HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa has taken delivery of an US$18 million helicopter in the middle of a major economic slump and growing poverty, ZimLive can reveal.
A Russian Antonov AN-124 – the world’s third heaviest gross weight production cargo aircraft – flew into Harare on Thursday, April 15, and disgorged a brand-new chopper which the Zanu PF leader plans to use during his re-election campaign ahead of elections in 2023.
The Volga Dnepr-operated Antonov flew out of Rzeszów–Jasionka Airport in south-eastern Poland, 10km from the city of Rzeszów, and landed at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport just before 8PM.
Onboard the cargo transport behemoth – which was still on the tarmac at Zimbabwe’s main airport on Sunday morning – was an Airbus Helicopters H215, an upgraded version of the ageing Eurocopter AS-532UL Cougar which Zimbabwe’s military has been using for VIP transportation.
A military source said: “There have been concerns about the safety of the Cougar currently in service. President Mnangagwa will be doing a lot of domestic travel to remote parts of the country leading up to 2023 and that’s why this purchase was approved.”
It is unclear how the purchase was financed, or why the Antonov picked up its cargo from Poland which does not have a production facility for the H215 helicopter – although Romania, nearby, has a factory in the city of Brasov where the H215 is assembled.
Whilst the H215 is a civilian helicopter, its custodians will be Zimbabwe’s Air Force. European Union sanctions prohibit the export of military equipment to Zimbabwe – opening the deal to possible scrutiny by sanctions monitors.
The acquisition also comes just weeks after suspected arms dealer Alexander Zingman, Zimbabwe’s honorary consul to Belarus, travelled to Harare – but not before he was detained for nearly two weeks by authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo who were probing his activities. Curiously, Zimbabwe was one of the countries pressing for his release.
Zingman previously brokered a deal between Zambia’s government and the Russian state-owned arms company, Rosoboronexport, which saw the southern African country take delivery of five Sukhoi jets from Russia in 2017.
Zimbabwe is going through a major economic crisis, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. Joblessness, poor salaries and failing social services have built up resentment against President Mnangagwa, who seized power in a military coup in 2017 while promising an economic boom.
Zimbabwe is set to hold watershed elections in 2023 but observers say the electoral field is already skewed against Mnangagwa’s rival Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the MDC Alliance. Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF is accused of using state resources to mobilise votes, while employing security forces to disrupt his rivals.