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Belarusian tycoon’s African footprint



ZIMBABWE and Belarus have become close allies, united by commercial and diplomatic interests — including shady deals between their leaders — all being carefully cultivated by the far-flung Eastern European country’s controversial tycoon Alexander Zingman.


Tellingly, Zingman is close to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his counterpart Alexander Lukashenko.

 Zingman, through the Dubai and Minskbased AFRTRADE DMCC, has a wide footprint across 16 countries in Africa — Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.

In Zambia, as in Zimbabwe, Zingman has been involved in various controversial deals. Apart from making money, the strategic bilateral ties are forged to strengthen Lukashenko and Mnangagwa’s grips on power, both authoritarian leaders in their backyards.

Lukashenko said this when he hosted Mnangagwa in Minsk in January 2019. At the time Lukashenko said he wanted to visit Zimbabwe in the future, but before that it would be necessary to implement strategic partnerships and several joint projects.

 Lukashenko said Belarus, just like Zimbabwe, is not a gigantic country and cannot build cooperation with all African countries on a comprehensive basis.

 “Therefore, we are trying to find those with whom we could build strategic partnership,” he said.

“We maintain very efficient cooperation with the countries of Northern Africa, first of all, with our friendly partner Egypt, Algeria, other countries. We have been cooperating with Sudan in Central Africa for many years. We would like to establish very close cooperation with the countries of Southern Africa. We have visited many countries in Africa and we see great opportunities in Belarus-Zimbabwe cooperation.”

 He said Zimbabwe was facing difficult times right now, just like Belarus did more than 20 years ago.

“We are concerned about Zimbabwe and would like you to overcome all internal political and economic difficulties as soon as possible. And you must remember that we will do our best for you,” he said.

Lukashenko said cooperation should include building meat and dairy factories, and vegetable growing and processing facilities. He also spoke about the transport sector, construction of infrastructure and transport and a logistics hub.

“Unique landscape and natural, mineral and recreational resources of Zimbabwe also offer broad opportunities for our cooperation. Therefore, Belarusian companies can take part in the erection of hydro-energy facilities, turn-key construction of solar power stations, geological survey and mining of natural resources,” he said.

The two delegations concluded agreements on student exchange and higher education opportunities for Zimbabweans in Belarus. Lukashenko said leading Belarusian healthcare organisations could provide high-quality medical aid to Zimbabwe, saying his country had made achievements in neurosurgery, orthopaedics, cardiology, oncology, transplantology, and medical rehabilitation.

 Mnangagwa said: “Zimbabwe is Belarus’ important partner in the region of southern Africa, and we want to gradually advance to the highest strategic level of cooperation. The relations between the countries are increasingly vibrant right now. However, there is still a big untapped potential for interaction. We will need to step up efforts, especially in trade and economy, in the coming years.”

While in Minsk, Mnangagwa appointed Zingman Zimbabwe’s honorary consul to Belarus. Belarus’ deputy minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Dapkiunas officially opened Zimbabwe’s consulate-general in Minsk.

All the while, Zingman stood beside Lu kashenko and Mnangagwa, beaming during the official function.

“It is a great honour for me to take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony that demonstrates that the cooperation between Zimbabwe and Belarus is gaining momentum,” Mnangagwa said.

 Zimbabwe and Belarus established diplomatic relations in 1992. Zingman, based in Minsk and Dubai, has worked hard to promote stronger Zimbabwe-Belarus bilateral ties for commercial and diplomatic purposes.

He invested in the relationship and it is bearing fruit. Apart from now being earmarked to supply US$60 million fire engines, AFTRADE helped put together a US$58 million agriculture deal in 2018 between Minsk and Harare. Zingman claims the multi-faceted trade agreement is revolutionising Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, with initial shipment of Belarus’s most advanced farm machinery having been delivered.

He said the delivery included 20 harvesters for wheat and maize, 100 tractors, and 52 seed drills. A second shipment was to follow. Minsk provided the long-term financing for the acquisition of the agricultural equipment. Mnangagwa says farm machinery is crucial to his vision of mechanising Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector still bound by traditional labour-intensive farming practices.

The contract says Zingman’s Afrtrade should establish a servicing centre in Harare to stockpile spare parts and provide warranty services. Mobile service vehicles will also cater to farming communities in the provinces.

“This deal brings Belarusian expertise in agriculture and engineering to Zimbabwe. Both countries have been expanding ties since 2015 and this deal is a win-win for both,” Zingman has said.

Afrtrade promised to fly Belarusian technical specialists to Zimbabwe for 12 months to train farmers in modern farming techniques. Zimbabwean agro-specialists would get two months training in Belarus.

Apart from supplying Zimbabwe with farming machinery and advanced technology related to the agricultural sector, Belarus would train local farmers in cultivation, seeding, irrigation and harvesting. Agriculture is only one of the company’s comprehensive activities.

 Zingman’s conglomerate is also involved in transportation and logistics, mining, special purpose machinery, road construction, and garbage collection. Although he denies it, Zingman is said to have been involved in arms trade, especially in Zambia under former president Edgar Lungu.

The story was widely reported by News Diggers, Zambia’s investigative outfit, which cooperates with The NewsHawks.

Zingman, through is UK-based lawyers, threatened to sue News Diggers if the news platform did not disclose the source of photos showing him and Lungu, delete them from the website and issue an apology.

The News Diggers refused, and instead challenged Zingman to go ahead and sue.

 “This project will enable Zimbabwean farmers to boost the productivity of their land and to reduce their losses through timely crops harvesting. The result will be that farmers can ensure the food security of Zimbabwe itself and, where possible, also raise their income levels by exporting their produce,” Zingman said.

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