Zambian arms deal set to cost country $1bn

Last month, Zambian Defence Ministry Permanent Secretary, Sturdy Mwale, was forced to deny reports the Zambian Government had signed a second $400million defence deal with Israeli military aerospace business, Elbit Systems. According to Africa Confidential, the deal was to be funded by Bank Hapoalim, and included a brand-new Gulstream G650 presidential jet, bespoke to President Lungu’s requirements.


A previous $400million deal previously signed with Elbit Systems covered an unspecified number of F-5 jet fighters, 18 Skylark unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ground vehicles and upgrades for Mi-17 Helicopters. The deals also include centres for training and command, control and communications, as well as maintenance.


And as if that was not enough, the Zambian government also ordered $50 million in weapons and ammunition from Israel Weapons Industries, while Israeli company Ashtrom has received a $200million contract to upgrade the Maina Soko military hospital in Lusaka and a $400m contract to build barracks in Kawambwa district. Despite the Minister of Defence strenuously denying the allegations made, Zambia’s new G650 presidential jet, which was intergral to the overall deal, was seen landing in Basel, Switzerland, as recently as last week. These eye watering numbers are a significant step up from the $44m corruptly assigned to purchase 42 fire trucks last year.


As the world knows only too well, Zambia faces external debt levels thought to be around $21bn, amassed since the PF came to office. Furthermore youth unemployment figures are officially hovering at 17%, though the real figure is thought to be much higher than that. Public services have collapsed and businesses are facing a more unpredictable and challenging environment than ever before. Yet despite all these raw economic challenges which are hindering any hope of Zambia’s economy rehabilitating itself, the Government sees fit to make an arms deal purchase on an scale not previously seen. And what for? Zambia is not at war, and even if we were it is unlikely we wold have sufficiently trained soldiers to even effectively use the equipment ordered. 


The common consensus amongst Lusaka finance circles is that this rudderless government know that their time in office is limited and therefore have been siphoning off money from the public purse at every opportunity. The murky and often untraceable world of arms deals presents opportunities for widespread theft by unaccountable government officials, but even by recent Zambian standards this deal – even if only 50% of what Africa Confidential have reported is true – takes Lungu’s government into a new stratosphere of corruption levels. This appalling development has all the hallmarks of the now famous $4.3bn South African arms deal of 1998 when most of the equipment purchased was then unused and left to corrode. This latest development in Lungu’s depressing tenure is wholesale theft of our nations assets on an unprecedented scale, and one from which Zambia will take many years to recover from, regardless of who our next President is.


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