Robert Mugabe’s third trip to Singapore this year for medical treatment has prompted accusations that the 93-year old president is ruling Zimbabwe from a hospital bed.
Mugabe is reported to have flown to the city state on Friday, prompting the ruling Zanu-PF party to cancel a youth rally that he had been scheduled to attend that day, suggesting that his latest trip was unplanned. A minister told the Standard newspaper that it was a private visit.
Singapore “is literally his home now”, one opposition party spokesman told Zimbabwean media, while another said: “The country is stagnant today because the Zanu president is running the show from his hospital bed.”
Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, spent more than $50m (£39m) on foreign travel last year, more than double the amount allocated to upgrading the country’s hospitals and health centres, according to data from the Zimbabwean treasury. In the same year, $30m was allocated to parliament and $32m to the ministry of foreign affairs.
Mugabe’s previous visits to Singapore have been for routine medical checks and eye surgery, according to officials. Images that appear to show Mugabe dozing off in meetings actually depict him “resting his eyes” because they are too sensitive to bright lights, his spokesman has claimed.
His wife, Grace Mugabe, has said he should run “as a corpse” in the next election if he dies before he can contest it. She has volunteered to push him around in a wheelchair if necessary, while Mugabe himself says he wants to live to 100 and rule for life. Zanu-PF has endorsed him as their candidate for the 2018 elections.
Mugabe, celebrating his 93rd birthday in February with a 93kg (205lb) cake pondered in an hour-long speech the meaning of still being alive when so many of his contemporaries had gone. “Sometimes I hear a silent voice saying, ‘Each man, each woman, has a mission to fulfil in this world.’ I thank the Lord and say, ‘I accept the mission,’” he said.
When Mugabe took power in 1980, after Zimbabwe won independence from the British, Zimbabweans feted him as a heroic liberator, and Margaret Thatcher went from refusing to talk to him to drinking whisky with him in Downing Street.
Meanwhile, his predecessor Ian Smith, who once ran on a ticket for a “whiter, brighter Rhodesia,” remained trenchant in retirement, refusing to apologise for the 30,000 Zimbabweans killed during his tenure, saying: “The more we killed, the happier we were.”
Mugabe’s unpopularity reached fever pitch when he fast-tracked land reform in 2000 and seized white-owned farms, saying he was redressing land issues dating from colonial times, where white people in what was then Rhodesia took land from the people living there without paying any compensation.
Critics said the land was given to Mugabe loyalists who had little farming experience, leading to a shrinking economy and spiralling inflation.
Last week Zimbabwe donated $1m to the African Union, the proceeds of a cattle sale that included 300 heads from Mugabe’s own herd, intended to help end “donor dependency syndrome” in Africa.
Mugabe is not the only African head of state to be ailing. His counterpart in Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, has spent a third of the year receiving medical treatment for an unknown illness in London.