At the start of 2023, Belarus's leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, (who been the president of Belarus since the office's establishment on July 20, 1994) embraced and promoted Belarus’ relations with Zimbabwe. He visited the African country on a three-day state visit and promised a breakthrough in cooperation, offering the government more tractors and combine harvesters as part of a farm mechanization program, which cost around USD 66 million.
After Lukashenka returned to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, it was announced that as a result of his visit to Zimbabwe, contracts worth USD 200 million were finalized. As the independent Belarusian media house UDF (which stands for ‘Unity, Democracy, Freedom’) explained, nothing much had changed since January 2023 with regard to economic relations between the two countries.
The UDF described a timeline of official visits and documents being signed almost every month. In March 2023, Zimbabwe's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Frederick Shava visited Minsk, where he communicated with Lukashenka.
In April, Zimbabwe's First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa also went to Minsk. The official purpose of her visit was purportedly based on her interest in the Belarusian healthcare system, assistance to children, and the production of baby food. Zimbabwe's independent media criticized the visit, saying it was not within the provisions of Zimbabwe's law for the president's spouse to conduct state visits.
They also mentioned that she was accompanied by ‘controversial’ businessman Aleksander Zingman, who was appointed honorary consul for Zimbabwe by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2019 and was described by journalists studying the Pandora Papers (11.9 million leaked documents that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published beginning on October 3, 2021) as one of the co-owners of a joint venture which mined gold in Zimbabwe under a shadow deal.
When meeting with Lukashenko, the first lady of Zimbabwe called him not only “the father of the country but also the mother.” In August 2023, the newly appointed Ambassador of Zimbabwe to Belarus, Ignatius Graham, arrived in Minsk.
Even after finalizing deals at the start of the year, officials have signed a range of documents, including a directive from Lukashenko to set up a cooperative joint commission in May 2023, education ministers putting pen to paper on a strategic plan for higher education and science from 2023–2025, and the House of Representatives endorsing a pact between Belarus and Zimbabwe to prevent double taxation.
However, as UDF highlighted, no practical results were seen from all these agreements. In open sources, the only available information is a message from August 2023: the state news agency BelTA reported that 3,575 tractors are slated for delivery to Zimbabwe between 2023–2024, and their shipment has already commenced. From this data, it appears that since the start of the year, there has been little progress on the matter. Earlier, Lukashenka had announced that Belarus would provide 3,700 tractors.
A few months ago, Belarus donated 23 fire engines to Zimbabwe.
UDF quotes Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko saying that in foreign trade relations with African countries, “the accumulated political capital has not yet been adequately converted into successful trade and economic projects.”
As UDF highlights, Lukashenka’s attempts to establish cooperation with Zimbabwe can be explained by two possible reasons: either moves to subvert Western sanctions or an attempt to build a corruption scheme under the guise of interstate cooperation.
However, the situation seems to develop further. Independent Belarusian and African media noticed that Lukashenka’s special envoy, Viktor Sheimanre, recently visited Zimbabwe, where he met with the country’s head Mnangagwa and Foreign Minister Shava, on October 30, 2023. As The Zimbabwean reported, the arrival of Belarusian army general Viktor Sheiman has sparked concerns. Sheiman, facing sanctions from both the European Union and the United States, had already traveled to Zimbabwe before to discuss private business arrangements in 2018.
Reportedly, during that period, he brokered business agreements representing the Belarusian government, including plans to mine minerals such as gold, platinum, and rare earths through a collaborative mining project. However, the later Pandora papers leak discovered that instead, the mining gold company was owned by Sheiman's son Sergei and Belarusian businessman Alexander Zingman.
Viktor Sheiman has been a steadfast supporter of Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka for many years. He is sanctioned by both the EU and the US regarding human rights violations and the disappearance of Lukashenka's critics before and during his position as Belarus’ prosecutor-general in 2004.