Zimbabwe’s political leaders may have taken the nation on a costly joyride by not telling the people who is really funding the country’s involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), thus almost bringing down the country to its knees, simply to protect their own personal interests as it is now increasingly becoming apparent that the country has not been footing the entire bill for its military involvement.
In fact, some of the political and military leaders and their close relatives are reported to be making millions but they have not come out openly, because while they are making money, soldiers sent to fight are dying “for nothing”.
Although The Insider was informed by a source more than a month ago that Zimbabwe was not footing the entire bill in the DRC, this was hard to swallow because the economic crisis that the country is presently facing has largely been blamed on its involvement in the DRC.
The government has been accused by market and financial analysts of engaging in a costly war when the country had no adequate foreign currency reserves. This led to a loss of confidence which saw the Zimbabwe dollar plunge from $18 to $37 to one US dollar since the DRC conflict in August as most people tried to convert their savings into hard currency.
Even the central bank has been unable to explain the run on the dollar which it now says is undervalued by up to 50 percent since all the economic fundamentals seem to be right.
President Mugabe, perhaps because of the party conference where he was likely to face a lot of fire from the public, has now admitted that the country is not fully funding the DRC war. He was quoted by The Sunday Mail on 6 December as saying that apart from regular wages and upkeep allowances the soldiers received in their barracks, there was no other budgetary obligation Zimbabwe had on the DRC war.
Perceptions therefore that the country’s involvement in the war was draining treasury of its slim coffers were uninformed. “The extras that the soldiers need, we have managed to get from friends. They do not come from our budget,” he was quoted as saying.
But according to one observer, it did not really matter who was funding the war. The lack of transparency about the funding had destroyed people’s confidence because they had been kept guessing. The market fed on perceptions. It did not matter whether these perceptions were based on facts or not.
Defence Minister Moven Mahachi has all along insisted that Zimbabwe is funding the war in the DRC. He said the country had been invited by the Congolese government to help them after being invaded by Ugandan and Rwandan forces and had not stopped to look at its coffers before helping a friend.
Even Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa at one time said the country’s involvement in the DRC was likely to increase the budget deficit for the 1997-98 financial year which ends this month. But in his 1999 budget statement, on the section of the Defence budget of $5.2 billion, he said: “Our intervention in the DRC has prevented a conflict situation which would have destabilised the region and at the same time would have led to loss of life particularly in Congo itself. We want to express our appreciation to those countries which now view our role in a positive way and are now prepared to provide financial support to our alliance.”
Following the fuel price increase riots, when the government had increased the price of fuel by 67 percent amid accusations that the government intended to use some of the proceeds to fund the DRC war when in fact the National Oil Company had run out of funds, Transport Minister Enos Chikowore said the two were not linked. He said Zimbabwean soldiers would have been paid the same amount they are getting now even if they had been in their barracks in the country. No one believed him. This was brushed off as mere politicking.
But according to a political analyst who has been watching the situation closely, if Zimbabwe had been funding the war on its own at US$1 million a day, the figure that has widely been touted by the media, the country “would have long been on its knees”. Some people argue it already is.
The analyst said the country’s leaders have been reluctant to tell the people that they are not fully funding the war because people would start asking who then is benefiting from the war. Even the International Monetary Fund, he said, was aware that Zimbabwe was not funding the war but it was not disbursing the outstanding balance of payments support funds because Zimbabwe was on the wrong side of the war.
According to the analyst even though Mugabe has partially admitted that Zimbabwe is not funding the entire DRC bill people are not likely to believe him, either. “Most people are not likely to believe that we are making economic gains by fighting in the DRC because at the end of the day we are still paying more than we are gaining because the gains we are making are going to individuals, whereas we are paying the soldiers, for the equipment and the fuel as a nation,” the analyst said.
“Secondly, the release of the IMF funds has been delayed. People will start asking that if we are really making economic gains and the IMF and World Bank know about it, and they believe it, they should release the next tranche. Yes, the IMF and World Bank know about it but they are unhappy that we are on the wrong side of the war.
“The IMF and the World Bank are essentially US institutions, period. So they will squeeze us out one way or another and one way is to allow the situation here to deteriorate until Mugabe is forced either to withdraw from the DRC or he is forced out of office. They are not stopping (releasing the funds) because of the implications of the war in the DRC on our economy but they are unhappy with Mugabe and they now want him out because he is essentially fighting US interests”.
The DRC war, dubbed Africa’s War because for the first time it is only African countries involved -Chad, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe- has also been dubbed an economic war because everyone seems to be eyeing a piece of this wealthy central African nation.
One of the countries reported to be aiding Zimbabwe and the Southern African Development Community alliance of Namibia and Angola is France and some believe that is why the latest ceasefire was “agreed” in Paris. France is also said to have sold military planes to Zimbabwe while Italy is said to have sold military hardware including army trucks.
Some observers claim that President Mugabe’s 16-day trip to Libya, Egypt, France, Italy and the UK was in fact a “pay back” trip particularly the visit to the two European countries, France and Italy.
Although President Mugabe was reported to have visited a military factory in Egypt, his visit to Italy and France were portrayed as visits meant to benefit the ordinary Zimbabwean. In France it was to seek tractors while in Italy it was for the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam.
