ZIMBABWE says it is deploying troops to war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo as part of a peacekeeping force pledged by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) last week.
Regional leaders meeting in Tanzania agreed to provide 4,000 troops for a neutral force to be deployed in eastern Congo where M23 rebels have waged a brutal onslaught against the government of President Joseph Kabila.
This will be Zimbabwe’s second troop involvement in DRC after deploying hundreds of soldiers in 1998 to help Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime fight off rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.
The war proved costly for Zimbabwe, gobbling a massive chunk of the national fiscus and analysts believe it played a huge part in the country’s economic decline.
But this time around, the circumstances will be different, according to Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Joey Bimha who says government will not be footing the bill.
“This is what is called a neutral international force, and SADC will have to source out funding for it… Zimbabwe will contribute troops and of course at some expense to it but most of the expenses are going to be sourced from outside – from the African Union and even the United Nations,” Bimha said.
SADC is said to be currently working on modalities and sources say the troops will be dispatched in a matter of weeks.
Bimha said the mission, not likely to be deployed for more than one year, will aim to keep the warring sides apart and achieve some level of stability in the eastern side of the DRC.
Tanzania promised to contribute a battalion while other regional nations said they will “activate” a standby brigade of 3,000 soldiers by mid-December.
It was not immediately clear if President Robert Mugabe’s coalition partners had endorsed the plan. But the proposal has certainly not been brought before the legislature.
Political commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said the Zimbabwean parliament should not be ignored in such decision-making processes even if the troops are part of a broad regional peacekeeping force.
Ngwenya said even though Zimbabwe is “part of the SADC family that has helped broker a lot of misunderstandings” in the country, authorities should be circumspect about redeploying troops in DRC.
“We were there before,” Ngwenya said. ‘We lost millions of dollars every day and that war was responsible for taking our economy down.”
He added that while the current constitution does not necessarily require parliament to approve troop deployments to foreign countries, legislators should at least be allowed to “sit down and look at the facts, look at the financial implications and also look at the political implications.”