Diamonds are not a country’s best friend; certainly not if yours is a semi-lawless country in Africa, like Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe the discovery of diamonds in the beautiful part of the country around Marange, southeast of the capital of Harare, has probably extended the life of the Robert Mugabe regime by two years. Their discovery by a British company, Africa Consolidated Resources, in September 2006, provided Mugabe with another source of plunder; plunder he could use to keep his brutal security forces loyal.
Fact is that such economic governance as remains in Zimbabwe is directed to finding cash to pay the army and the police, who keep the Mugabe regime afloat, Even so, Mugabe had fallen behind; and last December soldiers and police demonstrated in Harare, demanding to be paid. Basically, Mugabe’s response was to cede the diamond operations to the security forces.
In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the security forces killed 200 miners while tightening their grip on the mines and introducing forced labor. The Kimberley Process, a humanitarian alliance set up to stop the flow of so-called blood diamonds, sent a six-person team to investigate the Zimbabwe mines and found such human rights abuses that it classified the gems as blood diamonds to be sanctioned.
But diamonds are hard to trace and label; they are fungible and portable, and they can be mined with a pick and shovel in many places, as they are today in Zimbabwe and Congo. They also can be smuggled in many of the ways drugs are, except there is no odor to aid border guards with dogs.
Through the years diamonds have been ingested, concealed in body cavities and even hidden in wounds. Desperate people do desperate things–and never more so when there is the prospect of riches in places of utter poverty.
A diamond rush, as has happened in Zimbabwe, is a dangerous, lawless, violent and wretched occurrence.
As Mugabe has rejected international mining partners, who might actually know something about the safe and orderly mining of diamonds, the Zimbabwe mines are dangerous, inefficient and environmentally disastrous.
The Zimbabweans are not even getting fair value for their gems. These are being marketed through back channels established by the government, and untold numbers of gems are stolen at production and sold to middle men and unscrupulous cutters around the world.
The link between the security forces and the mines has another bad effect: It adds to the political impotence of Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister in a power-sharing arrangement with Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. In that arrangement Mugabe retains control of the the security forces, thus robbing Tsvangirai of any authority–not that he would use it well if he got it.
Zimbabweans are wondering what has happened to Tsvangirai, who seems to have lost the ability to stand up to Mugabe. For nearly a decade, Tsvangirai endured false arrests, allegations of treason, beatings while in custody and had the last election stolen from him and his Movement for Democratic Change.
Now Zimbabweans are asking whether the trappings of power have corrupted their hero or whether, in accepting the South Africa-brokered power-sharing deal, Tsvangirai boxed himself in. Anyway, he looks as though he has become Mugabe’s bagman, touring the world seeking “investment.” Tsvangirai has been promised some very limited humanitarian aid, including $8 million of conditional aid from the British and a promise of a little over $73 million of even more restricted and conditional aid from President Obama. World leaders are aware that $7 million in private charity money for AIDS victims was.diverted.
When Tvangirai got back to Harare, Mugabe supporters ridiculed his efforts
and his own supporters accused him of selling out to Mugabe. As if to show up his old rival, Mugabe then announced a Chinese loan of just under $1 billion; much of this money has to be spent on Chinese imports.
It is ironic that Mugabe should be kept in power by diamonds. It was diamonds that formed the basis of the fortune that enabled the adventurer, Cecil John Rhodes, to colonize Zimbabwe for Britain in the 1890s. Maybe all diamonds are conflict diamonds. Bloody stones. –For Hearst-New York Times Syndicate