Connect to share and comment

Zimbabwe: Diamonds are a dictator's best friend

New agreement allows Zimbabwe to sell the gemstones on international market.

The Mugabe government now has stockpiled diamonds worth an estimated $1.7 billion. Under the agreement Zimbabwe will be allowed to export a limited quantity of diamonds produced since May 28 at two mines in the Marange district where Chiadzwa is located. Zimbabwe will be allowed to export one more batch of diamonds at the beginning of September but will be subject to stringent Kimberley Process inspection. Any further exports will be contingent on “measurable improvements” in the conditions in the diamond fields.

The government has harassed mining companies with long-standing claims in the Marange fields. African Consolidated Resources, quoted on the London Stock Exchange, has been a notable victim.

Meanwhile, two companies with little experience in mining but headed by retired Zimbabwe army officers have been awarded a virtual monopoly of mining activity through their links to state-controlled corporations. One retired officer gave evidence against then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai at his treason trial seven years ago. There are concerns that the concessions given to new mining companies were not above board.

“This agreement is far from perfect,” said Nadim Kara of Partnership Africa Canada. “It will take considerable effort by all parties to the Kimberley Process, especially Zimbabwe, to make it work.”

Observers have pointed out that well-established companies have suffered the same fate as commercial farmers. The companies have seen their legally acquired rights to mine the diamond fields summarily suspended or have seen the mining areas occupied by Mugabe’s cronies.

The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper last week published a dossier released by the new Home Affairs minister, Theresa Makone of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, detailing cases where powerful individuals, including army officers, have refused to obey High Court orders instructing them to leave farms they have seized. The police have refused to intervene.

“It is the same pattern,” said Shadreck Dube who has witnessed land-grabbing first hand.
“They just take what they want. It’s criminal.”

Chikane has said Zimbabwe exported $30 million worth of diamonds but the money could not be accounted for by Treasury.

Finance minister Tendai Biti told parliament that the money had to be accounted for in terms of the law.

“This will avoid the current opaqueness and suspicions over the quality and actual value of resources being generated from the current diamond mining operations in Marange,” Biti said.

Given the Mugabe regime’s record of moving in on any successful activity, the diamond sector’s future looks set to be turbulent.