Who invented conflict diamonds?


When Belgium lobbied the European Union to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe’s diamonds, it was accused of promoting its economic interests over human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Belgium lost. The sanctions were renewed because the EU wanted Zimbabwe to hold a referendum, free and fair elections, and complete the implementation of the Global Political Agreement that brought about the inclusive government that has been running the country since February 2009.

Those against the lifting of sanctions focussed on the diamonds from Marange arguing that if sanctions were lifted these diamonds could be used to finance the military which would in turn prop Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front leader Robert Mugabe.

Not one mentioned the fact that the lifting of sanctions is part of the Global Political Agreement. In other words, the GPA can never be “completely” implemented if sanctions are still in force.

In article 4 of the GPA, the parties agreed that all forms of measures and sanctions against Zimbabwe be lifted in order to facilitate a sustainable solution to the challenges that are currently facing Zimbabwe.

That was five years ago. Instead diamonds have taken centre stage because they are allegedly being used to prop the military which is sympathetic to ZANU-PF.

Numerous reports about how Zimbabwe is losing billions of dollars from the illicit sale of its diamonds have been produced mainly by two organisations, British based Global Witness and Canadian based Partnership Africa Canada.

No one has questioned the veracity of these reports. The two organisations are the experts on illicit or blood or conflict diamonds. No one has asked on whose mandate they operate, whose interests they represent and how they became the experts.

A book by a Dutch academic, Dina Siegel, a professor of Criminology at Utrecht University, paints a totally different picture. It says conflict diamonds were invented by non-governmental organisations that capitalised on two sociological processes: the construction of a public problem and the creation of moral panic.

The NGOs created the impression that conflict diamonds were a problem because they fuelled war, murder and human rights abuses. Diamonds were therefore a product of violence and war.

According to the book- The Mazzel Ritual– no one ever bothered to ask the NGOs: Who are you? Who gave you the mandate to become a specialist in a problem that did not exist only a few years ago?

Why is it then that the NGOs focussed on diamonds, the book, which does not cover Zimbabwe’s diamonds, asks?

“The timing was good. After the noisy struggle against the fur and oil industries, various NGOs were looking for a ‘new’ enemy. In general NGOs survive because of the suffering and misery of the world, be it imprisonment, torture, AIDS, leprosy, hunger, or wars. If the world was not confronted with diseases and conflicts there would probably be no NGOs. There is a long list of evils, people are free to choose from it. When one NGO has found a problem on which it can concentrate, the others usually join it. In the mutual effort to survive as organisations, different NGOs support each other in their struggle against the invented enemy….”

It adds: “Diamonds are not dangerous or unhealthy. They do not cause any disease or cause an addiction effect. One of the reasons is probably that diamonds in our Western world are considered sexy, diamonds are luxurious, and diamonds are more attractive than cobalt or timber.”

So the NGOs went for the moral panic. Diamonds, which were a symbol of love, were turned into a symbol of destruction.

“Conflict diamonds have contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people over the past decade. They have fuelled wars; they have led to massive civilian displacement and destruction of entire countries. They have capitalised on the much larger traffic in illicit diamonds that are used for money laundering and tax evasion, or are simply stolen from their rightful owners,” the book quotes one of the NGO spokesmen as saying.

So, who are the greatest beneficiaries from the problem of conflict diamonds? The book quotes an unnamed source who ran a diamond trading organisation in Antwerp, Belgium, as saying, it was NGOs and De Beers.

“NGOs and De Beers created the problem of conflict diamonds and made profits of it. Now after all the noise and Kimberley stuff, they are regularly sitting together in chic restaurants or by one or another at government cocktail receptions in New York or Dubai to discuss how they will solve it. I hope these guys from Fatal Transactions will become fed up with all these dinners and presents and start looking for another scapegoat than diamantairs.”

Another diamantair was extremely bitter. “This NGO (Global Witness) is a couple of criminals and anti-Semites. I do not understand why De Beers just did not sue them for bringing the industry shem ra’a ( bad name) instead of licking their ass.”

Global Witness and De Beers have been key players in Zimbabwe’s diamonds saga.

Global Witness left the Kimberley Process on 5 December 2011, after Zimbabwe had been readmitted, saying that the organisation’s refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny had rendered it useless.

“Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes” said Charmian Gooch of Global Witness.

“The scheme has failed three tests: it failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire, was unwilling to take serious action in the face of blatant breaches of the rules over a number of years by Venezuela and has proved unwilling to stop diamonds fuelling corruption and violence in Zimbabwe. It has become an accomplice to diamond laundering – whereby dirty diamonds are mixed in with clean gems.”

The organisation had since published a report in which it linked Zimbabwe’s diamonds to the military and their connection with Zimbabwe’s intelligence organisation and corrupt businessmen from China.

De Beers has been the biggest beneficiary because by excluding diamonds from Marange, which can distort the whole diamond industry if they flood the market, it is able to dominate the market which it once controlled totally.

Contrary to reports that have now gained wide acceptance when they are in fact incorrect, De Beers, and not African Consolidated Resources, discovered the diamonds at Marange four years before this became public but did not exploit the diamonds for reasons best known to itself.

Publicly De Beers claimed it did not deal in alluvial diamonds but the Zimbabwean government claims that it shipped tonnes of ore to South Africa claiming that it was sampling.

But that is not the end of the story. Despite the wide coverage that Zimbabwe’s diamonds have received, no one has ever asked how Zimbabwe is expected to sell its diamonds legally, even after being readmitted into the KP, when European Union and United States sanctions are still in force.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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