Chiwenga’s Indonesia arms deal ahead of elections sends shivers


REVELATIONS Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, currently in Indonesia, will hold talks with an arms manufacturing company to buy military hardware for Zimbabwe have sent shivers down the spine of the main opposition forces, amid fears that weapons are being prioritised on the eve of general elections to crackdown on possible political unrest if the polls are rigged again.

MOSES MATENGA

Zimbabwe’s elections are always disputed and this often triggers social instability as happened during the 2018 polls when the army killed seven people in Harare on 1 August amid protests over delayed results.

Chiwenga, a former army general who swapped combat gear for civilian public office after the November 2017 military coup which toppled the late former president Robert Mugabe, remains influential in the military.

The army is Chiwenga’s leverage in his bid to force out President Emmerson Mnangagwa before the 2023 elections as they agreed before the coup he would serve one term.

However, Mnangagwa is digging in and pushing for re-election next year.

Chiwenga landed in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on 15 May on government business to attend a water conference set for 18 and 19 May.

Soon after his arrival in the Asian country, state media news agency Antara exposed a secret part of his itinerary, which included a “visit (to) the state-owned weaponry industry PT Pindad in Bandung to explore the possibility of arms purchase”.

On Tuesday, Chiwenga with his entourage visited Indonesian Vice-President Ma’ruf Amin.

“During the (Chiwenga’s) visit, his entourage consisted of many persons, and they had many bilateral interests (that were) conveyed to the Vice-President,” Indonesian vice-president’s spokesperson Masduki Baidlowi said at a Press conference the same day.

The Antara news agency later repeated the report that Chiwenga was set to visit PT Pindad in Bandung.

“Chiwenga will be offered weapons and arms to modernise the Zimbabwean military, as well as other heavy equipment to improve the Zimbabwean mining industry,” reported the news agency.

PT Pindad is an Indonesian state-owned arms manufacturing company specialising in military hardware. It was founded in 1808 as a military equipment workshop in Surabaya under the name of Artillerie Constructie Winkel. It expanded into a factory before moving to Bandung in 1923. The Dutch handed over the factory to the Indonesian government in 1950.

The company is now a major manufacturer of military equipment for internal use and export.

PT Pindad sells a host of lethal weapons, from sidearms to submachine guns, assault rifles, battle rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers and armoured vehicles.

In its stock it has a 40mm Silent Mortar, ME-105 105mm Howitzer, PK-1 field knife and a PL-1 throwing knife.

The planned purchase of weapons from Indonesia is out of the norm as Zimbabwe usually buys military hardware from Eastern Europe and China. Zimbabwe has in the past purchased weapons from Brazil and African countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Egypt.

Before the European arms embargo, it bought arms from Britain and other European countries.

Gift “Ostalos” Siziba, the Citizens’ Coalition for Change deputy spokesperson, told The NewsHawks the opposition party had been following the “worrying reports that Chiwenga is pursuing an arms deal in Indonesia”.

Zimbabwe was banned by the United States and European Union from buying military equipment from there due to human rights abuses, including the killing of civilians during peaceful demonstrations.

“It is worrying that the regime in Harare would want to buy arms as a priority for a country with so many urgent problems when it is not at war. We are not Somalia. We have relative stability, so the country doesn’t need arms as a top priority. The real challenge is the economic crisis due to a political situation flowing from lack of legitimacy for Mnangagwa’s leadership,” Siziba said.

He said Chiwenga’s bid to buy arms was actually a reflection of how the Mnangagwa administration is desperate to cling on to power after losing elections, which are usually hotly contested and disputed.

“So the arms purchase is worrying, but also revealing in relation to Mnangagwa’s power consolidation strategy. Mnangagwa encouraged students to become engineers to build bombs and guns to attack his enemies, which we know means the opposition,” Siziba said.

“So it’s clear that there is a deliberate closure of the democratic space in Zimbabwe and reversal of the gains of the liberation struggle as its core values included the sacrosanctity of universal suffrage, one man one vote; the right of Zimbabweans to decide leaders of their choice.”

The Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute, a military intelligence organisation, says Zimbabwe spent US$92 million between 2000 and 2006, and a total of US$647 million from 1980 to 2020 to acquire military hardware.

Zengeza legislator Job Sikhala said the money to buy arms could have been better used to buy essential healthcare supplies and fix social service delivery. “We need cancer machines, not arms of war. This demonstrates awkward priorities of the regime. We need equipment for hospitals, not investing in weapons war at the expense of utilities and infrastructure,” he said.

The NewsHawks

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