By Fungi Kwaramba
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has revealed government’s plan to buy riot hardware and water cannons for police officers in a bid to stop relying on the military in containing violent demonstrations.
This comes as a South African non-governmental organisation Gift for the Givers recently donated R55 million to government for training police officers and purchasing protective gear for use during riotous situations.
Mnangagwa and his government have suffered huge setbacks in their re-engagement efforts with Western governments and the United States of America due to the January riots in which the military was accused of gunning down protesters.
While the European Union (EU) spared the 76-year-old veteran Zanu PF leader and his colleagues from been hit with further sanctions, the US extended them by another year citing “disproportionate” use of force by soldiers during the January riots — which were sparked by a steep fuel price increase announced by Mnangagwa — ahead of his trip to Eastern Europe.
In an interview during his short visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last weekend, in which he explained the involvement of the army in quelling civil disturbances, Mnangagwa said his government had set sights on equipping police to avoid future intervention by the military in civil policing matters.
He said currently police were ill-equipped to contain the demonstrations, “the only people we can call are the army to stop the destruction and bring law and order”. Comparing the country’s riots to the French yellow vests protests that have been sweeping France for the past four months, he said the police did not have necessary tools to contain protests hence the use of the military.
“The French police use water cannon and they use batons, but we don’t have those things. “We need to acquire them so that we can deal with civil disturbances,” said Mnangagwa. In January this year, police and soldiers were engaged in running battles with protesters who flooded the streets of Harare, Bulawayo and other towns — to protest the steep fuel price hikes which were announced by Mnangagwa ahead of his tour of Eastern Europe.
Property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars was also destroyed and looted in the mayhem which ensued, after thousands of workers heeded a three-day strike call by labour unions. At the same time, security forces unleashed a brutal crackdown against the protesters, the opposition and civil society leaders, in a move which received wide condemnation in the country and around the world.
Mnangagwa, who was feted like a king when he replaced ousted former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017, initially lifted the mood of crisis-weary Zimbabweans who were hopeful at the time that he would turn around the country’s economic fortunes.
However, the post-July 30, 2018 election shootings — which left at least six civilians dead when the military used live ammunition to quell an ugly demonstration in Harare’s central business district (CBD) — and dozens of deaths during this year’s fuel riots, as well as the subsequent vicious clampdown of dissenting voices — are seen as having dented his international image significantly, in addition to harming his chances of getting financial support from Western countries.
Last month, Mugabe launched a blistering attack on Mnangagwa over government’s handling of the January riots and its subsequent use of soldiers to quell the ugly disturbances.
Mugabe made the attacks as he celebrated his 95th birthday celebrations at his palatial Borrowdale home — which is commonly referred to as the Blue Roof — to renew his feud with his once longtime aide, following his fall from power after nearly four decades at the helm of the country.
“You want to shower yourself with praises despite being at the top? You are not God ED. Today you are at the top, tomorrow you will be at the bottom. Keep that in mind. “God has his own way of punishing rogues and cruel people.
“He who is obsessed with seeing corpses everyday will soon realise that people would clamour too to see his corpse one day. I say to soldiers ‘stop killing people’. “What you are doing (killing people) is going to catch up with you very, very soon. Just tomorrow, it would have caught up with you,” the bitter Mugabe warned ominously in reports relayed to the outside world via his associates.
“People should love their army … they should not fear the army. We can’t continue with people being bashed on the head.
“So, I say to you, ‘get your lessons correct’. Let’s create an environment where our people are happy, not what’s happening now.
“We will not shy away or be afraid to talk. No! Let’s be frank with each other,” Mugabe said further during his birthday celebrations.
Mnangagwa’s under pressure government has since hired a top American reputation management firm — to spruce up Zimbabwe’s international image and to lobby US President Donald Trump’s government in a bid to improve frosty relations between Harare and Washington.
This comes after a disappointed Trump renewed America’s targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe for another year— accusing Mnangagwa and his government of not doing much to improve Harare’s democratic credentials since Mugabe fell from power in November 2017.
The public relations company which has been contracted by Zimbabwe, Ballard Partners, is headed by prominent Washington lobbyist Brian Ballard — who is also said to be a top fundraiser for Trump’s political campaigns.
According to the details of the contract between Harare and Ballard Partners, which was signed last month by Foreign minister Sibusiso Moyo, the government will pay the American firm a whopping US$500 000 a year for its services.
Well-placed sources told the Daily News yesterday that Ballard Partners is — among other things — expected to help Harare shed off its pariah status in Washington, while also working to assist Zimbabwe to access critically-needed funding from international financial institutions. DailyNews