AFRICA is the new, if not last, frontier.
Editor’s Memo with Dumi Muleya
The visit to Harare this week by Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his Trade and Industry counterpart Denis Manturov, which led to the signing of a cumulative US$4,8 billion deal — the largest single investment project in Zimbabwe yet — is instructive.
Although the platinum deal is initially worth US$3 billion, it has a provision for a refinery, subject to ongoing discussions, which snowball the total investment to US$4,8 billion, practically half of the country’s GDP.
It is anticipated at its peak in 2024 the project will churn out 10 million tonnes of ore to produce 800 000 platinum ounces, pushing Zimbabwe’s output over one million ounces, and creating
8 000 jobs.
Zimbabwe’s military linked Pen East Investments has teamed up with Afromet, a consortium of three Russian partners which include Vi Holdings, state-owned defence conglomerate Rostec and Vneshekonombank (VEB), a public development bank, to form Great Dyke Investments which is developing the project.
Despite its historical role in helping African countries to defeat colonialism, Russia has been largely absent from the new scramble for Africa.
China, the EU and US have been battling it out to secure strategic investment opportunities and markets on the continent.
China has thus gained vast ground through shelling out billions mainly on infrastructure, resources and energy sectors, becoming influential on the new African economic landscape.
Despite that the EU and US are still entrenched in Africa, China is now leading.
Russia is lagging, although now individually and thorough Brics, it’s coming out of its shell to project itself via billions worth of investments in territories where it last ventured with the Kalashnikov, grenades, missiles, tanks and fighter jets.
That Russia played a critical role in Africa, including Zimbabwe which it helped gain Independence in 1980, is a matter of public record despite a petty foreign policy tack by President Robert Mugabe’s government which initially sought to frustrate Moscow due to its links with PF Zapu.
The irony, though, is that even if Russia helped liberate African countries, its legacy of authoritarian communist regimes and repression was devastating.
Of course, the West also supported dictators in Africa.
While Russia supported Zapu, China sponsored Zanu. In fact, the Eastern bloc as a whole helped African countries a lot.
George Silundika, a prominent nationalist and future minister in independent Zimbabwe, blazed the trail in 1961 when he visited Moscow to seek financial support and arms for the liberation movement.
Soon afterwards the Zapu leadership requested military training for its cadres. So in the summer of 1964 two groups of Zapu militants, who included Akim Ndlovu, Dumiso Dabengwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, went to train in Russia.
Military training then continued for many years, becoming increasingly sophisticated.
In 1977 the first group of Soviet officers arrived in Zapu camps in Angola and worked there for years. Within a year the Soviets had trained over 10 000 fighters and commanders.
This sort of intensive training of cadres, both in Africa and in the Soviet Union, as well as in other socialist countries, was decisive in the struggle.
However, this is no good reason for Zimbabwe to enter into opaque deals with Russia. Including on projects with China, there is need for transparency and accountability.
Dodgy deals might mortgage the country’s mineral wealth and rob future generations of their share.
So government must avoid deals that won’t benefit the country, but greedy foreign powers, corrupt politicians and their cronies.
Let’s hope these Chinese and Russian deals, whose details are not known by the public, won’t end up like the Marange diamond mess — a looting parade.