With hundreds of tractors laid out before him, Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko wasted no time telling the gathered crowd just why he was in Zimbabwe, his first such visit to this part of the world.
“I would like to thank the United States and the entire Western world for imposing the sanctions against us. Otherwise, these would not be Belarusian tractors that we see on this huge field today but US and German ones,” he said.
Plainly, he was here for business. We give you real deals, things that you can touch, while our enemies, the West, feed you only hazy promises of intangible values.
“I’d like to emphasise that we come to Africa not to bring illusory democratic values, but to work together for the benefit of both nations,” the Belarusian president said.
An hour earlier, his officials had signed US$66 million worth of equipment deals with Zimbabwe. The deals will boost his companies, which are desperate for new markets as Western sanctions over ally Russia’s war in Ukraine bite. The companies include MTZ, a major supplier of tractors around the globe. Before the war, MTZ was one of the biggest tractor suppliers in Ukraine, and also exported to the US, Canada and Europe.
Another company is BelAZ, which makes some of the world’s largest dump trucks.
“We have agreed we will soon ship to you over 30 BelAZ haul trucks, which will work in Zimbabwe,” Lukashenko said.
Lukashenko: my promises are better
The West’s promises, he said, are rarely real. He then beckoned to Mnangagwa, jokingly quipping: “If you don’t believe, you can come closer and touch them (tractors)”.
While he is here for business, Lukashenko showed that he knows that one must wash down all these business dealings with nationalist jingoism, something his hosts love.
He told them: “Africa woke up a long time ago. There is no prospect for the world without Africa. Without Africa, the world cannot develop. The future belongs to Africa.”
Unlike the West, said Lukashenko, he is not coming here to “colonise” anyone, but to do business.
“We are not coming here the way the colonialists once did. We are bringing technology and teaching people here, training specialists,” he said.
Now that you have hosted a leader reviled by the West, things are going to get a lot tougher for Zimbabwe, he warned Mnangagwa.
“You will be subjected to stronger efforts to trouble the country, but you have to endure. And you will endure if you are united,” Lukashenko said.
ED, Lukashenko: united by sanctions
For his host, Mnangagwa, early hopes of support from the West faded quickly after he was elected in 2018, an election rejected by the opposition and the West. This dashed his plan to use agriculture and mining to drive growth. With no support from the West, Belarus, with its big mine machines and tractors, has become an available option, despite the political risk of being seen as a friend of Ukraine’s invaders.
Zimbabwe, like most African states, has refused to condemn the Russian invasion and has taken a neutral stance on the matter at the UN, calling for dialogue to end the war. But for Mnangagwa, being friends with Lukashenko is one way to deal with Western sanctions.
To beat sanctions, “we are cooperating, helping each other in a practical way”, Mnangagwa said.
“From the first day I met my brother, President Lukashenko, we have chemistry,” Mnangagwa said of the two leaders’ first meeting in 2015. “We are willing to be friends with all countries that relate to us, but not in the perception of horse and rider, no. Either we are all horses, or we are all riders.”
Lukashenko, accused of sham polls at home, saved his last words to advise Zimbabwe on the coming election: “My friends, this year you go for elections. Please, don’t trust liars. There are no miracles. Good economic results are only achieved through daily hard work. I’m hopeful that you will make the right choice, and show the entire world that you deserve your independence.”