By Xolisani Ncube
28th May 2017
President Robert Mugabe spent a staggering 77 days out of the country in the first five months of the year as his love for foreign travel continues to drain the cash-strapped government.
Mugabe arrived in the country on Friday after spending a week at the Mexican resort of Cancún where he attended a Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction conference.
The 93-year-old ruler left the country on May 19 with an entourage of at least 35 officials, including bodyguards and Cabinet ministers.
The Cancún conference was running for three days but Mugabe was at the resort for seven days.
Besides attending international summits where at times he turns out to be the only head of state, Mugabe has increased his medical trips to Singapore at the taxpayer’s expense.
He began 2017 in foreign lands after he left the country on December 21 for his annual holiday. He only returned to the country towards the end of January.
Mugabe has since flown out of the country 10 times, twice to Singapore for treatment and attended five conferences.
Since January 17 when he left his Dubai holiday base for China on official business while on leave, Mugabe has travelled an estimated 145 000km across the globe, visiting at least three continents in the process.
He has so far spent 250 hours in the air flying from Harare to various destinations that include Dubai, China, Mali, South Africa, Singapore and Mexico.
His holiday to Dubai, according to former Finance minister Tendai Biti, gobbled no less than $6 million.
During the vacation, Mugabe travelled to China, spending at least 14 hours in the air for the return trip.
The Chinese trip, according to government officials, was organised to push for the implementation of “mega-deals” signed between Harare and Beijing two years ago.
He, again, left his Dubai base for Singapore, for yet another medical check-up before flying to Mali for the 27th Africa-France Summit in Mali on January 17.
The veteran leader, who hardly sends representatives to any summit, returned to Harare on January 27 after flying for more than eight hours from Dubai.
He left Harare for Ethiopia on the same day for the Africa Union summit.
Mugabe returned home on January 31 after spending three days in Addis Ababa.
He did not travel outside the country the whole of February but was back in the air soon after his lavish 93rd birthday celebrations for a “routine eye check-up” in Singapore on March 1.
For the trip, Mugabe chartered an ultra-luxurious Boeing 767-200 Extended Range aircraft at a cost of $1 million as Air Zimbabwe planes were grounded.
He spent at least five days in Singapore and on his return, he spent less than 12 hours in Zimbabwe as he was on another flight to Ghana for the West African country’s Independence celebrations.
He returned home on March 8, having spent at least three days in Accra and 10 days later he was off to Swaziland for a Sadc summit.
On his return, he spent just 12 hours in Harare before heading to Mauritius for the African Economic Platform conference where he cut a lone figure with no other heads of state and governments in attendance.
Mugabe spent two days in Mauritius but there was nothing to show for his sojourn. The Zanu PF leader did not travel in April but on May 1 he flew out to South Africa for the World Economic Forum.
He returned home on May 5 and spent less than three days before heading back to Singapore for a medical check-up. He returned on May 13.
Six days later, Mugabe was shelling $3 million to charter a plane to Cancún. There are reports that he spent eight days in Singapore with his large entourage.
From January 1 to May 27, Mugabe has spent more days in foreign lands compared to the 69 days he has stayed in his troubled country.
According to Finance ministry statistics, in the first 10 months of 2016, Mugabe made at least 20 trips abroad, spending $36 million, up from $33 million he used the previous year.
The $20 million he has spent on foreign trips so far is more than the combined budget allocated to the Foreign Affairs ministry which has 47 foreign missions to look after, and that of the Sport ministry.
It is also more than the budget allocated to the Industry, Trade and Commerce ministry, which was given $17 million for 2017.
Former Education minister, David Coltart said Mugabe’s trips were a waste of resources as nothing tangible had come out of them.
“This is a waste of resources, to say the least,” he said.
“It is a shame that from all the trips President Mugabe has made, no investment deal has been struck or discussed. In most of the cases, the trips have to do with his health.”
He said the Zimbabwean leader must emulate United States President Donald Trump, who only made his first foreign trip last week following his inauguration on January 20.
“We have to deal with our attitude as a country; it’s not about the president alone, even his ministers, they must live and work for the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
Biti said the numerous foreign trips were now a cash cow for Mugabe’s aides who were getting “extortionate” per diems.
“It is a parasitic mindset. Mugabe must just stop it,” he charged.
“It is bleeding our purse. The idea of looting like there is no tomorrow is not workable. Soon there will be nothing to loot.”
However, Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo launched a spirited defence of Mugabe’s trips on Twitter after Zimbabweans took to social media to vent their anger.
“Cde, things aren’t always what they seem,” Moyo tweeted in response to a tweet by prominent lawyer Alex Magaisa who asked: “Why spend a week for a three-day event when he could have sent a minister? You would think Zimbabwe is awash with cash.”
Moyo added: “Pres Mugabe is a master at using multilateral events to benefit Zim interests.”
In response to a tweet by the respected Foreign Policy magazine claiming “on a trip Mugabe gave his entourage $1 000 to spend a day, Moyo said: “This is a clear fake news tweet from well-known Foreign Policy misfit engaging in mass deception to influence Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections.”