The mystery surrounding President Robert Mugabe’s whereabouts deepened yesterday, as it emerged he might not have travelled directly to India as announced by government, but had instead made his way to Singapore, which he frequents ostensibly for medical treatment.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA
Mugabe had reportedly left Zimbabwe for India on Monday evening to attend a low-key World Culture Festival, but questions began to emerge as he had left behind Culture minister Abednego Ncube, while the festival was only meant to start yesterday.
Investigations yesterday showed that instead of going to India, Mugabe had taken a direct flight to Singapore aboard an Air Zimbabwe UM1 Boeing 767-2 NDER, registration Z-WPF.
According to flightradar24, an aircraft tracking site, Flight UM1, which Mugabe and his entourage were believed to be on, departed Harare International Airport at 16:37hours and arrived in Singapore at 02:28am, although the purpose of his trip to the Southeast Asian country could not be ascertained.
Mugabe’s trip to India was shrouded in mystery as it emerged other countries had sent junior government ministers, MPs or their former Heads of State, meaning Mugabe was going to stick out like a sore thumb as the only serving African President to attend the function.
The other Presidents were from Sri Lanka and Nepal.
On Wednesday, the trip turned farcical after his Press secretary George Charamba announced Mugabe had cancelled his Indian engagement due to “substantial inadequacies in protocol and security arrangements around the event”.
But, Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who had said Mugabe was going to use the trip to further diplomatic engagements between Zimbabwe and the Asian sub-continent nation, yesterday insinuated that the President was not in India. “He is and was not in India, as much as you want him to be there,” he wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter in response to questions on where the President was.
Indian media had also reported that Mugabe cancelled his participation at the festival after his arrival in India, although this seemed unlikely.
The Zimbabwean government, on the other hand, maintained that Mugabe was due to be guest of honour at the function, although the World Culture Festival website made no mention of the Zimbabwean leader.
The bungling of the India trip becomes the second major gaffe by Mugabe, after he delivered a wrong speech at the State of the Nation Address last year.
Yesterday, opposition parties attacked Mugabe’s aides for failing to properly advise him and bringing embarrassment to Zimbabwe and the veteran leader.
Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) said the aborted trip to India had not only cost the nation a lot of money, but exposed the extent of confusion in government.
ZimPF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said: “Unfortunately, we are being led by confused people, who have no sense of direction as to where the nation is going, this trip exposes that confusion.”
The main opposition MDC-T also said the botched trip showed that the Foreign Affairs ministry was being manned by “incompetent people”.
People’s Democratic Party spokesperson Jacob Mafume said Treasury was struggling to pay civil servants salaries and carry out simple road maintenance, yet government had money to fund a huge entourage to attend a “street party” in India.
The Welshman Ncube-led MDC said the aborted trip came just two weeks after Mugabe’s birthday celebrations, which gobbled close to $1 million.
“Meanwhile, the country is being ravaged by drought and people are dying in their numbers in public hospitals due to shortages of drugs,” MDC spokesperson Kurauone Chihwayi said.
He challenged Mugabe to take “just one leaf” out of Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s book of “servant” leadership and “retain what little dignity he has left”.