Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. AFP/JEKESAI NJKIZANA
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. AFP/JEKESAI NJKIZANA

Harare — As Zimbabwe reels from surging inflation and the effects of a devastating cyclone, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is drawing the wrath of the nation’s long-suffering residents with frequent trips abroad.

Mnangagwa was in SA on Tuesday for a conference discussing regional support for the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a region of Morocco that wants independence. It’s the third time in the past week he’s travelled outside Zimbabwe, where flooding caused by Cyclone Idai has killed at least 179 people since March 16. He has hired a private jet for some of the trips, according to the Harare-based Standard newspaper.

Four months ago, his government unveiled a budget that set out plans to slash government spending to rein in a deficit that has  ballooned to 11.7% of GDP and an inflation rate that surged to 59.4% — the highest in a decade. The state needs funds to fix crumbling infrastructure such as power and water plants, and bridges that fell into disrepair under former president Robert Mugabe.

“While he’s up there in a jet that costs, what, $75,000 an hour, I’m down here carrying containers of water home in my rickety car fuelled by petrol that costs over $3 a litre on broken roads because nothing but noise comes out of the taps in my house,” said Fred Mabwe, a resident of Kuwadzana, a poor suburb in Harare. “I’m sure the water in his hired jet is just fine, but ours isn’t.”

‘Splashing cash’

His trips have become a target for criticism on social media, including from former ministers such as Jonathan Moyo, who is now in exile.

Since coming to power in November 2017, Mnangagwa has been on at least 30 foreign trips, according to the ZimLive news website. Calls to George Charamba, his spokesperson, did not connect when Bloomberg sought comment.

In February, Charamba said Mnangagwa was determined to ensure Zimbabwe re-engaged with the world after two decades of isolation under Mugabe’s autocratic rule. “Diplomacy doesn’t come cheap,” he was quoted as saying by the state-owned Herald newspaper in February.

Among the nations Mnangagwa has visited are Russia, the US, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The trips are “unacceptable” at a time when ordinary Zimbabweans are raising money to help victims of the cyclone, said David Coltart, a human-rights lawyer and opposition official based in Bulawayo.

Mnangagwa’s travel has also been panned by opposition legislator Tendai Biti, who asked in a March 17 Tweet how Mnangagwa could leave the country at a time when people were mourning victims of the cyclone.

“Who does that?” Biti, a former finance minister, said.