Globe-trotting President Robert Mugabe is leaving on a two-day trip to Equatorial Guinea amid planned anti-government opposition protests this week as economic conditions worsen back home and social tensions rise.
Mugabe, 92, will attend the IV Africa-Arab World Summit at the Sipopo Conference Center in Malabo that will be hosted by the nonagenarian’s key ally Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo — the longest serving world leader.
Cabinet, which usually sits on Tuesday, was forced to convene yesterday to accommodate his travel itinerary.
The presidential spokesman yesterday declined to speak on the trip.
“Handizvizivi, iwe unenge unoziva kudarika vari kuenda vacho (I know nothing, you seem to know more about the trip than those travelling there),” George Charamba, Mugabe’s spokesperson, told the Daily News by phone.
A senior Cabinet minister, however, said it would be “irresponsible” for Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, to miss summits that are important for Zimbabwe to secure “handsome investments.”
The iron-fisted Mbasogo has said the summit will discuss the enhancement of investment opportunities, cross-border infrastructure development, the role of transportation and logistics in promoting Africa-Arab trade and boosting investment between oil-rich Gulf States and investment-thirsty African states.
It will feature keynote speakers from the African Union, the Arab League, as well as Finance and Economy ministers from attending nations.
Critics have scoffed at Mugabe’s decision to carry on with the trip, saying it “shows the lack of interest in confronting the grave economic crisis and human rights situation in Zimbabwe
Mugabe was last week among 30 African heads of State and government that met in Marrakesh in Morocco for the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
This comes as Zimbabwe’s most prominent opposition parties have called for anti government demonstrations on Wednesday, boosting the likelihood of a new wave of protests amid a State crackdown and allegations of rights abuses.
Some residents said they feared a return of violence that plagued the country earlier this year.
This comes as another protest by pro-democracy civil society groups fizzled out last Friday after the alleged abduction of at least six anti-government activists ahead of the planned protest.
But now, with the country facing growing hardships due to an economic recession and biting liquidity crunch, as banks have run out of greenbacks and resulting in further cuts of amounts dispensed to customers, the opposition parties uniting under the banner of National Electoral Reform Agenda have said the time has come for the opposition to unite and take to the streets.
Western embassies have expressed concern about the ruthless quashing of demonstrations, escalation of hostilities and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.
They urged all parties to refrain from violence and intimidation and launch a criminal probe into the abduction of the activists.
Government has called Mugabe’s continuing trips a success, citing some pledged billions in Chinese aid and several promises of billions more in additional financing from multilateral financial institutions.
But the government has given few concrete details about the aid, and analysts have said it is unlikely to change the underlying troubles. Many economists have expressed worry that Zimbabwe is increasingly defaulting on its foreign debt, precluding it from financial aid.
Mugabe’s administration insists the country’s problems stem from a so-called “economic war” waged by his enemies seeking to destabilise the government and that Zimbabwe is a victim of vilification backed by the United States and the European Union.
But the opposition laughs off the veteran politician’s defence, saying the president is looking to deflect responsibility for economic mismanagement