Harare: The United States has announced plans to increase its funding levels to Zimbabwe, particularly in the health sector — despite a diplomatic tiff between Washington and Harare.
This was revealed by the US ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry Thomas Jr at the close of the just ended Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), according to News24.com.
The Donald Trump administration was maintaining sanctions on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace, accusing the nonagenarian of rights violations and electoral fraud in previous polls.
However, Mugabe’s government argued that the West was targeting it for embarking on land reforms which resulted in the displacement of thousands of white commercial farmers and their employees in 2000.
Thomas said that Washington would maintain, and even increase, HIV funding levels in Zimbabwe, despite a change in administration.
“We are very heartened that our Congress just passed the budget within the last few days and our President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) funding is remaining constant. In fact it will likely grow to almost $150m next year,” said Thomas.
Trump took over from Barack Obama following elections in 2016.
“This means we are able to continue saving lives through PEPFAR as well as feed about 2.4 million people a day in Zimbabwe through other assistance programmes,” said Thomas.
Since 2006, PEPFAR has provided nearly $800m to Zimbabwe for HIV interventions.
Meanwhile, Mugabe is seeking advanced treatment in Singapore for eye problems caused by old age that can make it look as if he has dozed off in public, his spokesman told a state-owned newspaper.
The 93-year-old Mugabe is often caught on camera appearing to be dozing at public events, and his health in general is a hot topic before next year’s presidential election, which he is expected to contest. He left for Singapore on Monday, his second medical trip in about two months.
The pictures and videos of Mugabe apparently nodding off have gone viral on social media and opponents have mocked him as unfit for office. But Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, blamed the president’s eyes, and told the newspaper the Herald that local opticians suggested he should seek treatment abroad.
“At 93, there is something that happens to the eyes and the President cannot suffer bright lights. If you look at his poise, he looks down, avoids direct lighting,” Charamba said.
“It (the trip to Singapore) has to do with his eyes and often I have felt very, very pained. In fact, I feel like a failure when there is this reading that the President is sleeping in conferences — no.” Last week at a World Economic Forum Summit in South Africa, Mugabe sat slumped in his chair, wringing his hands, as he told a panel discussion in a low murmur that his country was not a “fragile state”.
Local private media reports say Mugabe has prostate cancer, which government officials deny.
Charamba compared Mugabe to Nelson Mandela, whose eyes were sensitive to flash photography after years of working in a limestone quarry when he was imprisoned on Robben Island.
“You were not allowed to even use flashes whenever he was in the room,” he said.
Mugabe, who has trouble walking unaided, is in Singapore on one of his regular medical trips.
Charamba said the president was receiving specialised treatment for his eyes and that his general health was good.
Mugabe’s foreign medical trips are often criticised in Zimbabwe, where health care has collapsed due to the country’s economic troubles.
Charamba said that Mugabe’s medical care is supervised in Harare by a “very, very, very black” Zimbabwean doctor — and that he only flies abroad for specialist attention.