Iran has promised to help strengthen Zimbabwe’s army, once among the most feared in Africa but that experts say has been weakened due to years of underfunding and a Western ban on weapon sales to the African country.
The Fars News Agency (FNA) quoted Iranian defence minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi as telling his Zimbabwean counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was visiting the Islamic nation, that Teheran was ready to help the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF).
“We are ready to reinvigorate Zimbabwe’s defence power,” the Iranian news agency quoted Vahidi as saying.
The FNA that is non-government owned but is widely seen as semi-official because of its close ties to the Iranian ruling establishment said Vahidi hailed previous defence cooperation between the two nations, while emphasizing Teheran’s readiness to share its experiences with Harare in different fields.
On his part, Mnangagwa is reported as having emphasized Zimbabwe’s readiness to widen cooperation with Iran that has in the past provided oil as well as farming equipment to the southern African nation.
The army is credited with keeping Mugabe in power, always quick to use brutal tactics to keep public discontent in check against the veteran ruler who has been in office since Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence from Britain.
For example, the army has over the past decade struggled to feed soldiers or supply them with such basics as boots and uniforms, while the bulk of military equipment and hardware is said to be ages old and in need of replacement.
However military experts say the worst may be over for the ZDF, with the army expected to raise enough revenue for its needs from a joint venture with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to mine diamonds in the controversial Marange diamond fields to the east of Zimbabwe.
An economy on the recovery since 1999 when the unity government took office also means Treasury can afford reasonable if still inadequate support to the defence forces.
By James Mombe