(IDEX Online News) – World Diamond Council President Eli Izhakoff has praised Angola and the Kimberley Process (KP) for their work in stopping trade in conflict diamonds.
Izhakoff, who steps down on June 30, told the Angola Centenary Diamond Conference that Angola was "a living example of the promise of rebirth, and a center that offers the most tangible proof of what the Kimberley Process is able to achieve".
He said that when the KP was formed in 2000, Angola was a prime example of a country whose diamond resources were being squandered to fund a civil war. "Violence raged, and was fueled in part by rebel groups selling rough diamonds that had been obtained under the most terrible human conditions." Angola's 27-year civil war ended in 2002.
"With the cooperation of government, industry and civil society, the KP supported the reestablishment of control over the access of rough diamonds into the legitimate pipeline, allowing UN sanctions against the stricken countries to be relaxed. This consequently enabled companies, like our host Endiama, to strive to obtain the full potential of the resources that they have at their disposal. One cannot underestimate the extent of their achievement. If you had taken a poll 15 years ago whether this event would have been likely, few would have answered positively.
"But through persistence, dedication and consistent support for the Kimberley Process, they have regenerated a viable diamond industry, with a tremendous upside. Some 60 percent of the country’s production potential has not been prospected nor systematically examined. This means that Angola and Endiama are most likely to remain growing forces in our business for many years to come. That is very good news for the Angolan diamond sector, for the international diamond industry, and for the people of Angola."
Returning to the theme of the development of the KP, Izhakoff said that when discussions that led to the formation of the KP were taking place, key decisions were rarely taken in Africa by diamond-producing states. The conflict diamond crisis and the consequent KP focused the attention of the diamond trade on the people and the nations from which so many of the rough diamonds are sourced.
"The ascendancy of Africa in the collective consciousness of the diamond business was not restricted to the development of defensive systems like the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. It also was expressed in the greater involvement of African political and business leaders in the life of our industry. One only needs to look around this hall today to appreciate what I mean. Since the establishment of the Kimberley Process, there have been 11 KP Chairs, of whom five have been African. They include the serving KP Chair, Ambassador Welile Nhlapo of South Africa."
When the KP was established, most rough as now was mined in Africa, but largely aggregated, sorted and sold by the Diamond Trading Company in London, he said. But that is no longer the case. The DTC has since set up sorting and marketing facilities in several African countries, and has moved its headquarters to Gaborone in Botswana. Southern Africa has become the production, strategic and administrative focus of the rough diamond business, and viable diamond cutting centers have sprung up in a host of African countries.
He said diamond cutting and polishing is a business sector that needs to grow organically, but the presence of a growing pool of skilled specialists, technicians and businesspeople in these African countries provides the promise of expanding downstream activities related to diamonds. This means more added value and more sustainable economic opportunities at the grass roots level.
"I am not an historian, but over the past years I have had the privilege of participating in and being a witness to history in the making. From my perspective, one of the overriding consequences of the process in which we have been involved is the empowerment of the African nations and the African people in the diamond business.
"It has been my honor to be associated with the diamond sector in Angola, as it has to have been associated with the diamond sectors in other parts of Africa, and, if the work that we have done under the umbrellas of the World Diamond Council and the Kimberley Process have in any way gone to improve the lives of ordinary citizens in these countries, the hours, days, months and years of hard work that so many of us have invested will have been well worth it. The fact that we are all here today – members of governments, industry and civil society – celebrating a milestone in the life of great African mining center, says it all," he concluded.