Connect with us

Support The NewsHawks


Zim, Zambia diplomatic row mirrors global powers battle

AHEAD of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit scheduled for Harare from 16-17 August, the diplomatic row between Zimbabwe and Zambia triggered by last year’s flawed elections




AHEAD of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit scheduled for Harare from 16-17 August, the diplomatic row between Zimbabwe and Zambia triggered by last year’s flawed elections and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s recent remarks to Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to take centre stage.

The diplomatic face-off between Harare and Lusaka comes against a backdrop of a complex web of geopolitical interests of the two countries which has sucked in the United States and Russia in those nations and the region.

The US and Russia are locked in intense geopolitical battles across the world, including in southern Africa and the whole continent.

The two powers are competing for global resources, economic and security interests and influence, which are all part of geopolitics.

In southern Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia are key players due to their mineral resources, strategic positions and value. Russia and the US are vying for influence between the two countries and the region to protect their own interests.

As that battle unfolds, Mnangagwa, angered by Lusaka’s rejection of his re-election last year and its strategic partnership with Washington DC, told Putin on 6 June:

“You see, the West has just begun consolidating its power in Zambia, our next neighbour. You know, there was a time when Zambia and Zimbabwe were one; it was called Northern and Southern Rhodesia. It was made one by the British, but they are now separate.

And the Americans are consolidating their power in that country, both in terms of security and in terms of financial support to Zambia to make sure that we feel lonely.”

Putting diplomacy on the back burner, Lusaka loudly protested against this, with its Foreign minister Mulambo Haimbe describing it as an “unwarranted attack on Zambian sovereignty”.

This came after a diplomatic storm between Zimbabwe and Zambia after last year’s general elections.

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema used his influence as chairperson of the Sadc troika of the organ on politics, defence and security to reject the outcome of the elections, including Mnangagwa’s re-election.

Hichilema had deployed former Zambian vice-president Nevers Mumba to lead the Sadc election observer mission.

The mission’s report said the Zimbabwean elections failed to meet the country’s constitutional and legal requirements, while also not complying with the Sadc principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.

The background to those is colourful and interesting. What makes the situation more interesting is that Zambia supported Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, backed by Russia.

At the time the US and Russia were locked in a deadly Cold War, which sucked in and affected smaller nations.

Zimbabwe and Zambia were once one country between 1953 and 1963 during the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Besides, Mnangagwa partly grew up in Zambia, practically making him also Zambian to all intents and purposes. Although Russia was not given a special diplomatic embrace by the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe due to its old support for Zapu, historical and ideological affinities have drawn Harare and Moscow closer.

Zimbabwe and Russia have strong ties dating back to the Soviet era and the liberation struggle, anchored on the Kremlin support for Zapu and Zipra, which were hosted by Zambia.

Russia has significant economic interests in Zimbabwe’s mining sector, including on diamonds, platinum and gold.

Mnangagwa has cultivated and maintained close relations with Russia, seeking support for his government isolated by the US which has imposed targeted sanctions on him, his wife Auxillia and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and eight others, as well as three entities, citing human rights abuses, electoral malpractices and corruption.

Zambia has maintained good relations with the US, which has provided significant development aid.

The US has strategic interests in Zambia’s mining sector centring on copper and cobalt. Russia has also maintained good relations with Zambia, offering investments in energy and mining.

Against this background, Hichilema has tried to balance relations between the two global powers.

The geopolitical dynamics of the issue include Russia’s bid to expand its influence in Southern Africa, leveraging its historical ties and economic interests.

The US aims to counterbalance Russian influence and promote its own interests in the region.

It even tried to come up with a law to compel African states to counter Russian “malign influence” on the continent. US and Russian leaders have been competing in engaging African countries and their leaders.

This comes as global powers jostle for abundant African resources and opportunities, with notable involvement of the US, China, Russia, Japan, Britain, France. Germany, Turkey, India, Brazil, South Korea and European Union, among others.

Zimbabwe and Zambia are tellingly caught between these competing interests, seeking to maximise benefits while maintaining their sovereignty.

This growing geopolitical contestation plays out in various areas, including economic investments and trade, military cooperation and security agreements, political alliances and diplomatic support, proxy influence through regional organisations like Sadc and the African Union.

Zambia has appealed to Sadc and AU to intervene in its row with Zimbabwe. Harare is complaining Lusaka is hosting the US Africa Command (Africom), America’s military force on the continent.

Africom has opened an office in Lusaka, and Harare supporters claim there is also a military base.

This is also fueled by local Zambian complaints on that. However, the US, through Africom commander Marine Corps General Michael Langley, says Zimbabwe and its allies’ claims that his force has a base in Zambia are “absolutely false”.

He also says Washington DC has no plans to set up a military base in Zambia. The US has strategic interests in the region and stronger ties with Botswana than Zambia.

Gaborone last week hosted an Africom African Chiefs of Defence Conference ahead of planned military exercises between Botswana and American forces.

The US delivered a C-130H “Hercules” cargo aircraft to Botswana on 24 May, representing a US$30 million (P400 million) contribution to enhance the country and the Botswana Defence Force’s capability to support defence, humanitarian, and emergency response missions locally and within the Sadc region.

The US army and Botswana defence force have completed planning for Southern Accord 2024, a joint military exercise to increase cooperation and interoperability between the two nations.

The US Army Southern Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF) and the Zambia military held the opening ceremony for the African Land Forces Summit (ALFS) 2024 in Livingstone, Zambia, near Victoria Falls, in Apirl.

Sponsored by the US Army Chief of Staff, the 12th iteration of ALFS ran from 22-26 April, and brought together land force chiefs from nearly 40 African countries, partner nations, academic thought leaders and government officials for candid dialogue about shared challenges.

This year’s theme was “Regional Solutions to Transnational Problems.”

The outcome of the geopolitical contestation between the US and Russia, and the diplomatic cold war featuring Zimbabwe and Zambia will shape regional power dynamics, global powers’ influence, and the future of southern Africa.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *