‘Zimbabwe spending too much on defence and the military’

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The Zimbabwean government is spending too much on defence and the military at the expense of other development sectors such as education, says a senior official in the splinter Movement Democratic Change (MDC), lead by Professor Welshman Ncube. Earlier this month Zimbabwe opened its $98 million National Defence College.

Zimbabwe is currently being run by a joint administration, bringing together the three major political parties in the country – Ncube’s MDC, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T and President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

Tsvangirai has criticised African leaders for “investing in arms and the military”. David Coltart, Zimbabwe’s Education Minister, has castigated Zimbabwe’s excessive spending on the military and defence for a country that is not at war. He said Zimbabwe’s “defence has been allocated $35 million” in the first half of the current year while education has received only $5 million, about 6% of the money budgeted for education.
“We are spending so much on defence and only a pitiful amount on education. If we don’t address these issues then the education of an entire generation will be lost.”

However, the views of Tsvangirai and Coltart are in sharp contrast with those of Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF party has seconded army personnel to senior positions in state parastatals and other government organisations. Retired Major-General Mike Nyambuya was appointed to head the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board two weeks ago in the latest move to militarise key institutions. Key parastatals and strategic public institutions in which ex-military personnel are heavily involved include the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Grain Marketing Board, Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings, Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and Zimpapers.

Last month, Mugabe officially opened the National Defence College just outside Harare which was built with assistance from China, with whom Zimbabwe is said to enjoy stronger military ties. In his address, he said there was need to enhance the security systems and intelligence systems of Zimbabwe.

He said China and Pakistan would avail expert military training for Zimbabwean army personnel at the defence college. Those to be trained there include military personnel from the ranks of colonel and others ranked above the colonels.

The defence college, built on a total area of 40,000 square meters, was constructed at a cost of $98 million (loaned by China) and took two years to complete.

China is Zimbabwe’s leading arms supplier, providing at least $66 million worth of small arms during Zimbabwe’s involvement in the civil war in the DRC (1998-2002). Since 2004 China has sold to Zimbabwe 139 military vehicles and 24 combat aircraft. Last year it was reported that Zimbabwe had taken delivery of 20 000 AK-47 assault rifles from China, together with other military and civil security equipment.

However, Zimbabwe sometimes struggles to take delivery of weapons due to sanctions. In 2008 South Africa prevented delivery of six containers of small arms and equipment when they stopped the China Ocean Shipping Company’s vessel An Yue Jiang from unloading in Durban. The weapons on board were shipped by Poly Technologies Incorporated of China.

According to the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), a Belgian research hub, in August 2008, 53 tons of ammunition were allegedly flown from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Harare. The ammunition was flown by Enterprise World Airways, aboard a Boeing 707-3B4C aircraft registered as 9Q-CRM.

The first shipment on August 21 contained 32 tons of 7.62mmx54 cartridges. Two days later a second shipment arrived, containing 20 tons of 7.62mmx39 cartridges, which are used in AK-47s. The ammunition arrived in Zimbabwe four months after the arms shipment was turned away at Durban, only to be flown into the country later from Angola, the report claimed.

Despite denials from Luanda and Beijing, an employee of the state-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industry (ZDI) in Harare told IPIS that the shipment, which contained mortar bombs, rockets and ammunition, had arrived in the country.
“The most prominent supplier of arms to Zimbabwe has been China, which supplied more than one-third of the volume of Zimbabwe’s major weapons between 1980 and 2009,” the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has said.

The Institute said that China supplied 100 Dongfeng military vehicles to Zimbabwe via the Mozambican port of Beira in early 2005.

David Maynier, the Democratic Alliance’s defence spokesman said South Africa “should not be exporting conventional arms to a repressive regime such as Zimbabwe” after it emerged that South Africa had sold military equipment worth R2.2 million to Zimbabwe.
“The fact is there has been a de facto arms embargo on exporting conventional arms to Zimbabwe for nearly a decade,” he said.