1401 AFRICA’S DIRTY DIAMONDS - January 2014

Global Consumption

Established in 2000 by the UN, the Kimberley Process is responsible for ensuring that the sale of diamonds does not fund conflicts, as was the case in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola and the DRC in 1990 (film “Blood Diamonds "). At a meeting in Johannesburg on 19 November 2013, diamond producers refused to move towards greater transparency. "The Kimberley Process is not intended to stop human rights abuses," stated South Africa’s representative, Welile Nhlapo, saying that was the task of other UN mechanisms. According to him, the credibility and the very existence of this "unique initiative" which brings together representatives of NGOs, producing companies and 81 countries, depends on its ability to control imports and exports of diamonds. This convoluted explanation did not convince several NGOs who called on the Kimberley Process to reform itself as a matter of urgency.


     In June 2011, the organisation Global Witness had already slammed the door on the Kimberley Process, complaining about its lack of transparency and its complacency regarding Zimbabwe. Indeed, in 2009 the Zimbabwean army had brutally seized the diamond fields of Marangue, expelling the small producers, killing hundreds of miners and forcing several tens of thousands of people to move away.  Now the other NGOs that are still in the Process want to know where the money from diamonds is going. Shamiso Mtisi, a Zimbabwean militant, was one of those who posed this question. One of the possible answers is straightforward. It helped pay the Israeli organisation ‘Nikuv International Projects’ that carefully, and in its own distinctive style, planned and organised the elections in July 2013  that surprisingly returned 89 year-old Robert Mugabe to power. In spite of the protests of his opponent Tsvangirai and of the churches, nobody dared to question the man who had driven the whites off their land and still managed to starve his people and destroy the flourishing economy of his country. In this way, Israelis have helped to distort the democratic development of Zimbabwe, just as they had supported South African apartheid with their military experts.


     Today, the diamond issue is affecting the crumbling Central African Republic (CAR) where, according to official statistics, a quarter of the population lives off the diamond industry which is the main source of income for the government. CAR is the 10th most important diamond source in the world as far as quantity is concerned, and 4th for the quality of its precious stones, producing more than 350,000 carats annually. Sanctions in force since last May in theory forbid exports, but not production. So what has happened to the diamonds mined since May in this ungovernable country where corruption reigns with impunity? The authorities in Bangui are supposed to have control over the production zones.  But amidst the current chaos, who is benefiting from this booty?  The Seleka rebel coalition? The self-protection militias? The army? The ministers?  This is surely what they are all fighting over.  Why were ten South African soldiers killed last spring while trying to protect former president Bozizé?  Because people of standing in South Africa’s president Zuma’s ANC party own diamond mines there – and this has outraged Bishop Tutu who stated he can no longer vote for the ANC.


     The moral dilemmas raised by a diamond trade that lacks transparency are obvious. It has fed numerous wars, as for example in Angola in the 1970s, a period of cold war when the great East-West superpowers clashed indirectly in other countries. Jonas Savimbi of Unita used them to pay the South African soldiers who were supporting him against the MPLA of Dos Santos (still in power today) who himself was paying Cuban and East German soldiers in oil and diamonds. In the opinion of Martin Rapaport, only large companies such as De Beers (S. Africa), Alrosa (Russia), Rio Tinto (Anglo-Australian) and Aber (Canada) are able to monitor ‘from mine to ring’ operations that guarantee they are ‘guilt free’. Whatever the truth may be, the negative comments of the South African representative of the Kimberley Process cast a dim light on this trade which, as it nurtures the crisis, is becoming more important than gold, silver and real estate. Antwerp, Singapore, India, China, Israel and New York have become the nerve centres, and also the north-western Canada, a new Wild West, it seems. Maybe a new curse ...


Christine von Garnier,

Swiss Antenna


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