Friday, October 1, 1999 Published at 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Zimbabwe accused of 'economic colonialism'
As an uncertain ceasefire continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the authorities in Zimbabwe have been trumpeting a number of potentially lucrative deals with their Congolese counterparts.
The latest involves the allocation of more than half a million hectares of farming land to Zimbabwe's Agricultural and Rural Development Authority.
The chairman of the state-run agency, Dr Joseph Made, said the project, which will involve the production of crops such as maize and soya beans as well as livestock, would create "enormous business opportunities for Zimbabwean companies."
The announcement coincided with the arrival in Harare of the first trainload of copper concentrates from the DRC, as part of efforts to revive Zimbabwe's declining copper industry.
A few days earlier the government revealed that the armed forces had embarked on a joint business venture with the Congolese army to buy and sell diamonds and gold.
The government-controlled media repeatedly urges the private sector to follow the example of the state and take advantage of the apparent wealth of business opportunities in the D R Congo.
But the deals are unlikely to prove as beneficial to Zimbabwe as the government suggests. Both the land and the diamond ventures require initial funding of about $US 50 m, money which the Congolese and Zimbabwean authorities can ill-afford.
Moreover, the diamond marketing enterprise was set up specifically to maintain the estimated 11,000 Zimbabwean troops stationed in the Congo.
The Defence Minister put it bluntly: "The DRC is willing to contribute to the upkeep of our forces, but it does not have the necessary cash to do so.
"We saw this as a noble option. Instead of our army in the DRC burdening our Treasury for more resources which are not available, it is embarking on viable projects for the sake of generating the revenue itself."
Economic and political observers are highly sceptical.
John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe and fierce critic of the government said, " Zimbabwe seems intent on raiding the DRC and making it an economic colony."
Mr Makumbe, who heads the local branch of the anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, believes that any economic gains are unlikely to trickle down to the Zimbabwean people.
"It won't be Zimbabwe as a nation that benefits. Instead a number of individuals in the political elite will enrich themselves."
Zimbabwe's involvement in the war in the Congo is deeply unpopular, not least because the country is in the grip of its most serious economic crisis since independence in 1980.
The annual rate of inflation, at just under 70%, has led to a series of strikes as workers try to push up wages in line with prices.
Major hospitals throughout the country have been severely affected by industrial action led by junior doctors.
The increasingly outspoken chief whip, Moses Mvenge, has accused the government of getting its priorities wrong.
In an apparent reference to the fact that more than 1,200 Zimbabweans are dying each week as a result of AIDS, Mr Mvenge said, "It is sad to note that the death rate in Zimbabwe has gone to levels above those found in any war situation.
"The resource allocators do not seem to realise that the war back home is more serious than the war in the DRC."
But military observers in Harare say Zimbabwean troops are likely to remain in the DR Congo for many months.
The various parties to the ceasefire signed in July and August have repeatedly accused each other of violations, and the Joint Military Commission established by the peace accord has yet to meet.