Mugabe fiddles while Rome burns US trip branded extravagant, insensitive

While Mugabe enjoys a trip to the US with a 40-strong entourage, Tsvangirai is touring Zimbabwe to begin to get to grips with the chronic problems facing the country.

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe is drawing heavy flak for continuing his junket in the United States instead of heading home to help his people.

The MDC economic affairs chief, Eddie Cross, said the President was being insensitive to the widespread economic damage wrought by his disastrous misrule by choosing to stay abroad while ordinary folk scrambled to pick up the pieces.

Oblivious to the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe and the escalating economic and social crisis, Mugabe simply packed his bags and departed for the UN General Assembly in New York with an entourage of 40 plus his wife and taking with them a pile of US dollars to spend on 10 days of luxury and completely unproductive personal extravagance, Cross said.

Mugabe flew out without swearing in Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai, and also leaving a stand-off over cabinet posts.

Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Harare James McGee applauded Tsvangirai’s decision not to travel to New York, instead travelling around Zimbabwe to see what humanitarian aid was needed and to look at the food insecurity problems.

He is busy talking with the non-governmental organisations and the donor community about what steps needed to be taken in providing food for the people of Zimbabwe. He says that this is his first priority, said McGee.

The September 18 meeting between Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, to discuss how the posts would be shared, ended in failure.

The dispute that has stalled progress is over the portfolio balance in the 31-seat cabinet, where Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) will have 15 posts, Tsvangirai’s MDC will have 13 and Mutambara’s MDC three.

The all-day meeting saw the leaders sharply divided, with Mugabe declaring that he was not in a position to cede control of finance, defence, home affairs, information, industry, local government and foreign affairs ministries.

Secretary-General of the Arthur Mutambara-led MDC, Prof. Welshman Ncube, said Mugabe and his delegation should have immediately returned in view of the desperate economic situation in the country.

Certainly, if I was in Mugabe’s position, I would not be going off to the UN when there is a priority of getting the country on its feet again, Ncube said.

He said the obstacles remained formidable, with Mugabe branding the deal a humiliation, adding: We are still in a dominant position, which will enable us to gather more strength as we move into the future. We remain in the driving seat.

In the streets of Harare, there was outrage at Mugabe’s contempt for the political settlement by flying to New York.

We need him more here, charged Mrs Mutepfa of Hatfield. He is supposed to be the father of this country. He should prioritise the well-being of his country. How can he go away while everyone is waiting for him to play his part in resolving this crisis, she said.

Ignatius Maramwidze, a security guard in downtown Harare, said Mugabe should have been sensitive to the unprecedented surge in prices of fuel and food that had been burdening the public.

Youth activist Michael Tirivavi said the working visit to the United States was too extravagant and outrageous.

In a time of severe economic crisis and calamity, government must take the lead in practising austerity, he said. What we are seeing with the Mugabe administration is the exact opposite. Firstly, going to New York amid such a process is clear expression of contempt for this power-sharing agreement. Secondly, having 40 people on a foreign trip doesn’t do the country any good.

But officials continued to defend the trip of the President and his delegation and said the UN would play a key role in Zimbabwe’s reconstruction.

A senior Zanu (PF) official said it would be embarrassing if Mugabe canceled the trip that had been scheduled as early as several months back.

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