Will the Chinese-built defence college be a national security threat for Zimbabwe?

Jun 29, 2011

How smart  and safe is it for a country to let another country build it a key defence installation? The main controversy over the new 'defence college' built by a Chinese company on Harare's outskirts has been on the unusual terms and methods of payment. Zimbabwean workers have also complained of being ill-treated by their Chinese bosses at the construction site. But perhaps the real danger to Zimbabwean interests is the possible long-term security threat.

African countries have the kind of bizarre relations with their former colonisers in which the the latter often retain military bases in the former. This is especially true in former French colonies, where the former coloniser's resident troops have often intervened in local political squabbles, by invitation or otherwise. Kenya has a significant British military presence today, as do other countries.

Zimbabwe hosted BMATT, the British Military Advisory and Training Team, from independence in 1980 to 2000. Whatever training they undertook, their presence within the bowels of the Zimbabwean military also means they know a lot about its operations. It was apparently never considered by the independence-euphoric Zimbabwean government that their 'friend' Britain could in the future turn foe. If the British government decided to militarily action a 'regime-change' plan, certainly they would benefit from their 20 year intimate knowledge of Zimbabwe's military operations to do so. BMATT was an easy, effortless infiltration of the Zimbabwean military by Britain, with the willing, grinning cooperation of the Zimbabweans, who were pleased and felt privileged to get such 'aid' from their former coloniser!

The new coloniser and 'best friend' of the day is China. Because of Chinese support during Zimbabwe's several years of continuing isolation from the West, it can virtually write its own ticket in Harare. The option-less Zimbabwean authorities are so grateful for that support that they have adopted a naive, sleepy attitude to the Chinese.

The 'defence college' that is to be controversially paid for in a diamonds-barter deal is a case in point. Many Zimbabweans have criticised the deal on its perceived poor economic and business terms, but not much thought seems to have been paid to the way the country's security is possibly compromised by such a key military installation being built by a foreign power, even one as (currently) friendly as China.

With almost all the building materials said to be imported from China and with Chinese contractors fully in charge of the work, it would be very easy for them to implant listening and surveillance devises in the very fabric of the building.

For all Zimbabwe's loud talk about how it 'will never be a colony again,' the present desperate government's naive relations with China do not inspire confidence in that regard.

The Zimbabwe Review


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