Zimbabwe: Military in U.S.$90 Million Murky Weapons Deals

President Emmerson Mnangagwa inspecting guard of honour (file photo).

Zimbabwe's military splurged vast amounts of money, exceeding US$90 million, on undeclared and opaque transactions to acquire new and refurbished armaments from 2000 to 2016 at a time the country was gripped by a debilitating economic crisis and political turmoil, Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.

New data from international security think-tanks provide a rare glimpse into the spending patterns of the powerful and influential military in a country where even legislators are clueless about how the army budget is structured.

According to the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (Sipri) -- a military intelligence think-tank -- the defence forces spent US$92 million between 2000 and 2006 and a total of US$647 million from the country's Independence in 1980 to date to acquire military hardware.

The Sipri report, titled Transfer of Major Weapons: Deals with Deliveries or Orders Made From 1995 to 2019, for the first-time sheds light on Harare's acquisition of arms from Asia and Eastern Europe at a time of economic collapse, while neglecting social service delivery and clocking up massive debt.

Fearing potential mass protests that could be triggered by the deteriorating economy, President Emmerson Mnangagwa's administration -- which came to power through a military coup in 2017 -- in June last year bought 50 000 mortar bombs and 58 500 grenades.

At that time, the Independent also revealed that government reinforced its arsenal through the acquisition of 3 343 AK47 assault rifles, 2 000 CZ pistols, 500 P1 pistols, 500 Steyr-223 rifles,500 Uzi submachine

guns, 500 Moseberg guns, 500 RPT guns,300 mortar tubes, 1 500 Tokarev guns,100 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 22 943 AK47 magazines.

Although Zimbabwe has spent heavily on boosting its arsenal, the country desperately needs a substantial financial bailout package to rescue the troubled economy.

In 2016, the country received 85 refurbished units of "large-calibre artillery" from neighbouring South Africa, the reports from the think-tanks shows.

While it is not standard practice for nations to disclose their armament acquisitions, Zimbabwe's huge military spending -- running into millions of US dollars in that period -- is being disclosed for the first time by arms dealers, mostly from Eastern Europe. China, which upgraded its bilateral relations with Zimbabwe to "strategic partnership and cooperation" status in 2018, also sold an array of weaponry to Harare.

During the period when the country was experiencing catastrophic economic turbulence, which saw Zimbabwe's inflation rising to 1 500% in 2008 before there was relative stability the following year on the back of a power-sharing agreement with the opposition parties, government spent huge amounts of money to fortify Harare's arsenal.

According to Sipri, Zimbabwe ordered 60 units of M43 (120mm) mortar in 1999 from Bulgaria and took delivery of the shipment in 2000 at a cost of US$1 million.

Notably, the report shows that the United States has not exported arms to Zimbabwe since the country's independence in 1980.

In that period, Zimbabwe's economy suffered unprecedented decline, triggered by chaotic land seizures, unbudgeted disbursement of millions of dollars in compensation to veterans of the country's liberation war and the costly foray into the Democratic Republic of Congo's civil war.

In 2000, gross domestic product shrunk to a new low, while inflation quickened to 55,22% before peaking at 598,75% in 2003.

According to Sipri, Zimbabwe, isolated by Western governments, paid US$55 million between 2004 and 2006 to China to bolster its military arsenal. It bought a range of fighter aircraft and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) in 2004 that included 10 units of Type 85 IFVs, five units of Type 89/ZSD 89 armoured personnel carriers and six K-8 Karakorum jet trainer aircraft. The purchases were made in 2004 at a time when the British government refused to sell crucial spare parts to Zimbabwe for the maintenance of Hawk fighter aircraft.

Zimbabwe had last received a shipment of military hardware from the United Kingdom (UK) in 1992 at a cost of US$22 million, Sipri reports.

It has also emerged that in 2000, Harare, battling to contain hyperinflationary pressures, bought six units of a self-propelled armament known as the Stalin Organ in military parlance -- technical specifications RM-70 (122mm) -- from Slovakia at a cost of US$1 million. A lot of this weaponry was deployed in the DRC to keep the beleaguered Laurent Kabila regime in power.

According to the report, the purchase of a fleet of six K-8 Karakorum jet trainer aircraft from China in 2006 cost Zimbabwe US$21 million.

Three years earlier, Harare had taken delivery of three Mig-230M aircraft for US$15 million from Libya during the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, who was later deposed.

According to Sipri, all the countries which sold arms to Zimbabwe declared the transactions, but Harare did not.Sipri also shows that Zimbabwe was active in the arms bazaars of Eastern Europe, where it bought a range of aircraft accessories from Ukraine in 2006. They included 12 units of AL-25 turbofan engines for the K-8 Karakorum aircraft. From 2001 to 2006, Harare shelled out US$17 million to Kiev for military hardware, Sipri reveals.

Before 2000, when Zimbabwe still enjoyed cordial relations with the West, the country purchased six SF.260 jet aircraft from Italy and 23 units of Almat APC (armoured personnel carriers) from France in 1998 and 1996 respectively at a cumulative cost of US$15 million.

In 2000, Harare took delivery of a fleet of six MI-24P combat helicopter gunships from Russia for US$22 million.Sipri's disclosures follow revelations by the Independent in January that Zimbabwe was on the verge of taking delivery of new fighter jets from Moscow in an arms-for-minerals deal.

Under the murky deal, Zimbabwe would parcel out to Russia vast mineral claims that include lucrative platinum mining rights in exchange for Mig fighter jets.

Zimbabwe and a Russian conglomerate, including state-owned arms manufacturer Rosetec, entered into a joint platinum mining venture in a deal worth US$3 billion. This deal is not part of US$647 million purchases.

In 2014, the Zimbabwe National Army entered into a contract, which is still running, with Boomslang Logistics for the refurbishment of EE9 armoured vehicles, known as Cascavels in military parlance.

Boomslang Logistics, headquartered in Dubai with a presence in Zimbabwe and South Africa, has, according to its website, also sold armaments to Somalia, Senegal and the DRC, among a long list of clients.

At the time of going to print, both Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri and Army spokersperson Overson Mugwisi had not responded to questions sent to them on the vast arsenal acquired, mostly from Eastern Europe between 2000 and 2016.

A separate 2018 report by the International Institute of Strategic Studies titled Military Balance lists Harare's armaments, including armoured vehicles, fighter jets, air-launched missiles and a paramilitary wing, three years after the military toppled the country's then long-time leader, the late Robert Mugabe.

The report casts uncertainty on the future role of the military in Zimbabwe's polity.The think-tank notes: "In an overnight operation, the army secured key operations in Harare and placed President Mugabe under house arrest.

"The future political role of the military was uncertain as of late November, though key officers were given ministerial positions. High inflation and economic problems continue to be potentially destabilising . . ."

Since Zimbabwe's Independence in 1980, the military has enjoyed significant budgetary support, even as the fragile economy plunged into catastrophic decline due to deep-seated corruption and mismanagement.

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