Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mugabe being helped by diamond industry say campaigners

Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe is helping to prop up his power base with cash from Chiadzwa diamond auctions, it is claimed.

The global diamond industry has controversially cleared the way for President Robert Mugabe's regime to raise millions of pounds from exports, according to campaigners.

The Kimberley Process (KP) industry watchdog moved earlier this month to legalise sales from the 150,000-acre Chiadzwa fields in eastern Zimbabwe, which are controlled by the military and have been described by Zimbabwean finance minister Tendai Biti as "the biggest find of alluvial diamonds in the history of mankind".

Diamond sales from Chiadzwa could dwarf the impact of European and American sanctions and set the stage for Mugabe, 86, to strengthen his military, rebuild his power base and even stage elections this year.

"The agreement would allow a huge amount of diamonds from Chiadzwa to enter the international market, despite the human rights abuses that have been reported from the fields," said Elly Harrowell, who monitors KP for the Global Witness lobby group.

The huge diamond wealth of Chiadzwa in the Manicaland province was discovered in 2006 when a Zimbabwean company, backed by the military, moved on to the site. Some geologists say the concession – from which a British company, African Consolidated Resources, was ousted in 2006 – is the largest find in a century. Amnesty International has claimed that soldiers deployed to guard the fields have forced slaves to mine diamonds at gunpoint. Some reports have indicated security forces may have killed miners working illegally on the site.

Mugabe, who after disputed elections in 2008 entered an uneasy coalition with Morgan Tsvangirai, has called on his party, Zanu-PF, to prepare for elections this year. But Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says a fair and violence-free poll cannot be held until a new constitution is agreed. Pro-democracy campaigners are lobbying the African Union, which meets this week in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to call for the poll to be postponed until 2013.

The MDC says renewed persecution of its supporters suggests Mugabe is determined, come what may, to hold elections this year. There is evidence of Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) stepping up distribution of seeds and food in rural areas, a classic sign of looming elections.

A University of Zimbabwe political science professor, John Makumbe, said: "We have just seen the appearance of £20m of farming inputs – tractors, seeds, tools and fertiliser. That can only have come from underhand diamond deals."

The KP certification scheme was set up by the diamond industry in 2003 in a bid to reassure consumers that gems they buy have not been used to fund illegitimate groups, such as the rebel bands which terrorised Charles Taylor's Liberia. Rough diamonds without KP certificates fetch much less money and can only be sold through complex, underhand networks. According to the diamond trade press, KP legalised sales of rough diamonds from Chiadzwa on 18 January after a written consultation process which followed deadlocked talks in Israel last year.

KP reintroduced a ban on exports from Chiadzwa in November last year, in response to concerns about transparency and corruption following auctions in August and September.

The new agreement comes as the industry is clamouring for rough diamonds amid a global shortage that has pushed up prices. It not only makes Zimbabwean diamonds legal but considerably simplifies the process through which the country has to go to sell them. It does away with the need for a KP monitor to supervise shipments and provides for exports to be allowed not only from the two companies operating at Chiadzwa but also from future mines in the fields. Already a major Indian consortium of diamond-cutting firms has welcomed the agreement. On Thursday, Surat Rough Diamond Sourcing announced that it would move to buy £750m of diamonds this year from Chiadzwa.

Zimbabwean pro-democracy campaigners are divided over KP certification. In November, Mugabe's minister of mines, Obert Mpofu, admitted that £100m of diamonds had been sold to India despite the KP ban in force at the time.

Makumbe said: "Without KP agreement Mugabe and his people sell diamonds anyway. At least if an official KP process is in place, there is some way of monitoring the income and there may be auctions which can be audited.

"Zimbabwe needs money desperately. At the moment, things are so tight that the government of national unity is increasingly being seen by the people as not succeeding in bringing about meaningful change."

1 comment:

  1. THE security around the diamond-rich Chiadzwa area in the Manicaland province just after Nyanyadzi has been tightened with police roadblocks virtually after every 500 metres along the main road leading to the controversial diamond field.
    A Zimbabwean on Sunday news team that toured the area last Wednesday witnessed overzealous police officers thoroughly searching cars at the roadblocks. The police appeared to mostly target vehicles bearing foreign registration plates and high value cars driven by the rich such as Range Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser 4X4, Mercedes Benz cars.
    "You are no longer allowed to go into the area which has been cordoned off to the public," a Mutare-based journalist told our news team.
    "You are not allowed to take pictures or use your cell phone once you are allowed into the area. As a journalist you must make a request to the police bosses and tell them the angle of the story that you intend to publish …. and they escort you (around the diamond field)
    “But this is a very sensitive area and they do not usually want anybody including journalists especially the white ones to go into Chiadzwa," the journalist said. The police are said to step up patrols around the diamond field at night when illegal dealers invade the area in search of gemstones for sale on the illegal market for precious stones.
    The Chiadzwa diamond field that is also known as Marange is one of the world’s most controversial diamond fields with reports that soldiers sent to guard the claims after the government took over the field in October 2006 from a British firm that owned the deposits committed gross human rights abuses against illegal miners who had descended on the field.
    Diamonds from the Chiadzwa region are banned for exports as part of measures to force Zimbabwe to adhere to rules and standards set by the Kimberley Process that regulates the world diamond industry. The Zimbabwean army is accused of alleged human rights abuses at the Chiadzwa, including engaging in forced labour and smuggling.


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