By Makaita Noel Mutasa
I will not allow the raging debate and shaming of the chief ruler’s penchant for frequent and extravagantly lavish travels without my pound of flesh.
Not even that I am a Shylock, but the extremeness of irresponsibility and insensitiveness to the plight of a downtrodden, short-changed, brutalised and impoverished people of our country demands that we call out against the continued mis-use of meagre resources towards foreign travel that brings absolutely nothing.
And, more annoyingly when spokesperson George Charamba makes such a shameless and absurd defence of such mediocrity.
In his 18 months of rule, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made at least 30 foreign trips to March 2019, some a day long and to neighbouring countries, but most are over several days long, and are across continents.
Even Wikipedia does not have a full record of his foreign travel, possibly a sign of disbelief.
Social media is awash with public disdain of such recklessness, and very little such media, if any, has offered any support for the behaviour.
A social media analogy of leadership failure is encapsulated in the description of a nation that does not have sniffer dogs for emergencies such as the on-going devastation and destruction by Cyclone Idai, but can hire Gulfstream jets for its rulers.
Early in his rule, some saw Mnangagwa as modelling himself to a Paul Kagame. I now suspect that he actually did so, and unfortunately emulated some of the bad habits of Kagame.
In 2018, the Rwandan strongman made 34 foreign trips over five continents, each of them on a lavish Gulfstream-hired or rented by the Government of Rwanda from Crystal Ventures Limited, a company in which Kagame himself is speculated to be a major shareholder in consortium with his ruling party.
Kagame, the president, hiring from Kagame, the businessman.
Most of Kagame’s trips are described by Rwandan observers as meaningless and useless, each preceded by huge advance security and protocol teams that are entitled to foreign currency allocations for exquisite hotel accommodation, food and subsistence, incidental expenses and shopping bonuses.
Such arrangements were common talk in (Robert) Mugabe’s era with many of his hordes of lieutenants having built houses and purchased fleets of cars on travel allowances alone. There is insufficient transparency on how Mnangagwa’s trips are managed, or troop numbers.
In contrast to Mnangagwa’s and Kagame’s 30 and 34 trips in a period not much more than a year, Barack Obama undertook 52 foreign trips in the entirety of his eight years as President of America.
One would be tempted to assume that some of these reckless African leaders actually see themselves as the presidents of first world countries or of the oil rich house of Saudi. Pitiful.
Nevertheless, there are some African leaders who have their heads screwed on right, and who have a clear agenda for their economic trajectories, in particular where there is need for austerity.
John Pombei Magufuli of Tanzania hardly ever travels out of the country, preferring, mostly, to send his Foreign minister. In the words of Magufuli, a minister and his assistant are much less costly than a president and his delegation.
Can someone please tell this to Charamba? Since his inauguration in 2015, Magufuli made three foreign visits in 2016, to Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, and two such visits in 2017, to Ethiopia and Uganda.
His explanation for not attending the 2018 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was simple, “to save money”, and he profoundly thanked his Foreign minister for ever so diligently representing Tanzania.
Even the despot Ugandan Yoweri Museveni skipped UNGA 2018 arguing that the 15 minutes allocated to each leader to speak could not justify the costs for a typical presidential entourage.
He added that the Ugandan Cabinet had agreed on austerity measures and that one of the targeted budget lines was presidential foreign travel.
In October 2015, Malawi President Peter Mtharika returned from a UNGA to a hostile public opinion about his reckless travelling. In trying to placate the public, he angrily declared that he did not personally like travelling.
At least he immediately kept his word. For the first six months of 2016, he did not leave the country, and made it known that he had stayed away from at least 15 scheduled international trips.
He listened to his people, at least for six months, and has significantly cut down foreign travel ever since.
Former President Ian Khama of Botswana had a self-imposed exile from the international community.
He did not attend UN or AU summits, describing them as a waste of time and always sent his deputy or ministerial representative. Alas, the former deputy, now president of Botswana, has chosen to rule from the skies. What a shame. At least they have the money.
Our Mnangagwa has been on an avalanche of so-called state or working visits to China, Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan on the Gulfstream, with very little to show for it.
He attended the 2018 UNGA shunned by other African leaders, and equally shunned by Russia’s Vlamir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, and India’s Narendra Modi.
In his lame attempt to defend the use of the Gulfstream, Charamba displayed an unusual immaturity and lack of substance. “Tinoti kupererwa, akapererwa.” Simple questions he does not address are: Why doesn’t our ruler simply stay home. When journeying north on African Union business, why doesn’t he ask South African Ramaphosa for a ride?
I am certain that, as his defender, Ramaphosa will gladly stop-over to pick him up. So would Zambia’s Lungu for southbound Sadc trips. Why not ask host countries to pay for our ruler’s travel on basis that we cannot afford.
It is common knowledge in international relations that you do not invite yourself to a state visit in the country of another, you are invited. Therefore, Charamba, next time our ruler is invited for a State visit, the hosts should send the Gulfstream. Period.
In addition, for countries that are of no benefit, let us stick to secure telephonic communications. Another suggestion is to upgrade the ruler to skype, GoToMeeting or Zoom for less sensitive talk.
Another serious consideration is to give our ruler the single remaining Air Zimbabwe plane to share with his two deputy rulers, in particular if he cannot co-travel on it with other passengers as you say.
But the father did at times.
That way, Charamba, you will save the airline brand, and protect the travelling public, which you suddenly do not want to inconvenience from extra security checks and downgrades from business class.
A quick arithmetic between you and Finance minister Mthuli Ncube will show that the Gulfstream costs, and the medical flying ambulances to India and elsewhere for the deputy rulers, against the profit that Air Zimbabwe will lose by giving up their remaining plane for executive duties, will be a no brainer.
However, I am most certain that this is not the issue.
The issue is that our chief ruler does not want to use that old cheap rickety heap of metal said to be the remaining plane, and which does not have the settings so accustomed on the Gulfstream. Simple.
May I remind you Charamba, that you equally defended Mugabe when he was the only Head of State that attended a United Nations summit on oceans, and when he wanted to attend the World Culture Festival in India, among a host of worthless, useless, expensive foreign trips in which they stayed in the world’s premier hotels, in presidential suites, all in the name of working for Zimbabwe’s betterment.
What an absurd display of political class extravagance, which you are again defending now. Mhembwe rudzi, inozvara mwana ane kazhumu. Our ruler learnt from the father.
Writing for the Great Lakes Post, Chris Kamo, a respected journalist, having truly been pained by the extravagance of Kagame’s foreign trips and waste of resources when their much touted economic success has untold horror gaps of health services and neglect, described him as a travelling Nyakivale vagabond.
I salute you Chris Kamo, and David Himbara, your pens and keyboards make Kagame tremble.