By Andrew Field
Zimbabwe’s fledgling diamond industry seems to have set off to a rather poor start. One would have thought that a new found precious stone resource would have been treasured by the mining sector and the State alike. Well, it has been, but by greedy people and, so it seems, now crooked institutions too. In the process, a new trade in smuggling, money laundering, combined with human rights abuses, has evolved. Free enterprise has been trampled under, along the route.
Utilisation of the Marange diamond fields began its natural course, in March 2002, with the exploration by Kimberlitic Searches, a subsidiary of the diamond king, De Beers plc. This followed the discovery of diamonds by local villagers in the area. Pegging, under Exclusive Prospecting Orders, and leasing of claims followed, but, incredulously, De Beers failed to renew these leases in 2006. African Consolidated Resources plc now asserts to have acquired these rights from government, a matter which remains sub judice.
It seems that once the wealth of these claims became better known, self serving politicians stepped in to cancel the leasing rights of African Consolidated, on the very dubious grounds that they were not properly conferred. Much like with land, stake holders were simply the wrong colour and supposedly of a hostile nationality. Police started their evictions of African Consolidated personnel, despite magisterial orders to desist, while government granted the rights to its own Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.
The then ruling party announced, with such typical folly, the opening of the diamond fields to all indigenous people and the World’s latest, and perhaps last, diamond rush began. Politicians did not count upon people flocking to Marange from all corners of the globe. Nor did they anticipate an illicit trafficking hierarchy, from lowly agents to corrupt barons, enjoying their political patronage, including, apparently, some of their own and members of the forces too. Zimbabwe’s was soon being robbed of its wealth, enriching a select few ‘chefs’ while the new bounty traveled as far afield as Lebanon, India, Pakistan, China and Europe.
Then Operation Chikorokoza Chapera arrived, in which hundreds of police were deployed, and twenty-two thousand wildcat diggers and illicit diamond dealers were arrested. Widespread allegations of human rights abuse: including arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture; use of child labour; and even extrajudicial killings, came to the fore, according to Human Rights Watch, all, of course, officially denied. A new and odorous level of official corruption was being observed, while other nations simply looked on.
There followed military intervention, to achieve controls, where the police had once failed, leading to yet further accounts of brutality, human rights abuse and yet more accusations of sleaze. Fingers were being pointed at the central bank too, for illicit dealing in the precious stone, which they had not the mandate to do. Inevitably, the names of a few more senior politicians slipped into the debacle to make it all the grubbier. It really is quite a little mess.
Enter then the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, with allegations about ‘blood diamonds’, citing human rights abuses, and with disingenuous intention to ban Marange diamonds, through Zimbabwe’s suspension from its ranks. Of course, Zimbabwe’s unique situation does not fall within the definition of ‘conflict diamonds’. The Kimberley Process eventually absolved Zimbabwe from any wrong doing, stating no proof was established, but urging de-militarisation of the diamond fields, a contradiction on its own. This has been largely ignored. Zimbabwe thus escaped its suspension.
Zimbabwe’s delicate unity government remains weirdly silent, as a few of its own, and their lieutenants, continue to gorge at the trough. What could it do? The nation is in a quagmire of graft, brimming with illicit diamond dealing and political ineptitude. Governments which act with such blatant impunity, then send in the troops to protect ill gotten gains, are surely at risk of being subjugated by their protectors, when the glitter of new found diamond wealth dulls once shiny swords and armour. The ugly truth is that this may be a fait accompli.