PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is expected to fly to Equatorial Guinea for an African Union meeting on Ebola by the weekend where he is reportedly expected to also tie up his family business ventures in the West African country.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
The meeting is a follow up to a United Nations-organised conference in New York last week on the disease that devastated some West African countries, affecting some 27 600 people, resulting in more than 11 000 deaths.
Of late, the oil-producing enclave has become one of Mugabe’s favourite destinations.
Mugabe (91) has been going through a punishing travel schedule, but early this week was forced to abort a trip to Ethiopia, having only arrived in the country on Sunday from New York.
Insiders said there was a lot of running around with those supposed to go with him making final preparations.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba could not be drawn into confirming the trip. “I do not talk about the President’s itinerary. I am sorry,” Charamba said yesterday.
But according to the sources, Mugabe will be accompanied by First Lady Grace Mugabe and other senior government officials.
They said the trip was essentially to conclude
multi-million-dollar contracts connected with the First Family’s Gushungo Holdings farming business trading as Alpha Omega Dairies.
Mugabe was last in Equatorial Guinea at the end of May after attending the inauguration of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at which he was ambushed and embarrassed by a group of persistent Sahara TV journalists.
So fond of the former Spanish colony is Mugabe that following the Nigeria debacle, he reportedly tried to force his aides to fly him out of Africa’s most populous nation during the night to the Equatorial Guinea capital, Malabo.
The Zimbabwean leader, in power since 1980, has become close buddies with Equatorial Guinea leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled the former Spanish colony with an iron fist for three and a half decades since overthrowing his uncle in 1979.
At the height of Zimbabwe’s fuel crisis in the early part of the last decade, Mugabe sought assistance from Nguema and their friendship has blossomed ever since.
Meanwhile, Mugabe is reportedly keeping national flag-carrier Air Zimbabwe afloat with his numerous trips “because he is paying cash every time he charters a plane”.
“In fact, Air Zimbabwe is using money paid by the President to honour its salary obligations to its employees. Without this, the situation would have been dire,” a source told NewsDay yesterday.
Air Zimbabwe spokesperson Shingai Dhliwayo declined to provide details.
“Transactions between ourselves and our customers are highly confidential. As a matter of policy, we do not disclose customer information to third parties,” Dhliwayo said in a terse email response.
In 2011, the airline’s jailed chief executive Peter Chikumba confirmed Mugabe paid up-front for all his travels.
“It is nonsensical for anybody to allege that the President doesn’t pay for his trips. If I were to show you the numbers, you will be shocked. Every trip that we have had with the President has been paid for,” Chikumba was quoted as saying, adding that the airline’s operations “were sometimes affected” when the President extended his VIP charters in foreign countries.
“We cannot do anything about it, neither can he because sometimes he goes to meetings out of the country which take long than the anticipated time,” Chikumba said then.
According to reports, Mugabe had as of May blown no less than $50 million on travel, attracting howls of disapproval from opposition parties in the process.