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UK arms exports to Zimbabwe (2012-2022)

Country Overview

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in Southern Africa, with an ethnically diverse population of 14 million people. The country has faced several economic challenges, including hyperinflation and unemployment.

In 2012, President Robert Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, won a disputed election that was criticized by many observers for being marked by irregularities. Mugabe continued to rule the country until 2017, when he was ousted in a military coup and replaced by his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, which ended his 30 year rule.

Under Mnangagwa’s leadership, Zimbabwe has sought to improve its international standing and attract foreign investment, but the country has continued to face significant economic challenges. Inflation continues to soar, and the country has struggled with food and fuel shortages. Which was only exacerbated by the Covid 19 pandemic. 

The government has been repeatedly criticised for its human rights violations, including cracking down on political oppositionists and imposing restrictive laws on freedom of speech. 

Zimbabwe signed the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013 and ratified it in 2015.

How many licenses for the sale of arms to Zimbabwe did the UK government issue between 2012 and 2022? 

During the previous ten years, the number of export licenses to Zimbabwe was generally low. The United Kingdom issued 4 limited and 4 unlimited export licenses for military goods to Zimbabwe. The exports happened during 3 years, in 2016, 2017 and 2019. During all these years the country was marked by political turmoil, violent crackdowns on political protests and a military coup.

What is the total value of those exports in GBP? 

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2022

The value of these exports totals £335,000. Over half of this number was exported in 2016, when two licenses were exported for £200,000. The entire value was spent on ML6 ‒ Armoured vehicles and tanks.

Whilst the numbers below seem negligible, compared to other countries on the FCO list, the total export number amounts to £6,1 if we consider dual-use exports as well.

What are the top 10 types of arms export licenses Britain is selling to Zimbabwe? 

Top 10 military items exported from the UK to Zimbabwe between 2012-2022Total number of licenses
military support vehicles4
military equipment for initiating explosives2
all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection1
military aircraft pressure refuellers1
equipment for the use of military aircraft pressure refuellers1
general military aircraft components1
military aircrew life support equipment1
military aircraft ground equipment1
components for military aero-engines1
components for military support aircraft1
Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2022

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?

British arms to Egypt are going to a regime involved in numerous human rights abuses. Zimbabwe has been marked by severe political, social and economic instability in recent history. The government has been known for disregarding fundamental human rights such as freedom of association and assembly and freedom of expression, illustrated by increasing numbers of arrests of oppositionists. Multiple sources have reported the torture and mistreatment of these detainees, wilst there has been a lack of accountability for these abuses, with perpetrators rarely being brought to justice.

These restrictions are likely to worsen, as various reports have highlighted Zimbabwe’s investment in comprehensive surveillance technology to monitor citizens’ activities and suppress dissent.

The human rights abuses in Zimbabwe are varied and continue to be exacerbated by its dire economic situation, which regularly breaks inflation records, various droughts and environmental factors, Covid 19 and political instability. 

What has the British government said about these concerns? 

The United Kingdom has repeatedly expressed concern about Zimbabwe’s continued poor human rights record and has placed the country on its list of “Human Rights Priority Countries.”After protestors were killed for expressing right to free speech and protest in 2019, the United Kingdom announced in 2021 a set of sanctions on certain individuals that supposedly go “hand-in-hand with UK efforts to hold the Government of Zimbabwe to account and to make good on its promise to deliver much-needed crucial reforms.”

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the Zimbabwean government has committed since 2012?

Various reports highlight the critical human rights situation in Zimbabwe, which heavily tries to restrict oppositionists, activists, journalists and dissidents and monitor its citizens.

After protests erupted over the sharp increase in fuel prices in 2016, government troops were accused of using systemic torture to crack down on protestors. Whilst the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission strongly condemned the use of live ammunition and excessive force against unarmed protesters by the military, security forces intensified a crackdown on supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDCA) in the aftermath of post-election protests in Harare. Two years later, in 2019 more evidence crystalized, when during a 3-day national stay-away to protest against fuel increases, the Zimbabwe National Army was unlawfully deployed into residential areas where it conducted systematic dragnet arrests, particularly of young adult males in affected areas.

On 22 June 2017, given the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) deep concern “about the significant number of attacks against lawyers, a resolution was passed condemning “the increasingly frequent attacks on the independence of lawyers, including threats, intimidation, and interference in the discharge of their professional functions”. Yet, five years later no improvements seem to have been visibly made, as Amnesty International’s report of 2021 emphasized concern for the government’s hostility toward human rights defenders, protesters, political activists, and journalists, as well as the continued deterioration of the situation. The government used lockdowns on Covid-19 to suppress political expression. In addition, the government enacted two constitutional amendments that were widely criticized for undermining the independence of the judiciary.

Despite this catalogue of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of Zimbabwe. Human rights abuses continue.

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