President Robert Mugabe suffered a major body blow at the hands of Switzerland last week after the Swiss denied his wife Grace and four senior government officials visas to travel to the European country to attend an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) bi-annual conference.
Impeccable sources said the President, whom observers say is currently trying to make peace with the world through various overtures including toning down on his vitriol against the West, cancelled the trip at the eleventh hour in protest.
President Mugabe was due to travel to Geneva on Sunday through to Thursday with a 62-member delegation to the conference, which attracts information technology companies and policymakers.
The Swiss government refused to grant visas to the First Lady, ministers Simbarashe Mumbengegwi (Foreign Affairs) and Nicholas Goche (Transport and Infrastructural Development), Central Intelligence Organisation boss Happyton Bonyongwe and Presidential spokesperson and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity George Charamba, but later had a change of heart.
This, sources said, angered President Mugabe, who after the visas were finally granted on Friday,
refused to attend the conference citing violation of the United Nations host country agreement.
Charamba confirmed yesterday the five, who are on the sanctions lists, were denied visas by the Swiss embassy in South Africa, but given later.
He said the government had lodged a formal complaint with the UN, arguing this was in violation of terms of the UN host country agreement.
“We have since protested to the UN Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon), the head of the ITU (Hamadoun Toure) and Switzerland’s ambassador,” Charamba said.
“These are the same people who have been claiming that Switzerland is a neutral country which has breached the UN host country agreement that says any country hosting a UN agency is supposed to issue out visas to delegates from any country regardless of diplomatic relations between the countries.
“You have not heard the last of this matter. By shuffling delegates of another country, Switzerland is acting like a super government, it has no right to do this. We certainly have other ways of expressing our displeasure.”
Government sources told NewsDay on Monday that the refusal by the Swiss government to grant the visas angered Nigerians, Africans in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and ITU secretary-general Dr Toure from Mali, who also accused the Swiss of violating the UN host agreement.
“There was absolute uproar at the IPU from Africans led by the ITU secretary-general and Nigerians that Switzerland was violating terms of the UN host agreement,” said one top government official.
“The Swiss eventually said they would give visas, but it was only on Friday that the visas were granted, but by that time, (President) Mugabe had already made up his mind not to attend.”
The government official said President Mugabe was supposed to have been on a panel on Monday with Swiss President Micheline Clamy-Rey and Rwandese President Paul Kagame. Kagame was going to participate via video conferencing from Kigali.
“All the arrangements, including payments for rooms, hire of cars and services, had already been paid for by (President) Mugabe’s advance team,” said the government official.
“He was going with a 62-member delegation in a chartered Air Zimbabwe plane. In such cases, Air Zimbabwe would add its own crew of around 10, making it a contingent of around 70.”
President Mugabe was supposed to have been met at the airport in Geneva by Zimbabwean officials including Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube, who was already in Switzerland attending a separate conference on trade.