ZIMBABWE’S former President, Robert Mugabe, in the August of 1998 sent about 11,000 troops, armoured vehicles and combat aircraft to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There was much discontent back home with one opposition Parliamentarian saying, “The government of Kabila is worth no single Zimbabwean fly or mosquito to die for.”
News24 reported that even within the ruling party, there was no consensus. People wanted to know what the country was benefitting from the DRC. What they did not realise was that the answer was right before their eyes.
Zimbabwe and the DRC’s armies had formed joint mining operations in the Congo, one of which was Sengamines operating in the Senga Senga and Mbuji Mayi rivers in Kasai.
In Katanga, Zimbabwe was into copper mining. Further, Zimbabwe was now paying for electricity from the DRC in Zimbabwean dollars.
Zimbabwe was facing an acute shortage of foreign currency which was a consequence of the Mugabe decision to deploy troops to the Congo.
The deployment’s heavy cost was more than $25 million per month and soon, Zimbabwe defaulted on its IMF loans.
The IMF reacted by blacklisting Zimbabwe and terminating its $193 million funding package to which Mugabe retorted, “The IMF should shut up its mouth. Yes, we have spent money in DRC, but we have not died because of that. We continue to be productive.”
According to IOL, Zimbabwe lost the air force’s Cassa 212 transport planes, Alouette-3 helicopter gunships, MiG fighter jets along with armoured personnel carriers and several Brazilian-manufactured Cascavel tanks containing heavy ammunition and radio communication systems.
These had to be replaced. It was a wrong turn. All the promises of potential economic benefits to Zimbabwe did not materialise as the country’s economy went on a tailspin. What had seemed to be unwarranted criticism by the University of Zimbabwe’s John Makumbe proved to be the truth.
He had said, “It won’t be Zimbabwe as a nation that benefits. Instead, a number of individuals in the political elite will enrich themselves.”
Ken Yamamoto, writing for The Zimbabwean Independent was motivated into investigating Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Congo after a tour of Harare’s leafy suburbs where military officials resided sparked his interest.
His account of the operation is probably one of the most extensive but the bottom line is Mugabe and his close lieutenants plundered two countries and lined up their pockets.
A UN Panel Report on the Congo revealed that companies controlled through secret contracts and off-shore private companies were being used as instruments of looting by some 30 businessmen, politicians, and military officers.
These 30 were the main beneficiaries of the arrangements. Robert Mugabe, true to his nature, dismissed the allegations in 2002 saying, “At no time was our motive anywhere near the malicious, puerile or even libellous allegations that have been made against us by our detractors. At no time did we…seek the plunder of that country’s resources or the unfair exploitation of a war situation to steal from a sister country.”
The effects of the war, coupled with the Western reaction to Mugabe’s fast-track land reform programme (which was no programme at all) led to the inevitable economic crash in the country.
Lines of credit were shut down and even today, the country is not out of the doldrums.