China recently donated military and medical equipment to the Zambian defence forces to help improve operations of the country’s military hospitals. The donation was US$8 million. China's ambassador to Zambia Zhou Yuxiao says the equipment would be delivered in three phases over three years. 11 Chinese doctors are already working at defence hospitals "providing expertise".
This seems to be just a repeat of the deal we read about in May 2012, which is now being reported by the Times of Zambia as a "new deal". Last year Defence Minister Geoffrey Mwamba went to Beijing where he signed a "US$8m military aid agreement for the rehabilitation of the Ndola and Maina Soko Military hospitals".
Chinese aid to military hospitals sounds good in theory, until you begin to see a pattern of deeper China - Zambia military cooperation or colonisation, depending on your view of China.
In April 2012, the Government bought eight K-8P jets for Zambia Air Force (ZAF) from China. The ZAF Commander at the time Eric Chimese said the jets would "enhance the military wing’s ability to monitor the stability of the country". Additional orders were also made for helicopters and other police and military gear.
In May 2013 the Zambian Watchdog revealed that Government had borrowed US$20 million from China to resume "making bombs, bullets and gunpowder at a military location in Serenje district". It quoted Defence Deputy Minister Davis Mwila during his tour to Brazil who said that the government is "recapitalising Mupepetwe, an ammunition manufacturing facility located in Serenje District.’
Beijing's military foray into Zambia and other African countries continues unabated. None of this comes as a surprise because it’s well established that the relationship between economic help and military intervention is inseparable. It is illogical to expect nations that invest billions in other nations, not to back up that investment with some guarantee of security cooperation.
China's growing economic integration in Zambia is bound to be accompanied by greater military intervention as it seeks to guarantee its "investment". I have always said this is the most worrying aspect of China's reach in Zambia, and we ignore it our peril.
There was a very worrying story in June 2013 about illegal ivory, Chinese diplomats and rouge military officials. Tourism Minister Sylvia Masebo revealed on ZNBC that there was a diplomatic ring currently involved in exporting illegal ivory to China. Apparently these diplomats (believed to be Chinese) were intercepted at KK International in May 2013. When caught they pleaded "diplomatic immunity".
Some of the media sources suggested at the time that Zambia security officials discovered elephant tusks in two suitcases belong to a certain Army General on his way to China. He was allowed proceed to China but the ivory contraband was given to the Military Adviser to the Army Commander by the Chinese Military Attache to Zambia so that he delivers the items to an unknown recipient in China.
Both stories died quickly. No one knows what became of Masebo's revelations. But such stories heightens the need for greater scrutiny of Zambia-China military relationship. There is need for greater parliamentary scrutiny. Otherwise we may end up being colonised from within!
Chola Mukanga | Economist
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