“Mnangagwa mimics Mugabe in every sense of the word: mannerisms, how he sits, protocol when leaving the country and coming back (officials and hangers-on queue for him to express fawning loyalties and usually crack boring jokes), authoritarian tactics and, of course, foreign travel.Mnangagwa seems intent on beating his mentor when it comes to travel and reckless spending.”
VETERAN African strongman Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon with an iron fist since 1982, was last October re-elected for the seventh term (yes seventh!) with a 71% landslide victory in a controversial presidential election amid tightened security and internal strife.
Biya, one of the world’s oldest heads of state, and one of the longest-serving — has been ruling for nearly 37 years now after abolishing term limits in 2008. At 86, he is still sporting jet-black hair and looks far from calling it a day.
Like many other African leaders, Biya is usually criticised spending millions of dollars on foreign trips that, on average, do not produce tangible benefits for his country. Before the last elections, Biya held a cabinet meeting for the first time in over two years.
After compiling reports from the daily newspaper, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), calculated the amount of time the president spent abroad. The OCCRP estimated that Biya spent, on average, nearly one week out of every month on a foreign trip.
Biya’s regime is clearly corrupt and incompetent. After 37 years in power, his country continues to lead the pack as one of Africa’s most failed republics. To put it in perspective, Cameroon is ranked 55 points lower on Transparency International’s Perceptions Index than other African countries and is riddled with mismanagement, corruption, wasteful spending, cronyism and nepotism, as well as marginalisation of minorities.
Love for luxury
Although people continue to reel from poverty and agonise over poor service delivery, our leaders tend to forget their roots once they take power, and start living in hotels, gorging champagne and engaging in wasteful foreign trips.
Biya travels with his wife Chantal, who is well-known for her “gravity-defying hairdos,” and an entourage of up to 50 people that includes ministers, bodyguards, butlers, and various staff.
OCCRP says the Cameroonian president has spent the equivalent of four and a half years or roughly 1 645 days on “private” visits overseas, totalling around US$65 million since he came to power. This in a low-income country with roughly 25% of its 23 million citizens earning less than US$2 a day from farming and menial jobs. The average life expectancy, like so many African countries, is under 60.
Achielle Mbembe, the trailblazing Cameroonian political scientist, has been quoted as saying he does not understand what Biya actually does on his dozens of yearly foreign trips to Geneva, although critics say he will be going for medical treatment, shopping and to hide the loot.
Vasco da Gama
Muckraker was reminded of Biya by President Emmerson Mnangagwa — our very own up-and-coming Vasco da Gama — who has learnt and forgotten nothing from his mentor, Robert Mugabe’s rule.
Mnangagwa mimics Mugabe in every sense of the word: mannerisms, how he sits, protocol when leaving the country and coming back (officials and hangers-on queue for him to express fawning loyalties, usually cracking boring jokes), authoritarian tactics and, of course, foreign travel.
Mnangagwa seems intent on beating his mentor when it comes to travel and reckless spending.
In 2016, Mugabe made 20 trips abroad between January and October, blowing US$36 million, against a US$30 million travel for the 300-member strong legislature, according to Finance Ministry figures.
Surpassing Mugabe, who gained notoriety for his love of foreign travel, attending even obscure meetings for women and youths at 93, while blowing millions despite Zimbabwe suffering from crippling poverty due to his mismanagement, seems to be his preoccupation.
Mnangagwa has been more than equal to the task, as he chartered a plane from the Middle East to fly him from Harare to Bulawayo and back. Just imagine! What has happened to the planes he used to charter from South Africa?
This came after a trip to United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he hobnobbed with sheiks, as Zimbabweans perished in Manicaland from devastating Cyclone Idai storms and floods.
Mnangagwa also hired another airplane to go to Angola. Since being catapulted into power on the back of tanks, guns and bullets in November 2017, Mnangagwa has flown out of the country more than 28 times in expensive jets that would have made Vasco Da Gama and Christopher Columbus green with envy.
Flying in three private jets inside a week is a tremendous record, which even the globetrotting Mugabe would have liked to achieve. This is indeed a new dispensation of looting and profligacy.
His numerous travels have earned him the derisive nickname Tongombeya, which loosely translated means one who wanders around aimlessly.
Still on President Tongombeya, in his lame defence, his spokesperson George Charamba said his boss will keep on travelling in such obscene luxury until the national airline Air Zimbabwe which Mugabe — whose enforcer was Mnangagwa — destroyed.
Through sophistry and sprinkles of mumbo jumbo, Charamba argued it made sense for Mnangagwa to hire luxury jets for his travels than use Air Zimbabwe, which only has one flight working.
It seemed lost on Charamba that in the first place, it was government which destroyed Air Zimbabwe. For Charamba to say the national airline must first be fixed before Mnangagwa could use it to travel is not just a paradoxical but strange. Mnangagwa was part of the regime which destroyed the national flag carrier. So who is he blaming for government’s failure to provide his boss with economically affordable flights?
Mnangagwa must make a cheaper plan and stop wasting taxpayers’ money travelling for things that will not take us anywhere.
The late Botswana president Ketumile Masire used to travel in a bus going to Sadc meetings because his government could not afford air travel. That’s the principle. Mnangagwa must learn to live within his means in government. It’s a basic lesson in life. We don’t need to teach him that.
After all, why did Mnangagwa go to UAE when Cyclone Idai was furiously on its way to sweep to death dozens of defenceless civilians? Why didn’t his cabinet take pre-emptive measures to minimise loss of life and damage to infrastructure and property?
Realising the imminent PR disaster of his trip, amid a looming floods calamity, Mnangagwa cut short his trip, as the daily Pravda-like Herald claimed “to be with his people”. It was one of the hilarious headlines in journalism ever.
Not to be outdone, First Lady Auxilia Mnangagwa also “cut short” her trip from the United States, where she was attending the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, to react to the cyclone devastation.
Talk of closing the stable door when the horse has already bolted.
Cyclone Zanu PF sweeps out food aid
As if those affected by Cyclone Idai had not suffered enough after losing their loved ones and their property, they were struck this week Cyclone Zanu PF: a band of shameless looters who descended on floods victims’ food aid donated by government and humanitarian organisations, raiding food parcels and other relief items for private and political gain.
The greedy and callous Zanu PF thugs were caught in photos and videos on social media brazenly stealing from victims of the floods. It was like stealing food from mourners at a funeral. It’s undeniable because evidence is there.
The food relief was now being politicised for cheap political gain walking over the corpses of ordinary people who died painful deaths with their government only reacting to the situation when the damage was done. By any measure, government’s reaction to the disaster was disastrous. In some cases, MDC supporters were restricted from getting food aid by Zanu PF supporters. Some just took off with the donated goods for their own personal use. So bad was the situation that the army had to intervene to stop the madness. The army did a great job, but obviously it showed lack of capacity without meaningful logistics. The floods showed that our military has no air force to talk about. We had to use private helicopters after ignoring or declining South African help. Where were the army helicopters, if any at all, besides those ram-shackled ones?
But the issue here is that to capitalise on such a tragedy for personal and political gain is disgraceful even by Zanu PF’s low standards. Zanu PF is just a national — and now global — embarrassment.