paper, The Standard, this week took his folly to new heights.

When asked if Mugabe was to step down, Chipanga’s daft response was: “Assuming that the president says he wants to step down and wants to pave way for someone, we will maintain our position that as long as he is still alive, he must be our president. We will go out of our way even if it means to approach the Constitutional Court to compel him to represent us. We are prepared to go that route because we have our constitutional rights to be represented by someone of our own choice.” This came after he had called Mugabe superhuman.

“He is not an ordinary human being. Last time people were saying a lot of funny things about me when I said President Mugabe is next to Jesus. President Mugabe is a super human being and he is one of his kind”.

One really wonders whether Chipanga has enough O-levels. If he does, then there is certainly something wrong with his intellect (it’s perhaps corroded by toxic politics), or he is simply a victim of Zanu PF’s Goebbelite brainwashing.

Pricey populism

When Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa twice told the country that government does not have money to pay civil servants’ bonuses and advised the windfalls should be suspended for two years, Mugabe excoriated him in public for being “naïve”.

Chinamasa was literally thrown under the bus or to the wolves, but now the charade has become an expensive farce.

Mugabe’s propensity to pander to short-term political gain has cost government and taxpayers so dearly over the years. The sorry saga of bonuses and its damaging consequences is probably the best example: it’s going to cost taxpayers a whopping US$181 million!