OPINION is sharply divided over President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s costly foreign trips at a time the country is mourning the death of more than 300 Cyclone Idai victims, this publication can report.
Following the tragedy about a fortnight ago, Mnangagwa declared the calamity a national disaster. He also dedicated two days of national mourning. It is, however, his decision to leave the country on Saturday for a day’s visit to Angola in the midst of the crisis that has divided the nation.
Barely a day after returning from Angola, Mnangagwa has left for South Africa today for yet another official visit. Former Finance minister Tendai Biti took to twitter on Saturday to accuse the president of taking advantage of the two days of morning to evade responsibility.
“So the usurper declares two days of mourning. Our people did not require mourning they required effective disaster management. They required schools to be closed and communities evacuated. This did not happen. Then the usurper has the indecency of running away during mourning. #Shame,” Biti wrote on Twitter.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme weighed in, opining that the 76 year-old Zanu PF leader had his priorities mixed up and that this could be misconstrued for lack of empathy and compassion for the victims of the tragedy.
“In times of tragedy good leaders stay with their people at home and lead mourning and rescue and recovery efforts from the front,” Saungweme said.“Look at how the Mozambique president (Filipe Nyusi) is doing. He is home and with the affected. Look at how New Zealand Prime Minister (Jacinda Arden) did after the shooting. Even today she is still with the victims and their families."
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said any leader faced with such an unprecedented disaster situation would cut on travel spending and channel resources to save lives and comfort those in dire straits.
Said Gwede: “With Cyclone Idai we have not only witnessed the weakness of government institutions, but serious moral questions are being asked of those in positions of power.”Government yesterday said any suggestion that Mnangagwa should have stayed at home to mourn with the nation was misplaced.
“When the president proclaimed the two days of mourning he did not suggest that the country should be on its toes, he simply meant that the national focus should be with the victims and their families, it is not about switching off Zimbabwe,’’ said the permanent secretary in the ministry of Information Nick Mangwana.
“All hospitals were functional, airports open and all people doing their business yet you expect the president to be not working. That is a simplistic way of looking at things, the country has to continue functioning and even the dead would want to see that so that relief and aid continue to go to those that are in need,” he said.
Macdonald Lewanika, a social commentator, said faced with competing national assignments; Mnangagwa had a difficult balancing act to perform. He said while the president could have gain more political capital by spending the two days commiserating with the bereaved, it was also critical for government business to continue even when the nation is mourning.
“We cannot and should not expect a president to be hands on each and every matter, and we cannot and should not expect everything to stop because we are bereaved. Life goes on, and it is a strategic leader who sees the need for his people to mourn and allows it through the period, but also accepts the reality that the world is not stopping and continues with the practical work of the presidency – after all what in real terms can he do besides console his people if he stays at home, at the risk of losing practical and tangible opportunities for those who remain alive from his regional peers?” Lewanika asked rhetorically.
Lawyer and opposition MDC-T politician Obert Gutu said the foreign trips were necessary for the country to avoid total isolation.
“He (Mnangagwa) is determined to maintain good and strong relations with fellow African countries within the region and beyond. I would say this is one of the more subtle effects of sanctions that have been imposed on Zimbabwe by the West. These sanctions make the Zanu PF government very vulnerable and also desperate to cling to regional solidarity in order to avoid total and complete international isolation,” Gutu said.
Mnangagwa’s situation has not been made any easier by the fact that he has had to cut short about three of his foreign trips after tragedy befell the nation in his wake.
In January for example, he abandoned his annual holiday after his deputy Constantino Chiwenga failed to contain a strike by junior doctors which had paralysed the health sector. The job action started well before he Mnangagwa left for his annual vacation.
In the same month, he was forced to cut short his trip to Davos via Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan after the army was deployed to crush protesters resulting in in the death of 16 unarmed civilians throughout the country.
Only recently Mnangagwa was again forced to cut short his trip to the United Arab Emirates to attend to the Cyclone Idai crisis.