Conflict diamonds first took central stage following the damaging and revealing investigative research conducted by international NGOs, such as the UK based Global Witness and its Canadian counterpart Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) on what later became known as ‘Blood Diamond’.
This concept was used then to describe how unregulated diamond deals with rebels in Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, was causing untold suffering to the innocent citizenry of these nations. Rebels directly exchanged diamonds for weapons, which were then used on their own people for the quest for power. Amongst the most notorious of the rebel groups benefiting from these deals were Angola’s Jonas Savimbi’s União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) and Sierra Leone’s Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
It is estimated that between 1992 and 1997, UNITA earned more than US$4 billion from rough diamond deals. The UN and other human rights groups documents that the wars in Angola and Sierra Leone ravaged the lives of over a million people. Perhaps the most shocking of all was irrational and senseless campaign of amputation carried masterminded by Foday Sankoh’s RUF in Sierra Leone. All of this fueled by the regulated trade in diamonds.
The Kimberley Certification Process Scheme
Ever since the diamond industry, 37 diamond producing states as well as partner NGOs signed the Kimberley Certification Process Scheme (KPCS) in Interlaken-Switzerland on November 2002, following its endorsement by the UN General Assembly Resolution 55/56, many controversy have rocked the core of its very existence. Today one of this battle ground remains Zimbabwe’s diamonds, which has transformed the KPCS into a political battle field.
Today the KPCS represents over 75 nations, with its main objective still that of stemming the flow of ‘conflict diamonds’. The KPCS defines a ‘conflict diamond’ as that which ‘used by rebels movements or allies to finance conflicts aimed at undermining legitimate governments’. This definition remains problematic as many argue such an approach doesn’t reflect todays’ realities. Such ambivalence has led to the withdrawal of one of its founding member - Global Witness in December 2011. The disengagement of Global Witness was due to the unwillingness by the KPCS to tackle new areas such as the damning situation in Zimbabwe, following the alleged killings and other forms of human rights violations in the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe.
‘Blood Diamonds’ and Zimbabwe
Over the past three years, the already tainted Robert Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe has been infamously associated with the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians in the largely new diamond mining fields of Marange, located in the Eastern Region of Zimbabwe.
According to Global Witness, this has been solely attributed to the “violent assaults by government security forces against diamond diggers and local communities. Hundreds of people have been killed, and many more have been beaten, raped and forced to mine for the army and police. In the face of overwhelming evidence, the Zimbabwean authorities continue to deny that these abuses have occurred, and no-one has been held accountable”
According to this same report, Global Witness notes that “The violence in Marange reached a peak in autumn 2008, with the arrival of the army, and the launching of Operation ‘Hakudzokwi’, or ‘You will not return’. This operation appeared to have two goals: to ensure control of the diamond deposits for the Zanu PF elite, and to reward the army for its loyalty to this clique. More than 800 soldiers were deployed alongside helicopter gunships, killing over 200 people”. Since these events a lot of abuses have continued to emerge out of Zimbabwe but unfortunately with little or no reporting by the media or by the government of Mugabe to the KPCS. The Marange diamond fields, covering over 10,000 hectares of alluvial scattered diamonds, have seen mass force evictions of local villagers. So far little accountability is forthcoming despite Section V of the KPCS clearly calling for ‘cooperation and transparency’ amongst members with respect to all aspect of diamond trading.
Post Conflict and Blood Diamond Deadlock
Since events in Zimbabwe first reached the KPCS in 2008, very little has been done to effective address the situation and Zimbabwe continue to supply diamonds to the world markets mostly for consumers in the West. During the June 2011 Plenary Session of the KPCS in Kinshasa, Chairman Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo unilaterally endorsed the supply of Zimbabwe’s diamonds into main stream diamond trade. The marketing of Zimbabwe’s diamonds remains the financial live wire for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF ever since its disputed re-election in 2008. Observers believe this trend will continue as the veteran attempts for early elections, which he is widely expected to run.
The decision to abandon the KPCS by NGOs and other observers such as Ian Smillie justify the lack of efficiency by the KPCS and its out-datedness of purpose. Even though Zimbabwe’s representative accused western participants of racial motivations behind the attention on Zimbabwe, the facts remain that ‘blood diamonds’, remain a reality in most parts of Africa and now in its new phase. Many countries have moved out of traditional conflicts which once dominated the African continent, yet diamonds still bring misery and death to many.
Artisan miners continue to work under deplorable conditions and often unpaid or not well paid for the diamonds they produce. Child labour is another reality in countries like Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) as well as Angola. Civil wars which were initially associated with diamonds may have subsided in most parts of Africa except for the DRC, but most artisan miners still live under sub-human conditions. Either they are directly abused by their own governments or the lucrative deals their leaders get into with western diamonds dealers help sustain their corrupt practices and brutal dictatorships.
Any hopes for the Kimberley Process?
The KPCS can only succeed if human rights considerations triumphed over political silliness that has dominated its meetings. With the United State at the helm of the KPCS as chair for its rotating chairmanship, many look up to the US State Department to reconsider the plight of Zimbabweans and other African living the realities of the affections their blood offer Western consumers. Unfortunately this is unlikely, as the KPCS continues to welcome new and un-scrutinise membership such as Cameroon with its well documented human rights records. US ambassador and current chair of the KPCS Gillian Milovanovic has stated clearly that the KPCS, under the U.S. presidency, would not review the decision to allow Zimbabwean diamonds from Marange, onto world markets despite the concerns raised by human rights’ groups.
Diamonds are certainly not forever in the ‘Dark Continent’!
*Atabong Tamo is a Researcher and PhD Fellow in International law, University of Antwerp, Belgium. His email: TamoAwung.Atabongawung@ua.ac.be