Zimbabwe's Mugabe Canceled His Ghana Trip and No One Knows Why

Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe at a rally, Harare, July 27. WILFRED KAJESE/AFP/Getty Images

International awards and positive recognition haven't been coming thick and fast for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of late.

The 92-year-old leader was therefore likely delighted when declared the winner of a Lifetime Africa Achievement Award by the Ghana-based Millennium Excellence Foundation, which says it celebrates the achievements of Africans who have "sacrificed their lives, toiled tirelessly and served the continent relentlessly."

But in an as-yet unexplained turn of events, Mugabe reportedly cancelled a four-day trip to the West African country during which he was due to collect his award and deliver a lecture at the Kempinski Hotel in the capital Accra on Saturday. A spokesperson for the foundation told Newsweek that Mugabe was no longer able to attend and that the lecture had been canceled, but said he was unable to disclose the reason why.

Mugabe has a fond affiliation with Ghana; he lived there for three years in the 1950s and met his first wife, Sally Hayfron, in the country. But the elderly leader has form for mysteriously withdrawing from foreign engagements—Mugabe's whereabouts were unknown for several days in March after he pulled out of a trip to India while en route, stopping instead in Singapore and then returning to Zimbabwe due to an unspecified security threat in the Indian capital New Delhi.

Zimbabwean and Ghanaian media have come up with several theories as to why Mugabe—who was due to be honored for his role in Zimbabwe's independence struggle that ended successfully in 1980, when he came to power—will not be in attendance.

1. Zimbabwe's internal problems

The southern African country has witnessed an unprecedented period of civil unrest in recent months, partially prompted by an online activism campaign sparked by Evan Mawarire, a pastor from Harare. Mawarire's #ThisFlag protest—that began with him sharing a video lamenting the state of Zimbabwe—has drummed up massive support online and translated to a stay-at-home protest that paralyzed many businesses in Harare in July.

Mugabe has condemned Mawarire—who has since fled to South Africa—as not a "true preacher of the Bible," but Zimbabwe remains tense, with anti-Mugabe protests breaking out sporadically. Ghana's Citi News cited sources at the Zimbabwean Embassy in Ghana, who claimed that the visit had been canceled due to "domestic political issues" in Mugabe's country.

2. Mugabe's ailing health

Mugabe is Africa's oldest leader and his health has long been the subject of speculation—fueled by instances such as the president reading the wrong speech at the opening of the Zimbabwean parliament in September 2015. Independent outlet New Zimbabwe reported that Mugabe required extensive medical support during the recent public holidays of Heroes' Day and Defense Forces' Day earlier in August, and suggested that ongoing ailments could be behind his decision to pull out of the Ghana trip.

3. Ghana's president is out-of-town

Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama was expected to confer Mugabe's award on the Zimbabwean leader, according to several outlets, including Ghana's 3News. The foundation was unable to confirm to Newsweek whether President Mahama would be attending, but the Ghanaian leader is now reported to be out of the capital over the weekend. Perhaps Mugabe expected a higher-profile reception.