According to the political analyst, the visit to France and the call for a ceasefire was a way of trying to bring the fighting forces together and a way for France to legitimise its use of an Anglophone country in the conflict. “But you must see it from the perspective that the United States which is always in rivalry situations with France was already in league with South Africa and (Yoweri) Museveni of Uganda so France was essentially stuck with anyone who was on the other side.”
South Africa is reported to have supplied Uganda with military hardware, which Museveni has even paraded. Some say this was a way of trying to intimidate the smaller Southern African neighbours.
According to The Monitor, a Ugandan newspaper, South African planes were seen at Kigali airport off-loading armoured cars. “Observers speculate that, as in the case of the US, the allegedly less than clandestine help to Rwanda by Nelson Mandela’s government is one reason no one is listening to the otherwise highly regarded African elder statesman,” the paper says.
According to the analyst who spoke to The Insider one interesting thing was that there was no signing of any documents in Paris. “The announcement of the ceasefire was largely to legitimise the relationship between Mugabe and French President Jacques Chirac even though it was a sterile agreement because again the rebels were excluded. This was largely at Mugabe’s insistence because he thinks that’s very macho, that’s very tough, because he refuses to recognise the rebels as a force with a grievance of their own and sees only Uganda and Rwanda as invading forces which is consistent with what France believes which is that it is South Africa and the US trying to oust (Laurent) Kabila because of the allocation of mining concessions. France wouldn’t like to see the DRC fall into the hands of the US because it’s one of its major rivals in the economic war. The DRC is a pot of gold.”
It is indeed a pot of gold, but at the moment, as the London Economist said, it may be individuals rather than nations that are benefiting. “Looting and pillage are a standard accompaniment to wars and Congo is a potential treasure trove,” the paper says. “But questions are beginning to be asked about the politicians and generals involved in the Congolese struggle. Are they genuinely striving in the interests of their respective countries? The main players in Congo are seen by many as greedy warlords, with ready-made armies at their disposal and a clear interest in enriching themselves. Continued war could be their best way of doing this.”
In Uganda one of the greatest beneficiaries is reported to be Museveni’s brother Major General Salim Saleh who is said to be in charge of the operations in Congo. In Zimbabwe, the nation is said to be benefiting. A joint venture company Congo Duka has even been formed. Congo Duka will be tasked with bulk procurement and distribution of commodities in Congo. The joint venture will be managed through the trade promotion body, Zimtrade, and the signing ceremony was witnessed by business representatives from the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce.
But according to the Wall Street Journal, so far a few individuals have been benefiting more than the nation. The paper names defence forces chief General Vitalis Zvinavashe, Zimbabwe Defence Industries, First Banking Corporation, Billy Rautenbach and Phillip Chiyangwa as some of the major beneficiaries. General Zvinavashe’s company, Zvinavashe Transport, which the paper says has 15 trucks, is said to have been awarded a lucrative transport contract to carry supplies from the Zimbabwe Defence Industries to the DRC. ZDI, itself was awarded a US$53 million contract to supply Congo with dried fish, maize meal, uniforms, boots, bullets and mortar bombs.
Even the general’s brother, Augustine, is said to be benefiting through his company Swift Investments, an import-export company, the paper says. Although the younger Zvinavashe is reported to have won US$10 million worth of export orders the deal fell through because of financing problems. But Augustine is reported to be sure that once the war is over, Zimbabwean companies would get the most lucrative deals and he is well positioned for this and is already looking for foreign investors and companies to rely on him to provide leverage.
“Right now we have the advantage over other companies,” he is quoted as saying. “My brother can call Kabila and say, ‘I want to see you’. That’s why we believe if we get outside business partners, we can make everyone happy. After all, if you go into Congo by yourself, who is going to defend you when you are there. At least I’ve got my big brother to defend me…..me and my friends.”
Billy Rautenbach who already runs a transborder haulage company is also reported to be one of the beneficiaries. He is reported to be one of the first Zimbabweans to have cut a deal in the DRC and is now reported to be the owner of the central group of copper and cobalt mines around Likasi which include the “super-profitable” Shituru cobalt processing plant.
According to Africa Confidential parties to the deal included DRC’s Minister of State for the Economy Pierre-Victor Mpoyo, Zimbabwe’s Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Billy Rautenbach and “someone representing the interests of President Robert Mugabe”. The confidential, however, said Rautenbach had denied any links with any Zimbabwean minister in his company.
Another major beneficiary is Philip Chiyangwa through his Native Africa Investments Group. Chiyangwa is quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying that one of the reasons why Zimbabwe was so keen to get into Congo was that it had missed other lucrative opportunities in the region.
Zimbabwe, for example, helped prop the Mozambican government for years, but when the war ended, it was South Africa, whose former government had been backing the rebels, which got the best business opportunities. “We only realised after Mozambique that for what we went to do in Congo, we should be paid. And the only fair way to be paid is in business,” Chiyangwa is quoted as saying.
But while those close to the political and military leadership are seeing business opportunities all over, parents and wives, whose sons or husbands, are dying in the war are beginning to ask whether it is worth sacrificing their beloved ones since they are not reaping the benefits.
And the average Zimbabwean continues to reel from the effects of the collapsing economy which President Mugabe now says is a result of two years of bad agricultural seasons and has nothing to do with the country’s involvement in the DRC, corruption in government or the mismanagement of the economy.
This must be hard to swallow even for the die-hard party cadre who is now worse off than he or she was in 1990. Worse still, there is no sign that things are going to change soon.