Perspectives #03/ 2011: Politics, Principles and Practice: Zimbabwe's Diamonds and the Kimberley Process
In 2003 the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP) was created to prevent the trade of diamonds by rebel groups to finance violent conflict against legitimate governments. Notable progress has been made: the percentage of so-called “conflict diamonds” in the total diamond trade has fallen from an estimated 4 to 15 percent at the end of the 1990s to less than 0.2 percent today. Nonetheless, the scheme has come under severe criticism, due to perceptions of a widening gap between its principal goals and practical application. Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds, in particular, have been tainted by reports of violence, human rights abuses and smuggling, fuelling doubts about the scheme’s credibility and sparking debate about its definition of “conflict diamonds”. The issue has highlighted deep divisions among KP member states, and has paralysed the scheme through lack of consensus.
Recently, the battle over Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds and the KP entered a new round. In October 2011 the KP civil society coalition announced its intention to boycott a KP plenary meeting scheduled for November in Kinshasa, DRC. Civil society, along with government and industry, constitutes one of the three pillars of the KP. The civil society delegation walked out of the last KP intersessional meeting in June to protest the approval of Zimbabwe’s rough exports by current Chairman Mathieu Yamba without the required consent of all member states. In his reply to the civil society boycott, Mr. Yamba stated that the plenary meeting will go ahead, and that he would “continue to work with those who wish so”.
Can the KP survive Marange? Alan Martin, one of the leading activists in the KP civil society coalition, is convinced that should the scheme fail to modernise and commit to a higher set of standards, it will ultimately become irrelevant. In contrast, Stéphane Chardon, chairman of the KP Working Group on Monitoring, argues that the Marange issue has, to some extent, demonstrated the scheme’s capacity to tackle new challenges, enabling it to contribute to real improvements on the ground.
The security and human rights situation has indeed improved since the violent 2008 upsurge, when the Zimbabwean government deployed the military in the area. However, human rights activist Farai Maguwu cautions that the Marange diamond fields remain volatile. More importantly, the issue needs to be understood in the context of Zimbabwe’s political crisis, which remains unchanged. Instead of uplifting the Zimbabwean economy after years of turmoil, and despite the formation of a government of national unity, patterns of ownership and opacity regarding revenue streams suggest that the Marange diamonds serve as an important income source for the ruling ZANU-PF elite and its military allies. It is because of this alleged link between ZANU-PF’s brutal grip on power and the control of the Marange diamonds that some observers argue they should be classified as “conflict diamonds”.
However, whether this - and consequently, Zimbabwe’s suspension from the KP - would lead to the desired results is subject to controversy. Claude Kabemba argues that continued trade of the Marange diamonds under the KP would help ensure at least minimal transparency and accountability.
The contributions brought together here clearly show that the solution to the Marange issue ultimately lies within Zimbabwe. There is, however, little doubt that the KP and Zimbabwe’s neighboring states should play a more critical role in resolving the situation. We hope that this edition of Perspectives, which was inspired by robust discussions at a roundtable seminar co-hosted by the foundation, will stimulate further debate on how to make the Marange diamonds work for the benefit of all Zimbabweans.
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