Was China's Anger Over Zimbabwe's Diamonds Behind Mugabe's Sudden Downfall?November 23, 17
Could diamonds have played a part in the downfall of Zimbabwe's, thankfully, ex-President Robert Mugabe? Responsible for untold misery in the poor southern African state, unfortunately Mugabe stayed in control for far longer than should have been the case.
Perhaps a debt of gratitude is owed by everyone who wants to see the country rehabilitate itself and enable its wealth to be more fairly shared to Mugabe's extraordinarily greedy and callous wife, Grace. Thanks to her constant pushing and behind-the-scenes scheming, the president made the mistake of firing his long-time vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa in order to make way for his wife to eventually take over from him.
Ironically, Mnangagwa is not necessarily an improvement on his long-time mentor, Mugabe. He was simply better connected to the all-powerful military than was Grace. Having served as Mugabe's chief henchman for decades, killing off opponents and sowing misery across the land, Mnangagwa is certainly no knight in shining armor, and may turn out to be no better than his predecessor.
However, I'd like to think that the huge outpouring of relief we have seen over the past week or so at the possibility – and then the reality – of Mugabe stepping down means that even Mnangagwa and the military will not be able to simply come in with more of the same type of misrule that Zimbabweans have suffered for the past 37 years. With presidential elections due to be held next year, one can only hope that they are going to be fair and not rigged as in the past. The idea that proper elections will be held and international financial aid offered to Zimbabwe is a thrilling prospect which would surely encourage other peoples living under repressive regimes across the globe.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has said it is cautiously optimistic that Mnangagwa will not "mimic and replicate the evil, corrupt, decadent and incompetent Mugabe regime". Will the ruling Zanu-PF govern on its own, or will it create a huge surge of optimism to keep the momentum going after Mugabe's departure and call for a coalition government of national unity that includes opposition groups?
There is little time to lose as far as reconstruction is concerned. Zimbabwe must move rapidly to rehabilitate its economy and secure access to international financial aid. Government spending and foreign debt are huge, and structural reform is vital. One of Mnangagwa's first pledges after arriving back in the country yesterday was to grow the economy and provide "jobs, jobs, jobs". However, that is something he will struggle to achieve without vital foreign aid and investment.
I remember attending a diamond conference in Harare exactly three years ago where Mines and Mining Development Minister Walter Chidhakwa told me how he was looking forward to welcoming foreign investment in his country's diamond industry. With the scandal of events in the Marange area where miners were killed by security forces under the direction of their heads who were enjoying the financial benefits of selling diamonds, I failed to understand how he could express such misplaced optimism, to put it politely.
Numerous were the stories at the time, as well as before and after, of the failure of the government to gain any financial benefit for its wretched citizens as the proceeds from the country's diamond mining disappeared into the foreign accounts of everyone from the top down. At the same conference, Mugabe gave a long rambling speech about how foreigners had raped the land, and how Zimbabwe was now moving to use the money from diamond sales for the benefit of the populace.
The leader who presided over the not inconsiderable feat of halving the size of Zimbabwe's economy since the turn of the century. The man who, because of his incompetence and misrule, Zimbabwe has not had a currency of its own since 2009 when the country's former dollar simply crashed and became worthless due to hyperinflation which is said to have reached 231 million percent. A figure so ridiculous that it is impossible to quantify or give an example of what it meant to consumer prices.
Bribery and corruption, of course, were rife, and one immediate benefit of the army takeover is that police road blocks where officers routinely demanded bribes from drivers have apparently disappeared. As a woman called Spiwe Azvigumi told the AFP news agency: "With the police off the roads, crime is actually down - they were so corrupt and now we are living free." Crime goes down when the police are absent. Could there be a more perfect example of the condition in which the people were living?
As for the question at the beginning of the article asking if diamonds were the reason for the collapse of the Mugabe regime, this relates to media reports that the Marange diamond mines were the reason for China’s increasing concerns about the Mugabe government's indigenization policy, which required 51 percent local ownership of foreign businesses. Two Chinese companies, Anjin and Jinan, began operations in 2012 with 51 percent of shares owned by the Zimbabwe government. However, the regime integrated them into the state owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) in 2015, which apparently led to a great deal of behind-the-scenes protest by the Chinese government. With China reportedly the importer of almost one-third of Zimbabwe's exports, the Peking government has a not inconsiderable say in decisions made in Harare.
The buffeting that Chinese investments in Zimbabwe's diamond mines took also hit the bank accounts of senior Zimbabwean military figures who reportedly cooperated with the firms under the leadership of General Constantine Chiwenga – the head of the armed forces who is being seen as something of a savior after going to Mugabe to tell him his time was up. Reports say that a 30 percent share of Anjin Investments is allegedly controlled by the Zimbabwean Defense Forces through a subsidiary, and that senior officers associated with Mugabe have become wealthy gentlemen due to the diamond business. None of this is new, of course, but it does give a sense of perspective about just who the top army brass are and what their real aims are.
It is to be hoped that the changes taking place in Zimbabwe currently are more than just a pressure valve letting off steam that has built up over many years, and that even the brutally effective Zimbabwean military will not be able to prevent the people of that country from enjoying a brighter – and wealthier – future.