At 93 years old, Zimbabwe's Mugabe remains a jet-setter

2017-03-23 11:37
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. (File: AP)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. (File: AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Harare - Zimbabwe's 93-year-old leader might be slowing down, but his busy foreign travels have led the opposition to call him the "non-resident president".

President Robert Mugabe has visited Singapore, Ghana, Swaziland and Mauritius in the past three weeks alone. At times he stops over in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, for just a night before leaving again.

Some critics say Mugabe's trips are a drain on this southern African country's depleted finances. Others are amazed at how a visibly elderly man remains fit enough to clock thousands of miles in the air.

The foreign travels of the world's oldest head of state often provide comic relief for Zimbabweans weary of the country's two-decade economic decline.

Images of Mugabe struggling to walk on the red carpet, toppling from a raised lectern at the airport in 2015 and, most recently, wearing a loose-hanging, untucked white shirt in Mauritius — a rare break from his usual suit and tie — have trended on social media and become the butt of jokes and memes.

President's dress sense 

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba had to address the president's dress sense in Mauritius after it went viral on social media.

"The trouble is that we are so schooled in British dress etiquette that any departure from it amounts to scruffiness . That is how colonized we are," he told state television on Tuesday when Mugabe returned home.

Earlier this month, Charamba touched on a more fundamental issue: Mugabe's frequent foreign trips amid concerns over flagrant spending and rumours of illness.

Mugabe's busy travel schedule "puts paid to any claims that the president is very ill. In fact, he is so well that he beats even the youngest politician," the spokesperson said,

Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party once again has endorsed him as its candidate for next year's election. He has been in power since 1980.

Charamba spoke as Mugabe was leaving for Ghana's 60th independence anniversary celebrations. The president had landed in Zimbabwe just 24 hours earlier from Singapore, where he had spent a week for a "scheduled medical review," according to his spokesperson.

Mugabe later went to Swaziland for a summit of the Southern African Development Community. He then stopped in Zimbabwe for a few hours before hopping back on the plane for an economic meeting in Mauritius.

'Diplomacy does not come cheap'

"Love how President Mugabe is encouraging people to #visitZimbabwe from time to time ... #leadingByExample," tweeted local comedian Carl Joshua.

Others find little amusement in the trips, citing Zimbabwe's mounting economic problems.

Mugabe's government has failed to pay its workers' salaries on time since June. Cash shortages have resulted in long lines at banks. Factory closures and high unemployment rates have pushed the majority of Zimbabweans into informal trading such as street vending.

Former finance minister and now opposition leader Tendai Biti has expressed both disgust at Mugabe's foreign travel spending and concern that the trips will worsen his health.

"Section 82 of the constitution protects the rights of the elderly. Zanu is abusing the rights of this elderly man," Biti said in a humorous tweet Tuesday, along with a photo of Mugabe seemingly struggling to walk and surrounded by minders in Mauritius.

Mugabe spent over $34 million on foreign travel in the first 10 months of 2016, outstripping expenditures by entire ministries such as that of transport and infrastructure development, according to the ministry of finance statistics.

Transport minister Joram Gumbo has defended the government's decision to charter a jet from Bahrain for Mugabe's recent trips, saying the Air Zimbabwe plane that Mugabe uses is undergoing maintenance.

"Diplomacy does not come cheap," the president's spokesperson declared this month.

Read more on:    zanu-pf  |  tendai biti  |  robert mugabe  |  george charamba  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.