By Maxwell Sibanda
United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday snubbed President Robert Mugabe as he treated other African leaders to a working lunch on the sidelines of the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Trump was joined by South African President Jacob Zuma and leaders of Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Namibia, Senegal and Uganda.
It was not clear whether Trump, who was on Thursday attacked by Mugabe during his speech to the General Assembly, had overlooked the Zimbabwean leader as a result of the long-standing frosty relations between Washington and Harare or it was for other reasons.
The US slapped Mugabe and members of his inner circle with sanctions over human rights violations and lack of rule of law.
On Thursday, Mugabe took a dig at Trump for his speech on North Korea and Iran, which he said was threatening peace.
In a speech that lasted about 20 minutes, Mugabe called on Trump to blow his “trumpet in a musical way,” towards peace.
That was a bit surprising as Mugabe, ahead of his 93rd birthday, had suggested in an interview with ZTV that Trump might re-examine long-standing US sanctions on Zimbabwe.
“When it comes to Donald Trump, on the one hand, talking of American nationalism, well, America for America, America for Americans — on that we agree,” Mugabe said adding: “Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.”
Mugabe’s welcoming tonne during Trump’s inauguration did not change Washington’s stance towards Harare.
The US national security adviser, Herbert McMaster, this year told a press briefing that the “exclusive group of dictators”, which includes Mugabe, had gained notoriety for rampant human rights abuses.
McMaster was reacting to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s decision to force through a controversial poll that seeks to create a body to review the South American country’s constitution.
“Maduro is not just a bad leader. He is now a dictator,” McMaster said.
“By this action, Maduro is joining an exclusive club of outlaw world leaders, like Bashar al-Assad (Syria), Kim Jong Un (North Korea), and Robert Mugabe.”
Trump’s snub of Mugabe was the third time in three years that the 93-year-old has suffered such an embarrassment at the hands of a sitting American president.
In 2014, former president Barack Obama did not invite Mugabe to a landmark US/Africa investment summit held in Washington where nearly 50 heads of State took part in the two-day event, which sought to widen trade, development and security ties between America and Africa.
Mugabe and leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Madagascar were excluded from the summit.
At the time, Mugabe was African Union (AU) first vice president and incoming chairperson of Southern African Development Community (Sadc).
In 2015, Obama visited the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but avoided meeting Mugabe although he was at the time chairperson of the continental body and the regional Sadc bloc.
During his speech at the AU headquarters, Obama condemned African leaders who refused to give up power, in remarks widely interpreted as a veiled attack on Mugabe.
“Africa’s democratic progress is also at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end. No one should be president for life,” he said.
The country’s largest opposition party, MDC, said no one was prepared to engage with Mugabe because he had outlived his usefulness to them.
“Surely, you couldn’t expect him (Trump) to invite Mugabe to the working lunch that he hosted on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“Mugabe is a Pariah in influential world politics. That’s why even Obama hardly made a direct reference to Mugabe in his speeches, even when he visited Africa,” said MDC spokesperson, Obert Gutu.
“Mugabe wants to sound bullish and cocky in his UN public speeches. The bottom line, however, is that he is yesterday’s man. His brand of politics and grandstanding is no longer in sync with the dictates of modern day global politics and international relations,” he added.
Analysts said it was not surprising that Mugabe had been excluded from the working lunch as the US could have been guided by its foreign policy and the country’s strategic interests in Africa.
“And there are a host of US institutions that determine this. That Mugabe is officially under targeted sanctions means the snub is not surprising,” said political analyst, Vivid Gwede.
“Officially, the Zimbabwean leader remains blacklisted in the US probably in the same boat with Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran.
“And this has been a bipartisan approach of the Republicans and Democrats alike from the younger George Bush’s era to Barack Obama and now Trump. It is a continuation of a well-known US policy position. It would have been a shifting of sands if he was included,” added Gwede.
Farai Maguwu, a local political activist, said it was clear from his rhetoric that Mugabe is in a permanent conflict mode hence his presence at such an important engagement meeting would throw spanners into the discussion.
“I think Trump, like many other leaders, is waiting to meet the next president of Zimbabwe for constructive dialogue,” said Maguwu.
Mugabe, members of his family and senior Zanu PF officials were slapped with sanctions at the height of political violence and farm invasions in 2000.
The Zanu PF leader accused the US of seeking to overthrow him through the use of sanctions although Washington maintains they were in response to ballot fraud, lack of rule of law, human rights violations and lack of respect for property rights.
Mugabe and his Zanu PF government have blamed both the US and European Union sanctions for sinking the once-thriving economy but their opponents in the opposition blame corruption and bad governance for the current crisis.
Social commentator, Rejoice Ngwenya, said it was awkward for Trump to choose to meet leaders of Ethiopia and Uganda and yet excluding Mugabe from the same meeting.
He said Uganda and Ethiopia were fellow human rights habitual offenders who preside over authoritarian democracy.
“Nevertheless, any American leader would spite Mugabe because the latter does not hide his resentment of western democracies he accuses of imposition of sanctions on him. Mugabe is not likable – his arrogance and overrated anti-imperial stance are irritants,” observed Ngwenya.
Political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said the countries that were invited were of strategic interest to American foreign policy and businesses.
He observed that the countries have huge natural resources of interest to the US and the American government funds a lot of humanitarian and development programmes there.
“While Zimbabwe is also endowed with natural resources, our policies do not make us attractive to US investors. We grab land and businesses and run them down,” said Saungweme.
“Also, Zimbabwe is a very tiny country with a little market and tiny demand for American products if you look at it in the grand scheme of things. We are a tiny country with a very small population and we often overrate ourselves”.
Media practitioner, Nigel Nyamutumbu, said the snubbing of Mugabe by Trump had both economic and political undertones.
“On one hand it shows that Trump is going to maintain the sanctions regime on Zimbabwe and will not seek to influence the US Congress to repeal the embargo. On the other hand, it shows who America will be keen to discuss potential business and investment with in Africa and sadly, it seems Zimbabwe is not a prime target,” said Nyamutumbu. Daily News