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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
Mugabe's costly Congo venture
Robert Mugabe and Laurent Kabila
Mugabe and Kabila: Hoping to do business
By BBC News Online's Justin Pearce

Zimbabwe's expensive involvement in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues despite opposition at home, and no obvious strategic advantage.

A war which is increasingly unpopular with Zimbabweans has been cited as one of the reasons for the massive swing towards the opposition in June's election.

An estimated 11,000 Zimbabwean soldiers form the mainstay of support for President Laurent Kabila's government in his war against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.


It won't be Zimbabwe as a nation that benefits.

Political scientist John Makumbe

In the middle of Zimbabwe's worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, President Robert Mugabe's government is reported to be spending millions of dollars each month on the war.

Zimbabwe does not share a common boundary with the DR Congo, and is under no strategic threat from within the country.

Hope of rewards

Instead, there are signs that Harare is pouring money into the war with the hope of reaping longer-term financial rewards from its relationship with DR Congo.

A diamond dealer in rebel held territory
Diamonds are mined in rebel-held territory
Some observers have suggested that the main beneficiaries will be a group of people associated with the army and the government rather than the national economy.

In September, Zimbabwe announced joint business ventures with DR Congo including diamond and gold dealing, to add to the war chest of both countries.

"Instead of our army in the DRC burdening the treasury for more resources, which are not available, it embarks on viable projects for the sake of generating the necessary revenue," Defence Minister Moven Mahachi said.

The official Herald newspaper said two companies based in Zimbabwe and DR Congo would be granted licences to buy and sell diamonds and gold, and would set up offices manned by military officers.

Farmland

In October, Zimbabwe's state-run Agricultural and Rural Development Authority was awarded more than 500,000 hectares of farming land in DR Congo.
Congolese soldiers
Congo's army is supported by Zimbabwe
The chairman of the authority, Dr Joseph Made, said the land would be used for maize, soya beans and livestock, and would create "enormous business opportunities for Zimbabwean companies."

Reports that African grey parrots had been added to Zimbabwe's Congolese shopping-list have been officially denied - but the animal welfare organisation which accused the soldiers of smuggling the valuable parrots has not been allowed access to the air base where the birds were allegedly being landed.

Analysts have suggested that none of the deals is likely to prove as beneficial to Zimbabwe as the government suggests.

Both the land and the diamond ventures require initial funding of about $50m, money which the Congolese and Zimbabwean authorities can ill-afford.

Spending

Meanwhile, military spending continues to empty the public purse.

In October, London's Financial Times accused Zimbabwe of misleading the International Monetary Fund over its military spending, as it tried to meet conditions to obtain a $200m loan.

Zimbabwe had told the IMF its spending was $3m a month, but the Financial Times quoted an internal memo which said $166m had been spent on the conflict between January and June - more than $25m a month.

Zimbabwean Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa said the internal memo had been quoted out of context, and was intended merely to advise government ministers on the potential cost of the war.

The following month, Zimbabwe's independent Financial Gazette newspaper reported that Zimbabwe had lost $200m worth of military equipment since its troops entered DR Congo.

'Economic colony'

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."

See also:

20 Jan 00 | UK Politics
04 Oct 99 | Business
25 Nov 99 | Africa
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