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A commercialised army is dangerous for Zim

Zimbabwe Defence Forces Holdings (Pvt) Ltd. That is one name you are not likely to find at the Registrar of Companies. But that name is, in spirit and deed, there, if you understand the fact that our own army is fast turning into a commercial outfit, with all the hazards that come with it.

Corruption watch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI

A quick check through the Defence Act gives you no sign that the army must at any time be getting out of the barracks to scrounge for gold, platinum, methane and all sorts of other resources. Nor do you find that evidence in the constitution. But the Defence Forces — a reference to the elite clique of generals and connected politicians — has not been waiting for an enabling law to do that.

Just last week, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation board chair, Peter Chimboza, gave lawmakers a telling note when he appeared in Parliament for an oral hearing. That note largely went unnoticed, probably because it was just one of those things that people are getting to hear about quite frequently.

He revealed that the army had a 30% stake in Great Dyke Investment (GDI) through Old Stone, one of the military special purpose vehicles. GDI has been trying to mine platinum in Zimbabwe since 2008, with just about nothing to show for its efforts. Afromet, a Russian outfit, owned and still owns 50% of GDI, despite the indigenisation law that prohibited foreign entities from owning more than 49%.

And Sibusiso B Moyo, the current Foreign Affairs minister and ex-general who announced last year’s military-assisted takeover of government, signed for Old Stone together with Martin Rushwaya, the Defence ministry permanent secretary. You will get to hear more about Moyo, naturally. Wishing him a speedy recovery after being taken mysteriously ill a couple of months ago.

Recently, again, the army was outed through a High Court application. Rio-Zim had to go to the courts to stop the army from operating one of its mines in Mashonaland West province. The Defence ministry, so the court records show, first declared the area a cantonment before the army, using an entity called Rusunuguko Nkululeko, went in there with Falcon Resources, a vague venture directed by Pakistani and Dutch nationals, to do some bit of mining.

Some things are interesting about this. Sibusiso Busi Moyo, the man they call SB, is mentioned in the scheme of things. He is rumoured to be one of the key figures controlling Rusununguko. But then, Falcon Resources is a telling outfit too. The Pakistani and Dutch directors of the company are also rumoured to be ex-military officers. That means Rio-Zim property was invaded, so to speak, by a cross-border military consortium. The alleged take-over of the Rio-Zim project was done following the obviously calculated establishment of the Defence Economic Development Committee. That means the army now has a deliberate policy towards commercialising itself.

It doesn’t end there. There are numerous historical anecdotes speaking to the commercialisation of the Zimbabwean military. You will remember that in 2002, the UN produced a long and detailed account revealing the involvement of the Zimbabwean army in the murky exploitation of Congolese natural resources during the civil strife in the DRC. They used a sprawling company called Cosleg, which was involved in all manner of underhand activities, according to the UN report. Cosleg was heavily present in the extraction of diamonds, cobalt and other precious minerals, and also took a huge share of the logging and banking business as Kinshasa burned.

Again, SB was involved. He was, in fact, the Cosleg director general. That means SB headed a purported private company while employed by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, which was administered by the then Public Service Commission. They call it double dipping at the bar. And double dipping is a courteous term to say corruption. He wasn’t the only one in that sweltering cauldron, of course. Many top cats, both alive and late, serving and retired, were there too.

Then there is this company called China Africa Sunlight Energy. Several years after, like GDI, it is still trying to mine coal and methane gas in southern Zimbabwe. In 2013, the then Defence deputy minister during the Government of National Unity, Giles Mutsekwa, admitted that the army had a big share in that company, in collaboration with the Chinese. He might have drawn the comfort to say that because he belonged to the opposition and used his position to take a dig at Zanu PF.

But that is not the same thing as saying that he was doing idle politicking. The China Africa Sunlight Energy general manager is called Charles Mugari.
He is an ex-colonel. That is, if he truly left the army. If the army didn’t send Mugari to represent its interest in the joint venture, that must have been done by “Gabriel The Archangel”. Mutsekwa also claimed that the army was operating a diamond project in Chimanimani and nobody has ever stepped forward to refute that.

