China Deals: Zim's Silent Revolution

By Prince Tongogara


President Robert Mugabe’s visit to China will change the face of the dominant economic players in the country. For the first time in pre and post independent Zimbabwe the military will have a greater say in the running of the economy.

Since 2000 the military has played a growing and central role in the country’s politics. The most poignant point was in 2002 just before the presidential polls when the late General Vitalis Zvinavashe and the service chiefs issued a the ‘infamous’ strait-jacket statement that many political analysts interpreted as a death knell on opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s ambition to lead the country.

The military’s influence since then has grown rapidly as the nervous Mugabe, seeking to consolidate his authority started appointing former military personnel to state owned companies’ boards.

Mugabe also roped in the military to run the ‘Operation Maguta’ a programme that was intended to increase production among the newly resettled farmers through state subsidized inputs. The army was also called in to spearhead another project, Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle, that was set to provide basic accommodation to the 700 000 people whose homes were destroyed in the 2005 government commissioned Operation Murambatsvina.

It remains that while these operations largely failed in their intended objectives, they however became projects that captured Zanu PF’s votes in subsequent elections and helped it retain power despite opposition MDC surge in popularity.

Mugabe has not missed the fact that the failing economy has become his Achilles’ heel. And true to his trusted decision making in the recent past he has turned to the military to help him revive the economy.

President Mugabe skeptical of both white capital and emerging black bourgeoisie has made his mind to copy Chinese economic model built around state capitalism.

However, Mugabe has put his reliance on the military to deliver for the state and save his party from falling out of power.

The discovery of diamonds in Chiadzwa was the harbinger of military intervention in the economy as it entered into joint venture diamond mining operations with the Chinese. The military got the best concessions from the state and has been mining for the last five or so years. Some of the proceeds which were invested in tertiary education as the proven establishment of the National Defense College and preparations are underway to give it university status.

However, the military’s involvement was bolstered during Mugabe’s state visit China last month in which the defense forces owned company Oldstone Investments was the greatest beneficiary from the signed business deals. 

Oldstone in a joint venture operation with China Africa Sunlight Energy Company (CASECO) have promised to develop a $2 billion energy project in Gwayi and also engage in coal mining.

The deal will see the firm constructing a 600-megawatt thermal power station in Gwayi by 2017, produce 2, 4 million tonnes of underground coal per year; construct the Gwayi-Shangani Dam as well as construction of Gwayi-Insukamini Power Station transmission line.

Oldstone board is chaired by Defence Minister permanent secretary Martin Rushwaya and its general manager is Retired Colonel Charles Mugari.

Mugari has been quoted in the local media saying, “We intend to invest $2,1 billion in developing an underground coal mine and building a 2 100-megawatt plant by 2016 and already $10 million has been pledged that will go towards the construction of dam.”

He added, “I can confirm that Government granted us special mining rights for our coal mining project and the development is already due for gazetting.”

The project will create an estimated 4 500 jobs and help transform Gwayi into a town. The growing military presence in the economy will ultimately create our own military-industrial complexes like in China, Russia and the United States.

With this latest foray the military now has a presence in mining, energy, agriculture, arms, construction and education.

But, the big question now is how will the military made accountable to the state considering that, thus far revenues from diamond mining have been opaque.