The Zambian government is caught up in a political storm amid allegations that the Hakainde Hichilema administration has entered a pact under which the United States will establish a military base in the southern African country.
Reports have during the past week suggested that Zambia agreed to offer the US space to establish a military base for the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM).
The US embassy this week, however, denied that there was “no U.S. military base (or plans for one) in Zambia”, insisting that it had only established an office of security cooperation located at its mission in Lusaka.
“An Office of Security Cooperation is not a military base – the new Office of Security Cooperation will be an office at the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka and will work hand-in-hand with the Zambia Defence Force to enhance military to military relations and expand areas of cooperation in force management, modernisation, and professional military education for the Zambian security forces,” the embassy said.
President Hichilema took to microblogging site Twitter this week denying what he described as falsehoods about the proposed AFRICOM military base.
"There are only Zambian military bases in Zambia. Let's not be debating falsehoods."
Zambia’s Defence Minister Ambrose Lufuma said the security cooperation office was the culmination of “a long-standing relationship with US-AFRICOM in the areas of peacekeeping that has predated” the Hichilema administration and “has benefited our military.”
“Zambia has no intention whatsoever of establishing or hosting any military bases on Zambian soil,” Lufuma said.
Despite the denials by the government and US embassy in Lusaka, Zanbia’s opposition is not convinced and accuses Hichilema of betraying fellow African states by allegedly offering space for the AFRICOM military base.
Zambia Socialist Party leader Fred M’membe said the US already provides direct and indirect military support to Zambia using existing embassy facilities and its defence attaché.
“There has been no felt need for a new office within the embassy,” M’membe said.
He warned that the new US-Zambia security arrangement would only escalate the role of AFRICOM in Zambia and create tension in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“Such a development has implications for the SADC defence initiatives and raises anxieties in the region,” M’membe said.
The AFRICOM has been a highly divisive issue in southern Africa, with most countries worried that the setting of US military bases in the region would compromise security in SADC.