Monday, September 18, 2017

Diamonds are Forever

Africa's rough diamonds have been increasing in value but the sale proceeds do not reach the people. Instead, they benefit metropolitan elites and the mine companies, which are usually foreign-owned.

Tanzanian police struck a blow against international diamond smuggling. A consignment of diamonds worth around 28 million euros ($33.4 million) was seized at the country's main airport. Petra Diamonds, the biggest listed diamond company in the world, based in the tax haven of Jersey, had registered a consignment of 14 kilos (30 pounds.) However, according to the Tanzanian authorities, it actually weighed 30 kilos. The rough diamonds from the Williamson mine were intended for export to Belgium for processing.

The Williamson mine in the north of Tanzania is a joint venture. 75 percent belongs to Petra Diamonds, 25 percent to the Tanzanian government. Benedict Mahona, an economics expert from the University of Dar-es-Salam, told DW that the seizure of the diamonds from the Williamson mine was lawful. He explained that the customs laws of the East African Community are unambiguous: Every product that is imported or exported from the area must be correctly registered and declared. "Globally operating companies are systematically plundering Africa's diamond resources, and only a fraction of the stones are properly declared and have duty paid on them," Mahona said. He also commented that the theft of diamonds almost always happens with the help of corrupt locals.

 Haki Madini is a non-governmental organization that advocates transparency in business. "That didn't work in the past, either," says Mhinda. "Indigenous companies are at least as corrupt as foreign ones."

With its tough approach the Tanzanian government runs the risk of international companies withdrawing their business and jobs being lost as a result, according to Rebekka Rumpel, an expert in natural resources at the London think-tank Chatham House. "Tanzania's tough approach is bound to impact negatively on the country's image,"  she says. Rumpel reports that a large-scale investor from Russia who wanted to mine Tanzanian uranium has already put his project on hold, in part because he was worried about the investment climate in Tanzania.

Tanzania is more of a mid-level player on the African diamond market. The East African country is ranked tenth among the continent's biggest diamond producers. The Tanzanian government hopes that by 2025 the mining industry will contribute at least twice as much GDP as it has to date. At the moment its contribution is less than four percent.

Diamonds have not brought prosperity to Zimbabwe, either. Three quarters of people in Zimbabwe, Africa's fifth largest diamond producer, live in extreme poverty. 
"Billions have vanished before ever reaching the Zimbabwean Treasury," the current report by the British anti-corruption group Global Witness states. The diamonds, it says, have not benefited ordinary people. On the contrary: According to this report, the country's secret service and military have siphoned off a significant portion of the revenue for themselves, and have used it to finance their activities. "Zimbabwe's democracy has been undermined and it has led to serious human rights abuses," says Michael Gibb, who submitted the report for Global Witness.

In other  countries in Africa, diamond deposits have also led to more poverty, violence and oppression in Angola or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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