UK urged to keep force in Zimbabwe
Sunday 16 April 2000
Zimbabwean opposition leaders yesterday appealed to Britain to maintain its small but controversial military presence in the country because they believe it acts as a moral safeguard against coups in an increasingly volatile political climate.
The shadow foreign secretary, Francis Maude, last week called for Britain to withdraw the top training team, in the light of Zimbabwe's continuing military involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo and what he called "the ethnic cleansing'' of white farmers.
But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the British presence was "a guarantee that we will be able to maintain a democratic government''.
From offices inside the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) headquarters in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, 10 senior British officers train southern African peace-keepers. Funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £1.6m a year, the troops are a modernised version of the British team which oversaw the transformation of Zimbabwean guerrillas into a professional force at the end of white rule in 1980.
Eddie Cross, a former head of the Confederation of Zimbabwean Industry who is now a senior member of the MDC, said: "Twenty years of British presence have given us a professional army that is going to take its cue from a constitutional change of power. We must not at this point suspend British military co-operation.
"What the British did in the past and the fact that they are still here is as crucial to our democratic development as was the work of northern Europeans, initially through the trade unions, towards building a powerful civic society in a one-party state,'' he said.
But critics of the Zimbabwe government claim that the ZDF, almost all of whose top officers were trained at Sandhurst or Camberley in the UK, has too prominent a role.
Lupi Mushayakarara, an opposition activist outside the MDC, believes no amount of training in peace-keeping and democratic accountability will annihilate the killer instinct.
Others, such as Brian Raftopoulos, a lecturer at the Centre For Development Studies in Harare, point to a creeping coup, that is already under way. "Military figures are being appointed to civil service jobs, including the prisons, national parks, the oil parastatal and the police. There may not be an outright coup but we are seeing a loss of civil legitimacy,'' he said.
To Lieutenant Colonel Gary Donaldson, chief of staff at the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT), such fears may be exaggerated. "What we have seen of the Zimbabwean military is impressive. This is one of the best armies in Africa. The appointments may just be choices aimed at rooting out bad practice,'' he said.
BMATT argues that it ended all bilateral training with the ZDF as soon as 11,000 of its men were sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo where they have been fighting to keep Laurent Kabila in power since August 1998. As the British officers' role has switched in the past four years to training peace-keepers across southern Africa, they claim they have remained in Harare for historical reasons. But given the present state of British diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe, the continued presence of their offices inside Harare's defence headquarters seems, at best, ill-advised. Nevertheless, despite claims from President Robert Mugabe that Britain is among foreign powers plotting his downfall, BMATT has not been asked to move out.
"The only change in our relations with the Zimbabweans was that they were apparently instructed not to come to a drinks party we held. The links are generally open and friendly, to the extent that our disapproval of their involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be discussed openly,'' said Lt-Col Donaldson.
Members of the British team are also aware, though they are loath to discuss it, that their presence may be a stabilising force. The team's commander, Brigadier Vere Hayes, believes a withdrawal of BMATT would be "seen as a significant act of abandonment''. Privately, they add that if the situation in Zimbabwe were to deteriorate, they would be in a position to help UK nationals.
In Harare, where Zimbabwean warrant officers carry pace sticks, the foot drills are British and soldiers wear stable belts imported from Blighty, Lt-Col Donaldson is himself picking up some African ways.
"I have served in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. Yet here I am learning bush skills and broadening my military experience by working with soldiers from African countries,'' he said.
Malaysia Airlines plane crash exposes alarming flaw in airline security: over one billion flights made last year without stolen-passport check
International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
Teacher shows sex tape featuring herself to pupils during class by mistake
Swarm of killer bees sting woman 1,000 times
Dead woman's body found sitting in a car after six years after direct debits ran $54,000 bank account dry
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
- 1 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 2 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 3 Singapore sting: Sky-high prices are pushing locals to the edge of affordability
- 4 Russia has made 'big miscalculation' over Ukraine warns Hague
- 5 Swarm of killer bees sting woman 1,000 times
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: A small but growing chain of boutique hot...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ba...
£45 - 60k Per Annum: Charter Selection: Highly profitable leisure brand, marke...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residenti...