By Gift Phiri
With Zimbabwe’s leader Emmerson Mnangagwa in China for a seven-day State visit, his 13th foreign trip this year, his frequent travel abroad is stirring an outbreak of mass ridicule with some failing to differentiate him from his predecessor, the Daily News can report.
Sworn-in as president on November 24 after 94-year-old Robert Mugabe quit in the wake of a military intervention, Mnangagwa has clocked up trips to 13 nations in just five months since assuming office.
Even more remarkable is the diversity of these destinations.
There are, of course, the standard places one would expect — several visits to Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries in an attempt to cement his legitimacy and to the African Union (AU) headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for the heads of State and government summit.
He was also at the recent AU extraordinary summit held last week in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, to form a $3 trillion continental free-trade zone, encompassing 1,2 billion people.
The rest of the visits were to attend international fora such as the World Economic Forum (Wef) annual meeting in the Swiss Alps resort of Davos and the African CEO Forum in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan.
Mnangagwa’s first visit was to then South African president Jacob Zuma, who chaired the 16-nation Sadc, then visited Angola President João Lourenço, who chairs the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security (Troika).
He then went to Namibia, visiting President Hage Geingob, who is the deputy Sadc chairperson.
After Namibia, he has travelled to Zambia to meet Edgar Lungu, who is the deputy Sadc Troika chairperson.
He also travelled to Botswana where he met with his counterpart, Ian Khama, who stepped down on Saturday and handing over the reins of the diamond-rich country to vice president Mokgweetsi Masisi.
He then went to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique, before taking off to Switzerland, then Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Rwanda.
Mnangagwa’s jet-setting has drawn comparisons with his predecessor who had a penchant for foreign travel, a predilection that cost his cash-strapped country millions.
Having racked up tens of thousands of air miles since staging the soft coup, Mnangagwa jetted off to China on Sunday night for a State visit with a 90-member strong delegation in tow.
Mnangagwa chartered a private flight P4-CLA Comlux Aruba Boeing 767-200 — and is accompanied by an entourage of at least 90 officials, including 10 Cabinet ministers, 80 businesspersons, bodyguards and reporters from State TV and official newspapers.
“That’s a huge delegation, which this country can’t afford,” Tendai Biti, a former Finance minister and opposition leader, told the Daily News yesterday.
“It’s same, same fanana, nothing has changed; we had a haircut. The man was driven by an insatiable desire for power and power alone, not value. He couldn’t wait to don his boss’ garb. His numerous trips are largely talk shows. He is someone looking for international validation. As Zimbabweans, we didn’t vote for him, he was not elected by the people of Zimbabwe, he is a usurper. Adonija will never be David.”
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba defended Mnangagwa’s foreign trips in an interview with the Daily News just before he left for China on Sunday.
“I always have a problem with politicians who behave like auditors, who focus on numerals without pausing to ask about the purpose of that flight or what returns we are deriving from it.
“Why do we reduce matters to numerals and not to value? We go to Ivory Coast, we get Zimbabwe de-risked to the tune of $1,5 billion you pit that against Mnangagwa who is two days away from this country, huh? If that’s the cost of having Mnangagwa out of the country, please can he be out of the country for one week, then we will have $7 billion,” he said.
Charamba said a cost-benefit analysis justified the president’s jet-setting.
“So, ultimately, let’s look at the value to the country. And by the way, from where we are coming from, this country needs to badly re-brand, it badly needs to re-brand and a bad brand is a cost to business. It also raises country risk, wazviona (you see),” Charamba told the Daily News.
Questions were raised about the size of the delegation. But Charamba said the mission to China had two groups, the political and business delegation.
He said government only bankrolled the political delegation.
“We are barely 20. And you will notice it’s got to do with masmall ministries because there are discussions involving investments, involving loan facilities; involving sheer politics in the diplomatic sense. Otherwise business groups left with commercial flights from Saturday actually,” Charamba said.
Charamba also said Theresa May arrived in China in February, accompanied by her husband Philip, Cabinet ministers and 50 British businesspeople.
He said this was nothing compared to Donald Trump’s visit to China — dubbed a “state visit-plus.”
When the Daily News put it to Charamba that the United States has a $18 trillion economy, which makes it the world’s largest by gross domestic product, and can afford such a bloated delegation as compared to Zimbabwe’s $5,1 billion economy, Charamba retorted sarcastically: “Except how many trillion dollars do they owe China, that’s the point I am making. How you reckon the size of a mission is not in terms of the size of the economy, but the size of the need. We need more, wazviona (you see). And we have more explanations. We owe China left right and centre, thanks to the old order, of which I was a part, heh? And we have not been servicing it. We must at least make symbolic payments, (but) we were not.” DailyNews