Standing At the Fork in the RoadMay 27, 10
What would you say if you were told that there is a place, where if you uproot a tree, you will find diamonds hiding in its roots? A far fetched fantasy? Here is a story I heard today: A group of laborers were busy installing a fence when they encountered a tree standing on their path. Deciding to execute their instructions without waiver, they uprooted the obstacle and found diamonds hiding in the mud surrounding the tree’s roots.
It’s a great story, though I can’t vouch to its accuracy. What is interesting, even more than root-lodged diamonds, are the circumstances around it. The laborers were fencing a diamond concession in south-east Zimbabwe. Yes, Zimbabwe again. This beautiful country, home to one of the most ruthless yet legal governments around today, is also home to one of the largest diamond deposits in the world.
According to reports we are getting from the country, in the past few months companies started to move in and stake their claims. The claim in the tree story is one of them. The government is of course involved, handing out licenses to companies from different countries.
As the race to grab land where the next Argyle may be found is on, there is another race taking place. A race to decide on the future of Zimbabwe’s rough diamond exports.
As in any race, at least two are competing for the prize. One opinion holds the view that goods should not be allowed out of the country. The NGOs hold that diamonds cannot be exported at a cost to human life and therefore the goods from the Marange fields, where at least 200 people were killed by the government, should be blocked or at least monitored by a special Kimberley Process (KP) representative.
The U.S. government wants to go a few steps further and completely block Zimbabwe’s diamond exports and, if possible, remove the country from the list of KP members. This is motivated not by a concern for the image of the diamond industry or even to punish the country for the killings at Marange. The motivation is part of a wider U.S. interest to remove President Mugabe from his post and increase American influence in the country and the African continent at large.
Imagine a bottle with soda in it. Shake it and foam bursts out. The competing view sees Zimbabwe as such a bottle. Those holding this view claim that diamonds will and are being mined in the country regardless of opposing sentiments. The bottle is being shaken, and the question is, will we keep shaking the bottle with the hope that we can contain everything in it, or realize that the bottle is already dripping and that sooner or later the contents will burst out with great force, creating a mess in the process.
To avoid a burst - goods being smuggled out of the country daily - the pressure needs to be eased in a regulated manner, they say. This means that rough diamonds will be exported, enter the legitimate stream legally, and the incentive of corrupt government officials and military officers to allow and support smuggling will subside. In fact, they will enjoy greater economic benefits in such a way.
Powerful forces are supporting this approach. The government of Zimbabwe for one, of course. Other Southern Africa countries are probably viewing this favorably too. Outside of the continent, in manufacturing countries, there is wide support for this in the diamond community. The industry in those countries, in turn, is pressuring their governments to support this too and allow exports from the Marange fields.
Zero Sum Game
Generally, there seems to be public consensus supporting a blockage of some sort. Today (Thursday), The Herald in Zimbabwe reported on a leaked email sent by the U.S. State Department KP official, Brad Brooks-Rubin, to KP Monitor Abbey Chikane. In the email, it seems that the U.S. is trying to circumvent the KP people and its decisions, providing specific instructions to Chikane on what the Monitor should do while in the country.
This is a zero sum game. And those fencing off areas in the country expect that at some point, maybe only after Mugabe’s passing, one of the world’s richest deposits will be mined and exported.
Lets put the cards on the table. Those responsible for the Marange killings should stand trial and incarcerated. The country, however, should not be punished.
The people of Zimbabwe should enjoy the riches of their country, and we should remember that either we get illegal exports - with all its ills - or we do what we can to face reality with open eyes. This is no celebrated situation, just a harsh reality we need to face.
The drafters of the KP did not see this coming. The fork in the road is not just for Zimbabwe’s diamonds but also for the KP itself.
In less than a month, the KP will meet in Israel for its annual conference. The tentative agenda is somewhat vague at this stage; however, one of the issues that will get air time is Zimbabwe. By the time this happens, in the afternoon hours of Monday, June 21, everything will already be decided.
There is a sentiment among quite a few of the KP delegates that the decision will have great impact on the future of the Process itself. That KP met its limits and needs to make some tough choices.
When delegates to the conference adjourn to enjoy their cocktails that evening, we might see the dots, but not know how they connect. Will the KP make a decision that will allow it to live and the drinks are toasts to that, or when we look back to that moment in time, we will understand that the chosen path led to KP’s demise.