Zimbabwe's decision to import a team of 106 North Korean military instructors to help train the country's new Army alongside 160 British military advisers, reflects Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's personal brand of nonalignment.
The integration of more than 40,000 former guerrilla fighters drawn both from the Zimbabwe prime minister's own guerrilla army and his political rival Joshua Nkomo's troops, has been one of the government's major success stories since taking office in April 1980. By mid-1981 the British instructors had trained and integrated some 33,000 former guerrillas into 30 new battalions of the Zimbabwe National Army.
This total will exceed 40,000 by the end of the year. This, combined with the other former Rhodesian military units, will give a total military strength in excess of 60,000 men. This is widely acknowledged, even by government ministries, to be far too large, and the next phase after integration will be one of demobilizing at least 20,000 men.
The announcement that the North Korean instructors will train a new elite unit of some 5,000 men to counter internal disturbances was made last weekend by Mr. Mugabe. North Korea is also provide heavy equipment, including artillery and tanks.
The establishing of this "fifth brigade" as it has been called, has reopened political bickering between the Nkomoled and Mugabe-led political parties after a six-month period of seemingly much-improved relationships. Mr. Nkmo's reaction to the announcement of the new counterinsurgency brigade was that the unit is unnecessary.
Pointedly stressing that as minister-without-portfolio but with special responsibility for security affairs, he should have been consulted on the formation of the new unit, Mr. Nkomo described it as "obviously a separate army, " adding darkly that it might be for the "possible imposition of a one-party state in our country."
These are probably the most critical public comments on government policy that Mr. Nkomo has made for some six months. Prime Minister Mugabe responded with the statement that the right people had been consulted -- namely the central committee of his ruling ZANU0-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union -- Patriotic Front party and the Army commanders.
The British view is that the North Korean presence will have no impact on its training activities, and British military instructors are likely to remain in Zimbabwe at least until the end of 1982.
Those concerned at the North Korean presence have had some of their fears allayed by the appointment of a former Rhodesian Army regular, Gen. Sandy McLean , not just as the countryhs first full-fledged general but also as military supremo, in succession to Lt. Gen. Peter Walls, who resigned his post more than a year ago.
General McLean's appointment means that there are whites (all from the former security forces) in control of the Army, police, and Air Force. It also means that Lt. Gen. Rex Nhongo, military commander of Mr. Mugabe's ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army) guerrillas, has been superseded. This, in itself, is a significant development, though it may yet turn out to be of limited duration since presumably General Nhongo remains a frontrunner for the military supremo post in two or three years' time.
Although the Army is at least three times as large as British military instructors believe to be necessary, some use is being made of military personnel in civilian programs. These include the provision of basic health care -- curative and preventative medicine -- and assisting in reaping crops, especially the cotton crop in parts of Zimbabwe.
This consideration notwithstanding, the Army is still too large given the country's economic and budgetary difficulties. Military expenditures of nearly largest item after debt servicing and education.
In addition, a further $60 million has been set aside to fund a new demobilization program which the government hopes to implement this year and reduce the number of men under arms in what, in fact, is one of the largest armies in Africa. Men are being given financial and job training incentives to leave the Army. It is suggested that for two years after leaving the forces, former soldiers be given a monthly cash payment higher than their normal military salary as a inducement to seek work in the productive sectors of the economy.