Why Iran wants to beef up Zimbabwe’s military

Iran has guns and expertise. Zimbabwe has uranium and diamonds. Both are international pariahs. It's a heaven-made match in a world of crushing international sanctions. 

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe inspects a military honor guard during Armed Forces Day celebrations in Harare in this 2008 file photo.

Both countries are subject to crushing Western-backed sanctions. Both are revolutionary governments condemned for their human rights records, and isolated from world politics. Small surprise, then, that Iran and Zimbabwe have a lot in common and recently announced a defense agreement.

In a Sunday meeting between Zimbabwe Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, Iran pledged to help Zimbabwe to modernize its defense forces. It is not clear how the cash-strapped but uranium and diamond rich Zimbabwe would pay for this service, but Minister Mnangagwa told reporters the agreement was merely a “consolidating and deepening” of the Iran-Zimbabwe relationship.

“We are fully prepared to help Zimbabwe’s military forces in any way possible," Iran’s state-run Fars new agency reports Minister Vahidi as saying. "We will help strengthen their military so that they are able to protect their land and culture, especially so they are prepared against the pressures and threats from Western countries."

Circumstances have led to these two nations’ friendship. Iran is currently under substantial pressure over its nuclear energy program, which many Western governments believe includes nuclear weapons ambitions. Iran denies this. Zimbabwe, for its part, is under heavy sanctions for its forced land-reform policies since 2000, in which large white-owned commercial farms were taken by force and without compensation.

Zimbabwe’s steady impoverishment have forced millions of its citizens to flee to neighbor countries like South Africa, but Zimbabwe’s rich mineral deposits, including uranium and diamonds have attracted the attention of Iran, which is increasingly cut off from the global economy.

Arms shipments tricky

The question now is how Iran intends to keep its promises. China – Zimbabwe’s largest military supplier – attempted to ship weapons to landlocked Zimbabwe in 2008, in the midst of a violent presidential election crisis, through the South African port of Durban, but South Africa turned the Chinese-owned cargo ship away. Iran may face similar difficulties, and with its own government strapped for cash under European Union sanctions, it may not have China’s financial resources to find alternate routes to deliver military aid.

Political analysts in Zimbabwe believe the strengthening military relations between Iran and Zimbabwe are a result of Zimbabwe’s discovery of diamonds and uranium, which the Asian country wants to exploit. Discovered in 2006, Zimbabwe’s Marange and Chiadzwa diamond fields near the eastern town of Mutare have been valued at $70 billion, with the potential of generating $2.6 billion per year in revenues for the Zimbabwe government. Zimbabwe’s uranium stocks at Kanyemba, north of Harare, are estimated to be 455,000 tons.

Major companies that have been given the rights to mine at Chiadzwa Diamond fields are the Chinese firm Anjin, which is partnering with the army, Mbada Diamonds, and Marange Resources. Anjin's company secretary is listed as being Charles Tarumbwa, a brigadier in the Zimbabwe Defense Forces. Mbada Diamonds' chairman is Robert Mhlanga, a former air vice-marshal in the Zimbabwean air force.

Have uranium, need help extracting

Speaking to the Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe's foreign affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi confirmed the southern African country possessed uranium ore: "Zimbabwe has rich uranium reserves, but is faced with shortage of funds and does not possess the technical knowledge and equipment needed for extracting [them].... Any country has the right to use peaceful nuclear energy based on international rules."

Political analysts dismissed the relationship between Iran and Zimbabwe as a “marriage of convenience.”

“What we are seeing here is a union between the so called renegade states,” says Harare-based rights activist Hopewell Gumbo. “They will always converge because both countries preach anti-Western mantra all the time.

“But when you analyze the relationship, you will find out that Zimbabwe -- being the poorer of the two -- will always pander to the whims of the older brother,” says Mr. Gumbo. “Iran stands to gain in the exploitation of diamonds and uranium.”

Unequal relationship?

Media Institute of Southern Africa research officer Thabani Moyo said the two countries’ marriage would “contaminate” Zimbabwe more than it would Iran.

“Iran is running out of friends internationally because of its nuclear activities,” says Mr. Moyo. “But this is not the time for Zimbabwe to befriend Iran. I smell a big rat because this relationship only blossomed after Zimbabwe discovered diamonds.

“I think it is not strategic at this point in time to have anything to do with Iran. We are bringing problems to our doorsteps,” said Moyo.

The Monitor's correspondent in Harare cannot be named for security reasons.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why Iran wants to beef up Zimbabwe’s military
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today