ONCE again President Robert Mugabe is out of the country, having flown to a regular destination — the Far East — where he will attend a UN disaster risk reduction conference in Japan and another series of increasingly frequent medical check-ups in Singapore.

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By Stewart Chabwinja

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mugabe

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It is hardly a month since Mugabe, now something of an absentee president given the dire circumstances currently buffeting the economy, returned from Singapore where he secretly flew for a medical and “to pick up his wife” recovering from an operation.

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So already this year he has been on an extended vacation in Singapore from which he returned a week late in January (for which he apologised); left for the AU summit in Ethiopia a few days later; returned to Singapore for a medical in February; was in Zambia for the inauguration of President Edgar Lungu in early February; and travelled to South Africa late February for a Sadc meeting on Lesotho.

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Mugabe’s repeated absence from a country gasping for precious life in the clutches of an economic malaise has bred growing anxiety the country is drifting on autopilot for inordinate periods. The perception — and perception is everything — is that he is not expending sufficient time and effort into fixing the nation’s all-too-familiar challenges he is blamed for co-authoring.

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The source of the nation’s apprehension is easy to locate. Mugabe enjoys so much power as ruling Zanu PF leader and President that whenever he flies out, he takes with him most of those powers. No politburo or cabinet meetings, for instance, are held in his absence while he has made it abundantly clear his two vice-presidents “have no real big function except that they are my deputies. I can give them work to do”.

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In any case, after the ignominious sacking of former vice-president Joice Mujuru for allegedly plotting to oust him, the VP acting as President is likely to tread extra cautiously for fear of getting his fingers badly burnt.

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It hardly helps matters that upon his return Mugabe appears more alive to long-running party feuds at the expense of the ailing economy, frequently tearing into Mujuru and her allies.

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Even when at home, Mugabe’s motorcade is usually only seen on Tuesdays at his Munhumutapa offices where he chairs cabinet. It is a mystery where he works from on other days if not from his offices as expected.

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This has given rise to complaints of dereliction of duty. In addition to reported cancer treatment, Mugabe (91) has confirmed he has knee problems, often falls at home, and has eye problems in addition to advanced age.

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That, coupled with frequent shuttling overseas for treatment, has reinforced fitness-to-govern concerns — not helped by his disastrous economic record.

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In more vibrant democracies this would raise debate over possible impeachment, but Mugabe is safe as his party enjoys a two-thirds parliamentary majority, not to mention the overarching patronage network party bigwigs revel in.

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For sure, scrutiny of Mugabe’s fitness to rule is mounting with the rising frequency of costly trips abroad and absenteeism.