THE Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF)’s deploymet of commandos and military intelligence servicemen to Equatorial Guinea to protect President Robert Mugabe’s counterpart Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (pictured) is proving controversial as the West African strongman comes under increasing scrutiny and pressure after appointing his son as vice-president in June.
Bernard Mpofu/Elias Mambo
Nguema has become more paranoid ever since he survived a foiled coup plot in 2004, and as domestic dissent over his repressive rule rises.
A failed coup d’état by Simon Mann and 69 mercenaries in 2004 led to a close friendship between Mugabe and Nguema although, ironically, the West African leader eventually forged a close relationship with the British mercenary.
Questions are being raised over the constitutionality and legality of the deployment which is shrouded in secrecy and controversy.
ZDF spokesperson Colonel Overson Mugwiri said there is a bilateral agreement between the two countries formalising the troop deployment.
“There is a bilateral agreement between the two countries,” he said.
Under Section 213 of the constitution, any troop deployment for maintaining law and order together with police, peacekeeping or protecting Zimbabwe’s interests abroad should pass through parliament.
“With the authority of the President, the Defence Forces may be deployed outside Zimbabwe — (a) on peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the United Nations Organisation or any other international or regional organisation of which Zimbabwe is a member; (b) to defend the territorial integrity of a foreign country; (c) in fulfilment of an international commitment; or (d) in defence of Zimbabwe’s national security or national interests,” stipulates the constitution.
“By a two-thirds majority of the total membership of parliament at a joint sitting of the Senate and the National Assembly, parliament may resolve that a deployment of the Defence Forces outside Zimbabwe should be rescinded.
“Where parliament has resolved that a deployment of the Defence Forces outside Zimbabwe should be rescinded, the president must take all practical steps to withdraw the Defence Forces, taking due account of the need to ensure the safety of Zimbabwean personnel and equipment.”
Asked by MDC-T MP Jessie Majome in parliament in March on why government had sent a contingent to Equatorial Guinea during last year’s African Cup of Nations soccer tournament, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi said: “With regards to the deployment in question, there was no situation of war in the country or threat of war and the purpose was not to engage in combat operation, but merely to ensure a safe and peaceful environment and safety for the African Cup of Nations tournament in support of and at the request of the host nation.”
“In light of the nature of business for which the Defence Forces were deployed, we did not consider it necessary for His Excellency to cause parliament to be informed because there was no military action, which would have involved direct loss of life to soldiers through military action, neither did it involve expenditure of fiscal resources, which parliament directly controls as all resources were provided by the host nation. Furthermore Mr Speaker, deployment or movement of troops within the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is a daily routine. For instance, we have troops moving to various friendly countries for purposes of military training and co-operation, diplomatic assignments, business trips and peace support operations. If we were to report all these to parliament, this would mean coming to parliament on a daily basis.”
Sources said besides the initial deployments, 100 men were deployed to Equatorial Guinea early this month after the same number of soldiers returned from service to bolster Nguema’s security.
But ZDF commander General Constantino Chiwenga in November last year said a contingent had been deployed to the oil-rich nation to train its military officers following an urgent request by Nguema, further hinting they could also be assigned any other task, something which raises eyebrows.
“The Equatorial Guinea had realised some training deficiencies on their defence forces, hence the request. In line with the ethics of our defence, I want you to remain professional and undertake this mission and any other additional tasks given to you,” Chiwenga said during a send-off ceremony.
“Internal events leading into 2016 include the holding of the national congress by the ruling party followed by general elections. It becomes critical that you exercise caution as you safeguard the lives of men and equipment of the Zimbabwe contingent.”
Military sources said there is an army aircraft which returns to Zimbabwe every mid-month with soldiers who would have spent a month in Equatorial Guinea.
“One hundred soldiers left this week when the administration plane arrived. It brought back the 100 people who spent the July-August month,” a source said.
“The other 100 who should go mid-October are already camped at the One Commando barracks.”
The Zimbabwean soldiers are understood to be paid a monthly allowance of US$300 under this controversial arrangement.
While some people question the legality of the deployment, constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku, however, said there was no constitutional breach as long as the forces were not deployed to engage in combat.
On March 7 2004, Mann and his gang of mercenaries were arrested in Zimbabwe when their Boeing 727 jet was seized by security forces during a stopover at Harare International Airport where they planned to pick up weapons worth £100 000. The men were charged with violating the country’s immigration, firearms and security laws and later convicted in Equatorial Guinea for plotting a coup d’état.
Mann was pardoned by Nguema after serving 15 months of a 34-year jail sentence at the end of his trial in the capital, Malabo. He had been extradited to Equatorial Guinea after serving a four-year sentence in Zimbabwe.
Despite trying to overthrow Nguema, Mann is now ironically his security advisor.