Zimbabwe flies British fighter jets again – but where did the parts come from?

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s Air Force has mysteriously found parts for its grounded Hawk fighter jets – 21 years after Britain imposed a crippling arms embargo.

Four BAE Hawk jets took part in a fly-past during the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo on Friday.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba could not hide his delight at the sight, writing on Twitter: “Whaooooo! Zimbabwe’s long mothballed squadron of Hawk Fighter jets are flying again! This after years of being grounded because of military sanctions against the country by Britain! Bravo Zimbabwe! We continue to scale to new heights under conditions of sanctions!”

Zimbabwe bought 12 British-manufactured BAE Hawk jets in the early 1980s using a £35 million loan from the British government. One of the jets was destroyed on the ground and two others damaged during an attack on the Thornhill Air Force base by disgruntled ex-ZIPRA fighters in 1982.

Some of the Hawk fighter jets saw active duty in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998 as Zimbabwe took part in repelling a rebel push to overthrow the government.

European Union sanctions on Zimbabwe, imposed in 2000 in response to human rights abuses and the violent seizure of farms from white farmers, saw Zimbabwe unable to import parts or get support from manufacturer BAE Systems, and the entire fleet was reportedly grounded in 2011.

Charamba had not responded to questions left for him by ZimLive, specifically how Zimbabwe obtained parts for the previously grounded jets.

The mystery will leave British sanctions monitors scratching their heads.

Sixteen countries currently operate the BAE Hawk fighter and training jets including Zimbabwe. Four others – Kenya, South Korea, Switzerland and Jordan – have retired theirs.

Three scenarios will be explored: that Zimbabwe performed reverse engineering and manufactured its own parts or serviced the faulty parts; that a third country secretly supplied the parts and the third possibility that an arms dealer busted the sanctions.

Another unknown is how many of the Hawk fighters jets have returned to service, with only four having taken part in the ZITF fly-past.

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