Chinese-funded military university opened by Mugabe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has opened the country’s first military university, built with a US$98 million Chinese loan secured by mortgaging diamonds. The National Defence College in Harare will become a fully fledged university in 2015.

Mugabe said enrolment had already started at the college, open only to servicemen from the rank of colonel or group captain and above. Construction of the college started in 2010 and was completed earlier than the scheduled 2013.

The institution will also act as a think-tank providing research into military, defence and national security matters for the National Security Council, the Ministry of Defence and other government departments.

Mugabe, an autocrat who has been in power for 32 years, said the institution would be vital to thwart what he termed a Western-sponsored regime change agenda.

The paranoid president added that enrolments would also be by invitation to people from “friendly” countries in regional groups such as the Southern African Development Community, as well as selected senior managers from Zimbabwe’s state firms.

“The theme that preoccupies any national defence college is that of national security aptly defined as ‘defence against challenges to a nation’s vital interests’. In this regard, both military and civilian officials share the platform availed by the National Defence College to study national security,” Mugabe said.

In keeping with international standards and norms, he continued, the institution had sought international cooperating partners in Pakistan and China and the search for further partners was continuing.

As previously reported in University World News, the Chinese loan deal has a repayment grace period of seven years, with interest of 2% per annum and the loan requiring repayment over 13 years, with payments made twice a year.

In addition, the agreement states if there is any change to laws or policies in Zimbabwe that makes it difficult for either party to perform its obligations, China can declare all sums payable to be due immediately.

Proceeds from diamond sales from the country's controversial Chiadzwa fields, where human rights groups have accused the security forces of looting and atrocities, would be used for loan repayments.

Anjin, a joint venture between the Zimbabwean and Chinese military, is mining diamonds to facilitate the repayments.

However, hard-pressed citizens feel that the military institution is not a priority in a country where even soldiers suffer food shortages at barracks.

This year alone, the country is facing a US$400 million budget deficit, and Finance Minister Tendai Biti – representing the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – has approached South Africa and Angola with a begging bowl.

Biti said the budget deficit was in part due to failure by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF controlled Ministry of Mines to ensure transparency in the accounting of diamond revenues, with Anjin failing to remit the bulk of the money due to the state.

The secrecy shrouding diamond revenues and the failure to remit the proceeds to treasury prevented the finance ministry from rolling out a grant scheme for higher education students, which was promised in the budget and was to be funded by diamond revenues.

Worse still, election-weary locals fear that with the impending polls, Mugabe – as he has done previously – will unleash the military on people to coerce them to vote for him. The damage wreaked could be even greater than before, if the efficiency of the military improves through advanced training.

Those fears were expressed by Elias Mudzuri, an MDC lawmaker, who said at the time the agreement with the Chinese was sealed: “Are we not oiling the machinery that is going to ruin us? Are we not sharpening the axe that is going to be used to chop our heads off?”