President Kenneth Kaunda has announced that Zambia is planning to divert scarce development funds to the purchase of arms as a result of the recent Rhodesian raids on this Central African country.
The Zambian decision is the latest indication of the steadily increasing militarization of southern Africa as a result of the escalating Rhodesian war, and a good example of its cost to development in neighboring front-line nations.
The Zambian press, in reporting Kaunda's recent announcement, gave no indication where the weapons will come from, what arms are involved or how much the government will spend on them. Zambia is almost bankrupt.
There was immediate speculation that China, the Soviet Union or a Soviet ally might be providing the arms. Kaunda was reported as saying he had been empowered by the ruling party "to look elsewhere" for military assistance than to Zambia's traditional providers of arms such as Britain.
The strongly pro-Western leader repeatedly had hinted that he might have to turn to the East for assistance if Rhodesia began attacking black nationalist guerrilla camps in this country as it has been doing in Mozambique for the last two years. Both Mozambique and Tanzania already have turned to the Soviet Union to bolster their defences against the Rhodesian threat.
Earlier this fall, Zambian Secretary of State for Defense Gray Zulu made a trip to China, which already is providing considerable economic and some military assistance.
Following the Rhodesian attacks, Britain is sending Zambia $20 million worth of defense equipment, including ground-to-air Tigercat missiles and anticraft guns designed primarily to defend the capital city of Lusaka. This material is being provided as a grant.
During his visit to the United States last May, Kaunda discussed the possibility of obtaining arms, but it was recently learned in Washington that the Carter administration has decided against sending arms to Zambia for fear of arousing opposition in Congress that might also endanger other military assistance programs in Africa.
Kaunda's decision to undertake an arms buildup came against a background of intense discontent within the army and the Zambian public over the government's inability to prevent Rhodesian aircraft, including slow-moving helicopters, from raiding deep into the country.
Rhodesian jets bombed one nationalist camp Oct. 19 just 12 miles north of Lusaka, killing more than 230 persons and wounding more than 600. The raiding Rhodesian forces also temporarily took over airspace over Lusaka International Airport as well as the Zambian air force base at Mumbwa without firing a shot.
Since then, Zambians have been asking the government in various public forums like the press how it was possible for the Rhodesians to carry out these raids with such impunity.
Kaunda had defended the Zambian armed forces by pointing out that the government has deliberately avoided spending large sums of money on the military in favor of economic development. Zambia has an army of only 7,000 and an air force with just 18 combat aircraft, according to London-based Institute of Strategic Studies. The figures, however do not include a squadron of Chinese-provided Migs Zambia is reported to have obtained recently.
Kaunda now appears to be preparing the Zambian public for a sharp departure from his past practice of keeping military spending low, pointing out at the same time what it will cost the country in other sectors.
"The money we have to spend on hospitals and schools will unfortunately have to be spent on these weapons," he was quoted by the Zambian press as saying at a political rally Monday in southeastern Zambia.
The Zambian leader is facing an election early next month and it was not immediately clear whether his decision to transfer funds from economic and social development projects to a military buildup would help or hurt him in what is becoming something of an uphill battle for election.
It is widely believed, however, that Kaunda had just as many problems now with the military as with the general electorate as a result of the Rhodesian attacks and the armed forces' humiliation at being unable to defend the country. Thus he may well be acting to dissipate military discontent and possible opposition in deciding to purchase new arms now.