We would like to start by thanking the Zambia Army and the Zambia Air Force for organizing a public exhibition of their training programmes at their military base in Mbala. And we would also like to particularly thank President Edgar Lungu, as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Defence Forces, for offering his official Facebook page to televise live the intense military drills by our brave soldiers.
Watching those landmines explode as our Zambia Army soldiers navigated their paths in that war drill; seeing Zambia Air Force fighter pilots drop those missiles to destroy targets and suppress enemy fire before extracting our ground forces from enemy territory was quite breathtaking. It was like watching live scenes from the making of a thrilling action movie. Being a country that we are, though, and the economic frustrations that we’re all facing as citizens, regardless of one’s occupation, we watched that thrilling military drill while biting our last fingers, praying that nothing goes wrong. We imagined what would happen if one fighter pilot lost his coordinates while yawning and misdirected one missile towards the VVIP tent where the Great Leader was seated. Maybe the President’s routine jogging would have come in handy in a time of need for a 100 meters dash to safety.
On a serious note, we probably would not have written our negative perceptions of the safety of that event for fear of being judged as doomsayers, but for the fact that a fraction of the worst that we feared would happen actually did happen, we now feel compelled to write this. It is very unfortunate that lives were almost lost from this exercise and we hope that the organisers take better precaution next time to prevent such incidences.
But we cannot dwell further on that war simulation drill because we have no military expertise to discuss what went wrong or right. Abene ama soldier, they have technical terms to describe and justify their botched operations such as collateral damage, etc. So we will leave the incident in Mbala to their internal administration to sort out.
But while listening to the Zambia Army Commander’s speech at the event where he was thanking President Edgar Lungu for investing heavily in the procurement of arms for the defence forces, we thought this was a rare opportunity to question some of the things that are taking place in this wing of government. Since the Zambia Army and the Zambia Air Force have given us access to see a snippet of their firepower and they have further declassified some of their military tactics, we hope that they understand that we are now allowed, if not expected, to ask questions and express our opinion. They should not turn around and accuse us of breaching the boundaries of national security.
We are reliably informed that somewhere around November 2017 during Lieutenant General Paul Mihova’s tenure as Commander, the Zambia Army blew the whistle and revealed that some unknown Zambians were working with some Estonian and Russian arms dealers to privately procure military equipment worth about US$230 million using a ‘forged’ end user certificate – a document that is supposed to be issued by the Ministry of Defence to procure arms on behalf of a country. We are reliably informed that this matter was investigated. Some low-ranking soldiers from the Zambia National Service who were used in this transaction were not able to give a clear picture of who sent them. We are told that a senior officer in one of our defence units was interrogated to explain his links to this deal but he was later promoted to become a commander. Other named senior defence officials, including a Permanent Secretary and a defence attaché at the Embassy in Russia, were also interrogated. Procurement officers at ZNS and Zambia Army, representatives of companies called ArmNord-OU of Estonia, Global Security of Russia, among many other local and foreign individuals were also interrogated.
What are the findings of this investigation? Did government spend US$230 million on procuring arms that never came to Zambia? Or were these arms bought by private individuals using government channels? How did someone manage to forge an end user certificate without any help from people who work within the system? Why has this information been kept away from the public if our government indeed stopped this crime and came out clean? Why were Paul Mihova and Eric Chimese fired as Army and ZAF commanders respectively? Zambians would also be interested to know how a supply contract for army uniforms worth about US$4 million was awarded at US$64 million to a company of interest where relatives to those who serve in this government are connected. How did this company win such an exaggerated tender and why was the contract cancelled after it had already been awarded? How much will we pay as a country as penalty for cancelling this contract at this stage?
What about the presidential planes?
When we asked former Transport and Communications Minister Dr Brian Mushimba to explain why Zambia was buying another presidential plane named Sukhoi Superjet 100 from Russia, on top of the newly acquired Anti-missile Gulfstream-650 bought at US$135 million, he dismissed our sources and rubbished the story as fake news. Today, we are told there is not one, but three planes coming from Russia, which are being masked as procurement for Zambia Airways. How can this be when at the same time, we are told government will not buy planes for the national airline as we will simply brand part of the Ethiopian Airline fleet? What is going on here?
Yes, we enjoyed the military drill by our special forces in Mbala last week, but now let’s discuss the real issues. Zambians should not be hoodwinked into clapping for military entertainment when their taxpayers’ money in the blotted budgetary allocation towards Defence is being stolen. We don’t want Zambians to be preoccupied in debates about a snake-eating President, there are bigger things happening in the Ministry of Defence that we must demand answers for.
Let us hear the President, the Minister of Defence, his permanent secretary and the ZAF commander explain the issues we have highlighted above. You have brought out the army to the public for viewing, and now the public wants to know. Tasiliza!