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President Robert Mugabe, an assiduous globe-trotter over the 35 years he has ruled Zimbabwe, has this year hardly slept at home.
The 91-year-old leader has roamed the world, finding a convenient excuse in his ceremonial roles as African Union and SADC chairman.
The government is broke, but the treasury is forced to find millions of dollars to fund Mugabe’s foreign jaunts which now number 25 or so this year; and its only July.
He travels with a plane-load of officials and body guards, each drawing thousands of dollars in allowances.
Yet the government did not so much as raise an eyebrow when it was last week revealed that the national female soccer team failed to fly to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to fulfil an Olympic Games football qualifying match.
Zifa could not raise the money to send the team to West Africa and financial penalties are likely to follow.
At the same time the Mighty Warriors were being told they could not travel, Mugabe and his plane-load of ‘happy-for-the-allowances’ aides left for Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, the second time he has visited the country this year.
Equatorial Guinea is less than 3 hours away from Ivory Coast by plane.
Again, the senior men’s soccer team recently had to travel at the last minute possible by road to Malawi for an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
The Warriors have also been kicked out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers by FIFA over money owed to a former coach.
FIFA announced the sanction in March, giving the country an opportunity to pay in order to be re-instated. But no payment was made and Zimbabwe won’t take part in the qualifiers.
How much is owed to the Brazilian coach? About US$67,000.
Yet ten times that sum is likely to be donated by various parastatals and state bodies to celebrate the birthday of Mugabe’s wife Grace.
The opposition MDC-T said ignoring the problems affecting the sport most loved by Zimbabweans showed that Mugabe and his Zanu PF regime were “unpatriotic”.
Obert Gutu, the party’s spokesperson told NewZimbabwe.com that if Mugabe was a not a “selfish” leader, he could have reduced his entourage and accommodated the Mighty Warriors for their trip to Ivory Coast.
“Malabo is about 2 hours away from Abidjan by air,” said Gutu in an interview.
“Now the question is: Why didn’t Robert Mugabe travel with the Mighty Warriors football team delegation on his purposeless State-funded trip to Malabo.
“Surely, the chartered flight could have dropped off the Mighty Warriors football delegation in Abidjan instead of embarrassing the whole nation by failing to fulfil the football fixture in Ivory Coast?”
Gutu also condemned the Belarus trip by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who was recently on a five-day state visit to China.
“Emmerson Mnangagwa and a huge entourage of not less than 30 hangers-on embark on a fully State-funded trip to some obscure European country called Belarus to structure some “commercial deals” for the benefit of you- know-who,” said the MDC-T official.
Opposition parties have called on Mugabe to cut back on his travelling to save money as government is struggling for money in a failing economy.
They argue that there is little, if anything, to show by way of benefits to the country from the tens of millions spent on the trips.
But Mugabe’s aides insist that the travelling is necessary with presidential spokesman George Charamba quipping that “foreign policy is not cheap”.