THE cash-strapped Zimbabwe government has splurged about US$50 million on 633 vehicles which include all-terrain troop-carrying trucks, water cannons, buses and equipment, mostly used by military and police, as it secretly bolsters its instruments of repression to combat any possible Arab spring-style uprising due to the explosive socio-economic situation in the country, it has emerged.
Owen Gagare/Elias Mambo
Senior government officials said this week in order to cover up the security vehicles which authorities are anxious to hide, the consignment in the bill of lading is described as cars for the “Ministry for Tourism and Hospitality activities, especially for promotion of domestic tourism, and supporting international tourism, disaster management, anti-poaching activities, peace missions and other related purposes”.
“The official and legal description of the consignment in the bill of lading for cover-up purposes is that they are cars for the Ministry of Tourism but the vehicles will be used for civilian, police and military purposes,” one senior government official told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday.
“The consignment consists of a wide range of multi-purpose vehicles, including security ones.”
The manufacturer of the vehicles Ashok Leyland Ltd — an Indian automobile manufacturing company based in Chennai — was awarded the contract for supply of 633 vehicles by Zimbabwe after it got a US$49,92 million from the Export-Import Bank of India. Under the contract, Ashok Leyland, besides supplying the vehicles, will also provide training to Zimbabwe’s technical staff in operation and maintenance of the vehicles, suggesting they are military automobiles.
The contract was financed by Exim Bank through its buyer’s credit under national export insurance account to the tune of US$49,92 million extended to Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. Sources say the vehicles were shipped from Mumbai on June 28 and arrived at the South African eastern seaboard port city of Durban on Tuesday this week.
Reports from India say a flag-off ceremony was held at the Mumbai Port Trust on June 28 on the occasion of shipment of vehicles and spare parts by Ashok Leyland to Zimbabwe via Durban.
The flag-off ceremony was attended by Exim Bank chairman and managing Director Yaduvendra Mathur, deputy managing director David Rasquinha and General Manager Harsha Bangari in the presence of officials from Ashok Leyland and authorities from the chipping company.
During the ceremony, Mathur reportedly said that Exim Bank’s buyer’s credit-national export insurance account programme is a unique financing mechanism that provides a safe mode of non-recourse financing option to Indian exporters and serves as an effective market entry tool to traditional as well as new markets in developing countries.
He said the programme is aimed at serving India’s national interest of export promotion and furthering the nation’s economic objectives.
Mathur said the current supply of vehicles to Harare will enhance the bilateral ties between India and Zimbabwe.
On its website, Ashok Leyland says it is second largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles in India, fourth largest manufacturer of buses in the world and the 16th largest manufacturer of trucks globally.
The company also manufactures defence vehicles, including a wide range of automobiles from rapid intervention vehicles, field artillery tractors, light recovery vehicles, water bowsers, truck fire fighters and fuel dispensers.
It says it has a turnover in excess of US$2,3 billion and a footprint that extends across 50 countries. Over 70 million passengers use its buses every day, while over 700 000 trucks keep the wheels of economies moving.
With the largest fleet of logistics vehicles deployed in the Indian army and significant partnerships with armed forces across the globe, the company says it “helps keep borders secure”.
Headquartered in Chennai, India, the company’s footprint spreads across the globe with eight plants, including one at Ras al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates. Joint venture partners include those with Nissan Motor Company in Japan for light commercial vehicles, John Deere in the United States for construction equipment, Continental AG in Germany for automotive infotronics and the Alteams Group for the manufacture of high-press die-casting extruded aluminum components for the automotive and telecommunications sectors.
Since the 2013 general elections, President Robert Mugabe’s government has been buying military hardware, apparently fearing at some point there might be an uprising due to the current economic meltdown, government officials say.
Tourism minister Walter Mzembi this week confirmed the purchase of the vehicles, but insisted they were for spearheading tourism recovery and growth. “The vehicles were bought to beef up the ministry’s fleet as well as to spearhead growth,” Mzembi said.
“Tourism is currently receiving two million visitors, generating annual revenue of US$1 billion while contributing 10% of the country’s gross domestic product.”
However, other government official says those vehicles were both for civilian and security purposes. “Government bought the vehicles through the Tourism ministry but they will be distributed to various ministries with the bulk of the vehicles going to police and the army,” one official said.
Government has been closely monitoring political flashpoints in the aftermath of disputed 2013 general elections, while bolstering its weaponry.
Sources say government has lately been buying equipment for the security sector which now plays a critical role in propping up Mugabe’s regime.
Arsenal bought so far includes includes anti-riot gear and equipment, trucks and armoured vehicles.
In December 2013, for instance, government brought hardware which included anti-riot gear and equipment, trucks and armoured vehicles worth millions of dollars, as first reported by the Independent then.
At a Zimbabwe Republic Police passout parade at Morris Depot in May, Mugabe commissioned 97 vehicles, among them, 20 buses, all-terrain troop-carrying trucks, water cannons and ordinary trucks. The vehicles have since been distributed countrywide. Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi said at the time the vehicles, which make large–scale deployment of police officers easier, would enhance police capacity.
Through its civilian and security structures, government has been trying to identify political hotspots and security threats as the economic situation worsens amid a wave of company closures and massive job losses, as well informalisation of the economy which has led to armies of vendors invading the streets in search of means of survival. There have been clashes between police and vendors in Harare as authorities battle to clear hawkers from the streets for aesthetic, health and political reasons.