The Defence ministry, which runs the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and the Air Force, has since 1980 come second only to Education in budgetary allocations. Defence consumed in excess of 20% of almost every budget announced after Independence even when there was no threat to the country’s stability and tranquillity.
Finance minister Biti has commendably put an end to this nonsense in his budget.
Out of the bloated 36 ministries of the inclusive government, Health commendably got the largest chunk when it was allocated US$358 million, Education, Sport and Culture got US$313 million, Labour and Social Services US$147 million, Home Affairs US$104 million and Defence US$98 million.
That the Defence ministry came a distant fifth shows the commendable shift in government priorities.
In a research paper entitled The Zimbabwe Defence Industry, former University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Dr Norman Mlambo, claimed that the country’s high Defence expenditure between 1980-1995 was largely informed by regional and local factors.
Among some of the factors, he argued, were the activities of the Five Brigade against “dissidents” in Matabeleland.
“At the same time the Defence budget increased with the expansion of the ZNA whose infantry brigades increased from four in 1980 to six in 1990. This expansion of the ZNA was largely a response to external threats and especially to Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Mozambican war against the Mozambique National Resistance Movement (Renamo),” wrote Mlambo. “In the 1984-85 period Defence spending declined because there was a hope for decreased Renamo activity following the Nkomati Accord between Mozambique and South Africa. However, the expected peace did not materialise and Zimbabwe’s defence expenditure went up again from the 1985-86 period when the Zimbabwe Defence Forces started raiding Renamo bases inside Mozambique.”
Most of the increases in the Defence budget after 1990 were due mainly to the increases in inflation in Zimbabwe, which by 1995 had reached 22,6%. It was also worsened by the country’s DRC intervention in 1998.
There is no doubt that the country’s economic crisis was also a function of fiscal deficit worsened by excessive military outlays in the 1990s. The failure by the government to control its budget deficit in the same period can only be blamed on the state’s illogical stance not to lower expenditure in non-productive sectors like Defence.
The country’s military burden since 1990 has been higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, and indeed, exceeded the average of world regional groupings, except the Middle East and North Africa.
The country’s defence expenditure was influenced more by the external wars than internal conditions.
Zimbabwe is not under threat from any entity or organisation internally or externally, hence the defence budget should be lowered immensely. The country cannot be seen financing the repression and restriction of its citizens.
Over the years Zimbabweans have become victims of military brutality. Various military hardware was procured to wage what government termed a counter-insurgent operation against dissidents in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, which left over 20 000 civilians dead and thousands injured.
Only last year soldiers allegedly spearheaded an orgy of violence in mostly rural areas to secure the re-election of President Robert Mugabe who was staring defeat in the face at the hands of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
According to the MDC, the security agents killed at least 200 of its supporters and displaced over 10 000 families before the June 27 2008 presidential election run-off.
State security agents reportedly turned the country into a prison and citizens into convicts who were always too eager to escape.
That state resources were channelled to prop-up Zanu PF and Mugabe is scary and is reason enough to institute security reforms and curb Defence expenditure and channel more resources into the country’s productive sectors.
The murmurs in some government department corridors that Biti had extensively under-funded the Defence ministry should not be taken seriously. We are not at war and we are not under any military threat. Why should we spend huge sums of money on military hardware whilst the country’s productive sectors cry out for recapitalisation funds?
Biti should continue to tighten the Defence ministry’s budget in future. We should not go back where we came from where military might is rewarded. Zimbabweans deserve peace and social development.