Numerous accusations have been made against the army over the years too, to say the it had high stakes in companies that mined diamonds in Marange. The army is strongly suspected of having had at least 40% in Anjin, which was a joint venture with Anhui, a Chinese firm. Anjin remains accused of having been one of the biggest looters of diamonds. And another leading diamond company during that time, Mbada Diamonds, seems to have enjoyed a pretty robust presence of army officers in its fold.

Zimbabwean laws in their current form don’t appear to outlaw the involvement of the army in commercial ventures. That is why no noise has been made about the Zimbabwe Defence Industries, despite its apparent involvement in shady deals in the past. At a lower level, the army has been running farms and canteen retail. But that doesn’t mean that its involvement in high-stake commerce is a good thing. In fact, it brings with it a whole gamut of dangers.

It is useful to highlight the basic characteristics of military commercialisation in Zimbabwe. Most of it happens behind a thick veil of secrecy. That means there is little transparency or accountability. Where there is opacity, anything can happen. Secondly, this commercialisation is highly elitist. It mostly involves top army management and politicians. Even then, it seems only a few big guys are in there. That means the rank and file are left out, and no evidence has been provided to prove that it is bringing institutional gain.

More worrying, there is a big possibility that, because the commercialisation is elitist, it is only benefiting a few individuals. This implies that those individuals are likely to be exploiting the resources, especially in the mining sector, to advance their own financial and political interests.
This is pretty like what we saw during the DRC war. Some of the generals came back to build elite schools because their purses had suddenly swollen through ill-gotten wealth.

This leads to a more dangerous turn. The sweltering presence of the military in high-value commerce presents a rich opportunity for the repetition of military involvement in deciding the country’s political leadership. In other words, it gives a present and highly chance of military-led coups in the future if not handled carefully. Money always seeks power and power seeks money. And since money would be easily obtainable from our natural resources, military individuals with political power would use their financial muscle to either capture the rulers or directly control who gets in and gets out.

That is ominous because the Zimbabwean military has already tasted the sweet taste of military involvement in power politics.

Last year, the military helped remove Robert Mugabe. Chances are high that they did it not because they wanted to rescue Zimbabwe from Mugabe’s despotism, but to reinforce their own political nests. It remains possible, therefore, that the army may be tempted to do the same thing in the future if it feels that its materialist interests are threatened by prevailing policies and actions at the top.

Let’s say government decides to reverse the involvement of the army in the mining sector tomorrow, some people are bound to get angry. They will remember how it was done on Mugabe and may attempt to do the same on the sitting president. After all, as Mutsekwa pointed out in 2013, an army with its own means of mining capital out of our natural resources can easily run a parallel government. If it’s not already happening, good for Zimbabwe.

There is always a big chance that crooked army generals with access to the natural resources will fan civil strife towards selfish ends. This is a familiar narrative in Africa, the Developing South and other parts of the world. The scheme is to cause conflict and pounce on minerals and other resources as the world looks elsewhere. With pockets lined through diamond, gold and platinum money, elite army teams can fund an internal war and use the opportunity to exploit resources on a large scale. That would then feed into the widespread laundering of money and illicit financial flows.

The quest for power mostly comes with a good measure of madness. And it’s worse where power is grown through ill-gotten money. At the end of the day, democracy will be the martyr. Because the greedy generals will want to protect their territory by any means, they are prepared to use violence against anyone threatening their interests.

This is bad news for the usual suspects like civil society, the opposition and human rights defenders. So, if no care is taken, there is a likelihood that money mongering military officers will not hesitate to use guns, baton sticks and torture to silence the vocal so that they may keep exploiting the resources.

And, by the way, military commercialisation is a big threat to Zanu PF stability. The ruling party, it seems, can’s do without factions. Money obtained from natural resources can easily be used to fund factionalism in Zanu PF. In other words, the military can play an active role in making the kings in the party. This can happen any time, but most probably towards the next elections in 2023. As it stands, it’s not clear if everyone in the party is happy with ED’s intention to stand for a second term then. In fact, there is good speculation that some people want their turn too. Where the aspirants have military sympathy and the army has access to high-value money through mining and other commercial ventures, nasty things can happen.

It doesn’t stick to say the army must get commercial because it needs the money as the economy is currently sick. Government must get the money somewhere and give it to the army.

Tawanda Majoni is the national co-ordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw.

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