By Sij Ncube
Harare, March 13, 2016 – AS the mystery continues over Robert Mugabe’s latest globe-trotting stunt, fresh concerns are emerging over the nonagenarian’s state of health.
Speculation is rife he used the Indian invitation as a decoy to fly out to Singapore for urgent medical check-ups.
Mugabe left Harare on Monday ostensibly to attend an arts festival in India but never set foot in New Delhi, with his spin-doctors saying he cancelled the trip due to unsatisfactory security and protocol arrangements.
He later turned up in Singapore with independent media reports claiming he checked in at a state-of-the-art private hospital for medical check-up after failing to make it to India, a development which dovetails with details obtained by VOP from foreign affairs officials in London.
Those in the know insisted to VOP the Indian festival invitation presented him with an opportunity to fly out for medical attention without raising eye-brows within his faction-riddled party.
It is suspected his health is deteriorating, a situation which is being compounded by old age, something which in turn is reportedly stoking fires in the race to succeed him in Zanu PF.
Sources claim the India invitation provided cover for real motive of travel, “to get medical attention”.
“They (Mugabe delegation) could then use India as cover to not talk about Mugabe’s health given the succession jostling, they just used the India thing to smother the real story,” said the source.
While critics say the cover up raised speculation over Mugabe’s health, analysts say the sojourn ranks as yet another expensive adventure for Mugabe which again could have been driven by a desire by hangers-on to line-up their pockets in hefty travel and out-of-pocket allowances.
Others say the episode shows Mugabe, known as Vasco Da Gama for his love for travel, does not have the nation at heart but personal gratification.
In the past 36 years, Mugabe is believed to have gobbled several millions of dollars on unnecessary travel along with bloated travelling parties. At one time Mugabe is said to have travelled with 100 people.
Political analyst Reward Mushayabasa said Mugabe’s sojourn is another classic example of the rot that has beset his government of late.
“The government is bankrupt and most of its workers are struggling to survive. Can you imagine any head of state going on a wild goose chase to a country where he has a diplomatic representative? Zimbabwe is represented in India. How come our diplomatic mission did not exercise due diligence before giving the President the green light to attend the Art of Living Festival? Something is amiss,” said Mushayabasa.
Reason Wafawanaka, a political analyst based in Australia, said the controversy around the Indian trip does not speak well of the country’s protocol office.
“l am not so sure if this was a matter of a wrong trip, or perhaps the handlers deliberately elevated a low key event to global prominence for reasons best known to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said.
Whichever way, it is hard to sugar-coat the embarrassment that comes with the way the trip withdrawal was carried out, said Wafawanaka.
“This coming after the President was made to read a wrong speech not so long ago does not speak well of the country’s protocol office,” he added.
But Ricky Mukonza, a political analyst based in South Africa, said if the trip was not a cover-up, it could boil down to bureaucratic bungling by officials involved.
“How come the officials involved did not thoroughly check arrangements related to the gala? It must not be forgotten that there are allowances for staff that travel with the president. Another explanation could be related to the on-going succession manoeuvres; this could have been another way of embarrassing the president as a man who loves to travel for the sake of travelling, gobbling taxpayers’ money.
“Remember the wrong speech debacle! This could be something in the same mould. Lastly, this could just be President Mugabe being a globe trotter that he has always been. Critics of the President often accuse him of being fond of aeroplanes and would not miss any international gathering that allows him to fly.”
Jacob Mafume, the spokesperson for the Tendai Biti led People’s Democratic Party, says the problem is that everybody on those trips use them to get tax- free income through inflated allowances for presidential trips.
“That is where the real scandal is,” said Mafume. “They probably wanted to cancel the trip mid-way because they would have been given money for travelling. This starts right from the top.
“We have a president who clearly has exceeded the retirement age by almost three generations to assume that he is aware of what is happening around him is to stretch the imagination of the nation,” he added.