HARARE – During his last days in power, deposed president Robert Mugabe earned himself mocking nicknames — frequent flyer and airborne-president, among many other unpleasant ones — because he was always on the next flight to attend a conference or make a State visit.
The 90-year-old-plus leader made so many visits — gobbling billions of hard-earned taxpayers’ money — so much that Zimbabweans lost count.
At his peak, the long-ruling Mugabe would make no less than four trips in a month.
This irked many long-suffering Zimbabweans, who did not see any national benefit or value in the trips, except them being nothing but jaunts and shopping escapades for his profligate wife, Grace, and bloated entourage.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s jet-setting has drawn comparisons with his predecessor who had a penchant for foreign travel, a predilection that cost his cash-strapped country millions.
And worried Zimbabweans fear a repeat — at a huge cost to the broke government — of the same by Mnangagwa. Since taking office four months ago, Mnangagwa, who increasingly seemed impatient to succeed Mugabe, has clocked 13 foreign trips, stirring an outbreak of mass ridicule.
There are, of course, the standard places one would expect — several visits to Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries in an attempt to cement his legitimacy and to the African Union (AU) headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for the heads of State and government summit.
He was also at the recent AU extraordinary summit in Rwanda to form a $3 trillion continental free-trade zone.
Besides those, the rest of the visits were to attend international fora such as the World Economic Forum annual meeting in the Swiss Alps resort of Davos and the African CEO Forum in Ivory Coast.
And now it’s his trip to China where he has met the Asian economic giant’s President Xi Jingping.
While Mnangagwa’s spokesperson has fiercely defended his trips, and the huge entourages saying “the size of a mission is not in terms of the size of the economy, but the size of the need”, Zimbabweans want to realise meaningful and tangible benefits from them.
Zimbabweans have fresh sad memories of Mugabe’s trips to China, where he also came back and claimed he had signed mega deals that would benefit the country. But to the nation’s disappointment, the deals never materialised until his ouster.
Without wasting more of the nation’s scarce resources on endless foreign trips, Mnangagwa’s trips ought to pay off.