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Diamond politics

Published : Sep 24, 2010 00:00 IST

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PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE. He is determined to sell the country's diamonds with or without the Kimberley Process certification.-DESMOND KWANDE/AFP

PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE. He is determined to sell the country's diamonds with or without the Kimberley Process certification.-DESMOND KWANDE/AFP

Zimbabwe has been allowed to sell its diamonds once again in the international market despite objections from the U.S., Canada and Australia.

ZIMBABWE, which is in the throes of an economic crisis, is endowed with vast and diverse mineral riches. If it is allowed to exploit these resources, the country will be prosperous once again. Zimbabwe's mainstay, until the turn of the century, was agriculture, and the country was aptly described as the breadbasket of southern Africa. But a combination of factors, internal as well as external, sent the Zimbabwean economy into a tailspin.

Now there are signs of an economic recovery. Zimbabwe has been allowed to sell its diamonds once again in the international market despite objections from the United States, Canada and Australia.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, speaking at the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, in mid-August pointed out that southern Africa was awash with natural resources and that there was no need for it to kowtow to the West.

Now that they [Westerners/colonisers] are gone, God has given us greater vision. We have discovered diamonds, platinum, uranium and a lot of other precious metals and stones. Why should we continue to bow to them? he said. Fellow heads of state applauded him when he called upon African leaders to be united and follow the guiding spirit of those who fought colonialism and liberated the continent.

Mugabe touched upon the issue of the sale of blood diamonds, or diamonds mined in a conflict zone and sold to finance an insurgency. The Kimberley Process, set up in 2002, is a joint initiative by governments, industry and civil society aimed at prohibiting the sale of rough blood diamonds, which are used by rebel movements to fund forces or factions that seek to overthrow legitimate governments.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) certifies the origin of the rough diamonds in order to prevent blood diamonds from entering the mainstream rough diamond market. It imposes extensive requirements on its members to make themselves eligible to certify shipments of rough diamonds as conflict-free and to ensure that no diamond is imported from, or exported to, a non-member of the scheme. The West, having already put Zimbabwe under draconian economic sanctions, has used the KPCS to stall it from selling its diamonds in the international market.

The cash-strapped Zimbabwean economy has been desperate for hard currency infusion for many years now. Billions of dollars that the country could have earned through the sale of diamonds was blocked until recently as a result of Western machinations. According to experts, Zimbabwe's Marange fields, which were discovered in June 2006, have diamond deposits worth several billions of dollars. It was alleged that the Zimbabwean Army and Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) were illegally profiting from the illicit diamond mining.

Look at what they are doing to us? They say do not sell your diamonds because they want Anglo-American and De Beers to come and mine our diamonds, and De Beers has been swallowing diamonds everywhere, Mugabe said to the cheering delegates. In Zimbabwe there is no internecine conflict similar to the ones going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo and some other parts of the continent where diamonds are being mined.

In a show of rare unity, both the ZANU-PF and the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which are at present running a coalition government, jointly appealed for the repeal of the ban on the sale of Zimbabwean diamonds.

The whole concept of blood diamonds started at the height of the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The conflict in Sierra Leone especially was fuelled by blood diamonds.

The former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, is now facing trial at the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague for allegedly using the proceeds from the sale of blood diamonds to finance the arming of a rebel army in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Taylor has professed innocence, and the International Criminal Court has so far come out with very little hard evidence to implicate him despite calling many star witnesses, including the supermodel Naomi Campbell.

Diamond bourses

Most of the blood diamonds from Sierra Leone and other war zones ended up in diamond bourses in the West and in countries such as Israel and India, where most of the precious stones are cut and polished. The West did not care much when its proxies such as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) prolonged the bloody civil wars in their respective countries by profiting from blood diamonds.

Zimbabwe was sought to be punished for bringing order in the area around the Marange diamond field, where lawlessness had prevailed after the discovery of diamonds in 2006. Unscrupulous elements from within and outside Zimbabwe had congregated in the town of Mutare, located near the diamond fields. Traders from all over the world, including India and Israel, started buying illegally mined diamonds at Mutare. Many people died when the ramshackle mines they had built collapsed. Mafia gangs, hoping to monopolise the diamond trade, were engaged in frequent violent clashes. Very little of the revenue earned in Marange flowed into the state coffers.

The military then stepped in to undertake a major clean-up drive, code-named Operation Hakudzokwi (No Return). Some people who refused to vacate the place and even put up violent resistance were killed in the operation.

The state is now in full control of the Marange fields, which are spread over 425 square kilometres. The government has allowed joint ventures in mining involving South African and Chinese companies and will keep 80 per cent of the revenue from the sale of diamonds. The diamonds from Marange alone can generate a revenue of $1.7 billion a year. Zimbabwe has already joined the ranks of the top six diamond producers in the world.The clearance for the limited sale of diamonds was given only in June after the Kimberley Process approved the report of Abbey Chikane, a South African businessman. Chikane was appointed by the Kimberley Process to look into the allegations of human rights violations in the Marange fields. The West had alleged that more than 200 people, who were engaged in illegal mining, were killed and that state-sponsored corruption was rampant in the area. Chikane, in his report, lauded the Zimbabwean Army's role and recommended that it stay in the region until such time that the police were able to maintain law and order in Marange.

The government of Zimbabwe had demonstrated its commitment to meet the minimum requirements. A great deal of hard work has gone into their efforts, the report noted. The Chikane report was endorsed by Zimbabwe's neighbours and also by China, India and Russia.

"No human rights violations"

The U.S., Canada and Australia were among the few countries that were critical of the report. They had tried their best to block the certification of Zimbabwean diamonds. A Canadian non-governmental organisation, Global Witness and Partnership Africa, led the campaign to classify the stones mined in Zimbabwe as blood diamonds. The NGO is funded by the Canadian and key European governments. The Kimberley Process mandate is only to prevent the sale of diamonds from financing insurgents seeking to overthrow legitimate governments. Besides, the Kimberley Process chairman, Bernard Esau, said that there was no proof of human rights violations in the Marange fields. The Kimberley Process operates on the basis of consensus. Zimbabwe has been allowed to make only a one-off sale. In the face of opposition from the West, the Kimberley Process will have to take a case-by-case decision on the future auctions of Zimbabwean diamonds.

If Zimbabwe is allowed to trade in diamonds and other precious minerals freely, the West's game plan to effect a regime change will be affected. For more than a decade, Mugabe and the ZANU-PF have been targeted for political elimination by the U.S. and Britain. The flow of revenue to the state from the sale of diamonds, if unhindered, will play a big role in reviving the economy in a very short period. This, from the West's point of view, is counter to the logic of sanctions and the promise of regime change. However, in the face of unrelenting hostility from the West, Zimbabwe will not find the sailing smooth.

We want to be orderly, to do what other countries in the region are doing, but countries such as the U.S., Britain, Australia and Canada want to take advantage of us by ensuring that the Kimberley Process creates the same effect like sanctions on us, that we should not be allowed to sell our diamonds, Mugabe said in May. They have been heard saying what happens to our sanctions if Zimbabwe sells its diamonds?' It is the regime change agenda all the time.

Mugabe is determined to sell the country's diamonds, with or without the KPCS. We do not need the blessings of anyone, least of all nations with chequered origins and equally chequered profiles in spilling so much blood to lay their hands on resources of other nations, he said in a recent speech.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Sep 24, 2010.)

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