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Africa

Mugabe drops out of cultural junket

media Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe government press secretary George Charamba has issued a press statement saying that President Robert Mugabe is returning from India, where he was slated to appear as a guest at the World Culture Festival in New Delhi. There appears to be some confusion as to why Mugabe pulled out of the event so suddenly.

Zimbabwean President Mugabe drops out of Indian cultural junket 11/03/2016 - by Laura Angela Bagnetto Listen

"The cancellation follows communication from organisers of the festival acknowledging substantial inadequacies in protocol and security arrangements around the event," according to a statement issued by Charamba.

Mugabe pulled out of the India event, run by guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living, because he would allegedly be the only head of state in attendance, according to press reports.

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee will not be attending the World Culture Festival, an event that has drawn the ire of enviornmentalists in India after a stage was build on the ecolologically fragile Yamuna floodplain.

Art of Living, the World Culture Festival organizers were contacted by RFI but have not confirmed protocol and security issues as of press time.

While state media reported Mugabe leaving on Monday for India for a "festival celebrating cultural diversity," the president reportedly did not bring his own Culture Minister Abednico Ncube.

"When many of us Zimbabweans heard that the president was leaving for India to attend a cultural festival, we were totally surprised," Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean lawyer living in the UK and  former adviser to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

"We didn’t think that the president would waste his time on this, especially given that Zimbabwe is facing so many challenges, including a serious drought," he adds.

Mugabe is known for his penchant for travel, and for taking a large entourage with him, where each person receives a per diem payment from the government for every day they are out of the country, says Magaisa.

"The amount that is used on such a trip is something that could have been used to assist people who are having serious challenges in the country at the moment. And what is worse is that it comes in the wake of the president admitting, just a few days ago, that the country lost $15 billion worth of diamonds," says Magaisa.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Moyo, Zimbabwe's Minister of Education, Science and Technology Development, has defended Mugabe's abrupt turn on social media, first lauding the president for going on Monday, then tweeting for the past 24 hours that Mugabe had never left the country. But Zimbabweans have pointed out that Mugabe left for India, as photos were posted in state media.

The abrupt change in Mugabe's plans comes at a time when his government is already under scrutiny by its citizens. 

"Zimbabweans are very angry," says Vince Masewe, a Harare-based independent economist.  After the missing diamond revelation, "the president comes on TV saying he’s a victim of the system which he’s created. It’s just ridiculous. As far as we’re concerned, he’s a liar," he adds.

Mugabe just celebrated his 92nd birthday in Masvingo, one of the hardest-hit areas due to the worst draught in decades, an event estimated to cost around $800,000.

 And while Mugabe is revered across Africa for his stand against western powers, the reality is that Zimbabwe is falling apart, says Magaisa.

"A lot of Africans have a lot of respect for President Mugabe for the stance that he takes, especially in world politics. What they never understand is that his policies at home have been hurting Zimbabweans," he says.

"Part of it is just the failure to manage the country’s economy—overspending, having a large, unaffordable government, corruption which just goes on, nobody is sanctioned," adds Magaisa.

Zimbabweans want President Mugabe to step down, says Masewe. "We can’t wait until 2018. Something has to give now. And I think the responsibility is falling on our political leadership, particularly on the opposition side".

Harare commemorated the one-year anniversary on Wednesday of the disappearance of human rights activist Itai Dzamara, who had called for Mugabe to step down. He has not been seen since.

"That’s the other side of the coin," says Musewe." There is apathy because of fear."

Mugabe is expected back in Harare within the next few days, says Charamba.

 
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