THE death of former president Robert Mugabe — some 8 260 kilometres away from home in far-flung Singapore — is a terrible indictment on his legacy and the state of the country’s healthcare institutions.
This is despite claims by his son-in-law Adam Molai that world-class hospitals were built during his catastrophic 37-year-old rule and suggestions by some of his allies that he was forced to go to “exile” not because of poor facilities he bequeathed the nation.
In fact, that no local hospital was deemed good enough for him, having also been a jet setter medical tourist to the Far East for more than a decade-and-a-half, chewing millions in taxpayers’ money in the process, sums up his legacy as a ruinous potentate, whose policies shattered a once-promising country.
In essence, Mugabe just fulfilled an African idiom which says if a man does not eat at home, he may never give his wife enough money to cook a good pot of soup.
Zimbabwe’s public health system is in a depressing condition. Medieval diseases like cholera and typhoid still kill a significant portion of the population,
while patients travel long distances to receive healthcare.
At hospitals, some patients sleep on the floor, while basic medication is often in short supply. Aggravating the situation is the fact that the country’s best
health professionals emigrate in droves in search of greener pastures.
“The healthcare institutions that were built during his term were second to none,” Molai was quoted in the press as having remarked at the weekend, averments,
which many found to be ironic in the extreme.
It is basically ironic in the sense that people questioned why he would seek medical attention that far, despite the “second to none” medical institutions at
home, as Molai claimed. But a mere scan of the state of public health institutions in the country would give a clear indication why Mugabe, just like many of
his political colleagues who benefit from state funds or are well-heeled, seek treatment outside the country, while Zimbabweans have to make do with
dilapidated and poorly stocked hospitals, which have literally become death traps.
Morale is at an all-time low at the country’s major referral hospitals like Parirenyatwa and Harare Central hospitals as poorly remunerated staffers, including
nurses, doctors and other support staff, have time and again threatened to go on strike.
Apart from poor salaries, doctors and nurses have complained about poor working conditions, particularly lack of medical equipment, medicines and related
accessories. It is thus inconceivable that Mugabe could have used one of these local facilities.
But he is not unique; he belongs to a long list of local politicians who shun local health institutions for foreign hospitals.
For instance, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga is currently undergoing treatment for an undisclosed ailment at a top hospital in Beijing, China.
The other Vice-President, Kembo Mohadi, has frequented a top hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, in recent times.
Even President Emmerson Mnangagwa, when he fell sick from suspected food poisoning in 2017, had to be airlifted to Johannesburg for emergency medical
High-profile politicians who have sought medical assistance outside the country include Foreign minister Sibusiso Moyo, the late former MDC leader Morgan
Tsvangirai and former cabinet minister Didymus Mutasa.
That more than 90% of drugs in public hospitals are supplied by donors is a damning indictment on the Zimbabwean government which has failed to allocate 15% of the country’s purse to health as recommended by the African Union’s 2001 Abuja Declaration.
Across the continent, there is a long list of Mugabe’s former counterparts spending huge sums of public money on treatment in better-run countries.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari quickly comes to mind. In 2017, he courted global controversy after he spent more time in the UK receiving medical
treatment than time spent in his country.
Former Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who stepped down as Angola’s leader in 2017, after 38 years, also travelled frequently to Spain for treatment.
Zambia’s Levy Mwanawasa died in France, while his successor Michael Sata passed away in the UK. Then there was Guinea Bissau’s Malam Bacai Sanha who died in
France, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi who died in Belgium and Gabon’s Omar Bongo who died in Spain.
A few fortunate ones made it home, but died shortly afterwards.
They include Nigeria’s Musa Yar’Adua, who died in Abuja after returning from treatment in Saudi Arabia, and Ghana’s Atta Mills, who died in Accra after
returning from a brief medical spell in the US. However, there may as well be merit in the view that Mugabe outdid them all by even sending his daughter, Bona, to Singapore to give birth.
He also had his grandson later flown for a medical check-up, which people mocked in the vernacular Shona language as: “Kuendesa mwana kuskero nendege (sending a child to the baby-clinic via air travel)”.
“This paints a shameful picture. As long as Africa’s leaders keep going abroad for medical reasons, the ambition for better health infrastructure will remain an illusion,” public policy expert Tawanda Zinyama, a lecturer in the University of Zimbabwe’s political and administrative department, said.
The same sentiments were echoed by political scientist Ibbo Mandaza who said: “It’s well documented that politicians from across the continent go abroad for medical treatment.
The reasons for exercising this choice are obvious: they lack confidence in the health systems they oversee, and they can afford the trips given that the expenses are paid for by taxpayers. The result is that they have little motivation to change the status quo.
Medical tourism by African leaders and politicians could therefore be one of the salient, but overlooked causes of Africa’s poor health systems and infrastructure.”
Political analyst Maxwell Saungwemwe said: “Countries pay a heavy cost for this behaviour. Essentially, when people charged with responsibility feel they have no need for public health systems because they can afford private healthcare at home or abroad, ordinary citizens bear the brunt.”
Saungweme also believes Mugabe paid lip service to pan-Africanism.
“His legacy looks conflicted if people look at rhetoric, eloquence and the lip service he paid to pan-Africanism. There must never be debate on Mugabe’s legacy. It’s forgivable if foreigners outside Zimbabwe who have superficial understanding of the suffering in Zimbabwe and Mugabe’s hand to say he had a good pan-African legacy. But to you and me who have lived Mugabe’s created horrors, there is no pan-African legacy to talk about.