HARARE - The conspicuous absence of President Robert Mugabe is adding new uncertainty to Zimbabwe.
For almost 36 days, Mugabe has dropped off the radar of state-run domestic news media, which usually meticulously record official activities of senior leaders.
Mugabe was widely expected to return home last week from his annual vacation in the Far East.
The mystery of what is keeping him out of the spotlight at such a time has provoked growing speculation in a political atmosphere already rife with intrigue following the scandal that brought down several high-profile party officials earlier last month.
Mugabe’s absence became apparent when he abruptly cancelled attending the inauguration of neighbouring Mozambique’s new president Filipe Nyusi. He has also completely failed to respond to the growing crisis in Zanu PF.
Officials have declined to provide an explanation. Mugabe was supposed to have returned to work last week, but that date has come and gone — and he remains nowhere to be seen, adding fuel to an Internet firestorm running on rumours and gossip.
Despite the best efforts to brush aside discussion of the subject, unsubstantiated theories have proliferated online, with wild plot lines ranging from a health emergency to Mugabe’s fears to confront a suppurating challenge to the discredited 6th Zanu PF congress held in December last year.
Less fantastical are suggestions by some observers and media reports that Mugabe’s absence from the public eye is the result of a health problem.
Rather than deflate the speculation with an official explanation, the Zimbabwean authorities have so far remained silent. Mugabe’s spokesperson Goerge Charamba has dodged questions on the subject, or when exactly the president is expected back home.
Regardless of the cause of his absence, some analysts say the current frenzied speculation highlights the shortcomings of the Zimbabwean authorities’ stonewalling approach to the subject.
In most countries, people are entitled to know the whereabouts and health of their leaders, but in Zimbabwe this is still regarded as state secret and this has to change. Zanu PF’s leadership transition last year was marred by extraordinary twists and turns.
In December, Joice Mujuru, once considered to be among party royalty and a fast-rising star within the party and set to become Zimbabwe’s first woman president, was stripped of her leadership positions over spurious allegations. She and several of her allies have not been seen publicly since.
In the wake of the party’s 6th congress, more questions are now being asked about the transparency of Zanu PF politics since everything is in a black box.
Observers say the official silence could also signal last-minute negotiations among senior political figures before they present a facade of unity to the public.
The current generation of leaders has been particularly sensitive to maintaining a semblance of calm, but as we ask on our front page, where are you, Mr President? – Daily News.