HARARE – As if determined to live up to his new nicknames “Absentee President” and “Visiting Leader”, President Robert Mugabe is expected to travel to Algeria today — a trip that comes soon after his visits to Singapore, Japan and Namibia last week alone.

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mugabeThe nicknames have come amid accusations by Mugabe’s critics that he is spending more time in the skies and outside the country than he is doing running the country in his office back home, at a time that Zimbabwe is experiencing a deepening political and economic crisis — with millions of its people living in abject poverty and facing starvation due to a combination of poor policies and erratic rains.

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At the same time, Mugabe himself bizarrely said yesterday that he was working too hard, having slept only two hours on Saturday night — raising questions as to why the nonagenarian is burning air miles to the extent that he is doing.

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His trip to Algeria today will mean that Mugabe will have flown more than 50 hours, and tens of thousands of kilometres, by the time he comes back home later this week — amid talk that he is scheduled to go on the road again then, on African Union business.

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The 50 hours on the plane also mean the president will have spent more time flying than he has spent in Zimbabwe since he embarked on his trip to Singapore and Japan, where he controversially included his daughter Bona as part of his official entourage.

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Mugabe was in Japan for the United Nations 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, and went to Namibia on Friday for the inauguration of that country’s third president since its independence in 1990, Hage Geingob.

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Presidential spokesperson George Charamba confirmed yesterday that Mugabe would be taking off for Algeria today, on a State visit to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries and to look into the security problems in that region, in his capacity as AU chairperson.

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“Yes he will be going to Algeria tomorrow (today) for a State visit, to talk about our bilateral relations. These include issues of politics and economy. This is a Muslim region facing security problems as a result of terrorism.

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“Apart from that, Algeria has offered many scholarships to Zimbabweans. There are many Zimbabwean students there on scholarships,” Charamba said.

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However, Mugabe’s critics and political opponents say he is too old, frail and clueless about solving Zimbabwe’s escalating problems, exhorting him to stay at home and concentrate on fixing the country’s myriad challenges.

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So tense is the climate in Zimbabwe currently, that armed police were once again in large numbers on the streets of Harare yesterday, apparently under instruction from panicking authorities who fear that major public disturbances may be in the offing countrywide.

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The opposition also accuses Mugabe, who only returned home from a two-month long sojourn in the Far East on January 21 this year, of not caring enough for the country’s suffering citizens.

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They say it is immoral that he should be globe-trotting at great expense to the fiscus at a time when the country is facing many serious challenges, including a comatose economy.

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Among recent problems, and in addition to the country’s plummeting economic fortunes, inmates at Chikurubi Maximum Prison rioted over poor diet, leaving five people dead — while lecturers at State universities have downed their tools, culminating in mass demonstrations by students.

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MDC youths have also demonstrated over the yet-to-be-solved abduction of political activist Itai Dzamara, while the chaos in Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party, spawned by his failure to deal with intra-party issues related to rampant factionalism and his succession, is escalating — amid fears by analysts that this could trigger unprecedented anarchy in the country.

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Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC has described the president’s numerous foreign trips as “selfish and insensitive,” calling on the long-ruling leader to retire as a matter of urgency.

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“We ask God as Zimbabweans what sins we have committed to deserve such a selfish and insensitive leader for these long years. It is not morally right for Mugabe to be hopping from one aeroplane onto another at huge State expense,” party spokesperson Obert Gutu said.

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He said while millions of Zimbabweans could not afford one decent meal a day, “we have a ruler who wants to lead life on the fast lane at the taxpayers’ expense”.

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“I am sure he has clocked more flying hours than the average commercial pilot at any airline in the world.

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“Here is a man who is completely oblivious of the fact that the national economy is in shambles and that more than 90 percent of the people that he is supposed to be leading are wallowing in abject poverty and destitution,” Gutu said.

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Renewal team spokesperson, Jacob Mafume, said the president’s frequent trips were not only immoral but a gross dereliction of duty.

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“He seems determined to engage in presidential tourism, taking his children to places where they have never been. It is as if he is saying goodbye to all the places he has ever known at the expense of the ever-suffering Zimbabwean population.

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“If we had known that when he campaigned to be president all he wanted was to travel … we could have put it in his retirement package,” Mafume said.

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Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa said Mugabe’s resignation was long overdue.

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“Our view has not changed. Just before the 2013 election, we said the man is old. He has overstayed his time in office and he should go and rest. He is no longer rational.

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“I don’t think he is able to balance issues that really are important for the nation. The bottom line is the issue of age. God has given him enough time and he should be thankful,” Dabengwa said.

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Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said there was nothing wrong for a 91-year-old to be globe-trotting, as long as such trips were not funded by the State.

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“But given that the government is broke and the economy is on its knees, there is no plausible justification that can be given for such trips whether morally,” he said.

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Hubert Humphrey fellow at the University of Minnesota, Gladys Hlatshwayo, said one would expect the president to focus on pressing issues at this difficult time in the country.

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“Just recently, we had shocking statistics of children dropping out of school among other pressing issues. Sadly, our president is always on the plane.

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“One would have expected the president to have more focus on domestic matters as these trips also cost us huge sums of money, in light of his usually large entourage.

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“I also think that by having such a hectic schedule, he is not doing himself a favour health-wise, given his advanced age,” she said.