THE acquisition of a huge assortment of weapons and ammunition at a time the country’s economic crisis is deepening is reflective of government’s misplaced priorities, as well as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s seige mentality, analysts say.
By Kudzai Kuwaza
Government recently ordered weapons, which include 3 343 AK-47 rifles, 2 000 CZ pistols, 500 P1 pistols, 500 223 Steyrs, 500 UZI, 500 mossbergs, 500 riot guns, 300 mortar tubes, 500 MAG, 300 SSG sniper rifles, 300 dragunov, 100 RPG7, 1 500 Tokarev and 22 948 AK magazines.
Government also purchased 18 types of ammunition for the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s (ZRP) Support Unit. The ammunition was listed as “critical requirements” and was acquired amid growing fears that the country could plunge into chaos in light of the deteriorating economy.
Among the vast array of ammo ordered are an assortment of multi-purpose bullets, mortar bombs, grenades, cartridges and bores. Documents show that government acquired two million 7.62X39 millimetre (mm) ball, 50 000 (7.62×51mm ball), 20 000 (7.62×51mm tracer), 20 000 (9×19mm), 10 000 (7.62×25mm ball), 10 000 (.223 ammunition), 10 000 (12 bore), 5 000 (7.62×51mm blank) and 50 000 (37mm cartridge).
The list includes 5 000 (60mm mortar bombs), 50 000 tear smoke hand grenades, 5 000 illuminating grenades, 5 000 blank grenades, 2 000 hand colour grenades, 1 000 instant light grenades, 500 stun grenades and 1 000 (37mm aerial sonic).
The acquisition of weapons, comes amid threats by government to ruthlessly crush any protests at a time the country’s economic crisis continues to worsen. The crisis is characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, foreign currency shortage, prolonged power cuts, dilapidated infrastructure, and low productivity. Inflation is also on the rise, while salaries remain stagnant.
The country’s inflation is standing at 97,85%, which is the highest it has been since the introduction of the multi-currency regime a decade ago.
Analysts say instead of preparing for war with unarmed citizens, Mnangagwa should be seeking to break the political deadlock between him and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa; tackle corruption which has become interwoven in the country’s fabric and increase the pace in dealing with ease of doing business reforms, as well as address economic problems.
Critics say it is shocking that scarce foreign currency is being used to buy weapons at a time the country’s electricity imports have been drastically reduced due to failure by government to service its debts, paralysing industry ion the process. Zesa owes Eskom US$33 million and Mozambican power utility Hydro Electrica de Cahorra Bassa US$35 million which is a total of US$83 million.
South African power utility Eskom has cut power exports to Zimbabwe from 450 megawatts to just 50 megawatts. This has worsened the country’s power supply crisis already hard hit by the drought which has reduced the water levels at Kariba.
The resultant prolonged load-shedding has had a devastating impact on business.
Fast foods group Simbisa Brands, for example, has been forced to curtail its trading hours because of power cuts. Hotels in Victoria Falls — the country’s prime tourist destination — have been forced to fork out thousands of dollars for fuel to run its generators during 12-hour load-shedding periods.
The purchase of weapons will not resolve the intractable economic crisis, business consultant Simon Kayereka says.
“History is replete with examples of governments using force to quell demonstrations. No amount of force or weapons can bring recovery to our economy,” Kayereka said.
“What we need is genuine and meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders. Our problems are of our own making which includes policy inconsistency, lack of transparency and failure to consult.”
At a time government has invested in weapons, the health sector is in a parlous state with public hospitals failing to provide basic drugs to patients. Drugs are now priced in United States dollars amid re-dollarisation, a currency the majority of Zimbabweans have no access to as they earn in the local RTGS currency, which has been severely eroded by inflation.
Nurses at public health institutions have said that they are cutting their working hours to two days per week, pending action on their grievance by government, failure which they will embark on a strike.
Teachers have taken the same route of cutting their working week to just two days, a move which will paralyse the education sector. Civil servants have also demanded to meet government over the deteriorating standard of living which could result in a nationwide strike which will ground government despite having an array of weapons at its disposal.
The purchasing of weapons at a time there are serious challenges shows government’s skewed priorities, economist Prosper Chitambara says.
“I think the buying of weapons instead of funding service delivery points to misplaced priorities,” Chitambara said. “Government should put resources into key social and developmental sectors. People do not protest if the economy is doing well. Government needs to be in a position where it is more proactive than reactive.”
Despite the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe putting in place the interbank foreign currency market to facilitate the availability of forex, companies continue to struggle to get access to funding. This has resulted in companies either downscaling significantly or closing shop altogether.
The Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe said last week that the country is only left with one month’s supply of wheat as another consignment remains holed up at Beira Port in neighbouring Mozambique awaiting payment before it can be released. The country has started experiencing bread shortages.
The buying of weapons at a time the country is a facing a plethora of challenges signals a serious error of judgement by government according to analyst Dumisani Nkomo.
“Buying weapons at a time when the economy is so depressed is serious mismatch of priorities,” Nkomo said.
“Civil servants are underpaid, the country is facing prolonged power cuts and even the soldiers are underpaid. It is a serious imbalance of priorities. The country should be purchasing essentials not luxuries such as guns and grenades. Are we at war that we the general public do not know about?”