Zimbabwe: Diamonds are a dictator's best friend

HARARE, Zimbabwe — International rights campaigners have given a cautious welcome to the decision by the World Diamond Council to allow diamonds from the controversial diggings in Chiadzwa, in Zimbabwe’s eastern districts, to be exported under the supervisory Kimberley Process.

But they have warned that close inspection will be needed to ensure President Robert Mugabe’s government does not renege on undertakings it has given in weeks of intense negotiations.

Mining in the Chiadzwa area near the border with Mozambique has been shrouded in controversy with charges of gross human rights abuses from local and international organizations including Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada.

Zimbabwean rights campaigner Farai Maguwu was last week released from jail where he had spent three weeks, much of that time beyond the reach of his family and lawyers.

He was charged with “peddling falsehoods prejudicial to the state.” The charge derived from confidential material he supplied to Kimberley Process monitor Abbey Chikane, a South African, disclosing details of killings, kidnappings and other abuses at the hands of Zimbabwe’s military.
Maguwu’s arrest produced a wave of outrage which delayed the negotiations aimed at finding a solution to the impasse.

Agreement was finally reached in St Petersburg, Russia, last week.

“The ball is now firmly in Zimbabwe’s court to make good on its promises and act to end one of the most egregious cases of diamond-related violence for many years,” said Annie Dunnebacker of Global Witness.

The campaign groups hope the agreement, if fully implemented, will end the widely reported abuses in Zimbabwe’s diamond fields.

At one stage Chikane claimed that his luggage had been opened by “naughty” intelligence officers. Correspondence between him and U.S officials subsequently appeared in Zimbabwe’s government-owned press as Mugabe’s regime anticipated a negative outcome.

Australia, the EU, Canada and the United States have opposed lifting restrictions on the sale of what rights campaigners refer to as “blood diamonds.”

The agreement in Russia was welcomed by Zimbabwe as a triumph for its diplomacy. Mines minister Obert Mpofu has been characterizing Western hostility as part of a regime-change plot.

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.