Analysis

An old problem returns? Blood Diamonds in Africa

17 November 2007 at 20:43 | 656 views

By Scott A. Morgan.

We all remember what happened back in the 1990s. In Sierra Leone and Angola, insurgents financed their rebellions by mining illicit diamonds. In Angola the UNITA movement used the trade after both South Africa and the United States ceased their assistance. In the case of Sierra Leone it was a way for the rebels to purchase arms to continue their struggle against an unpopular government. There also have been allegations that Al-Qaida has used the precious stones in a similar way.

To combat this trade several governments, along with the United Nations and the diamond traders wanted to set up a process to ensure that these gems are mined in a conflict free zone. In some cases rebel forces had set up a quota of a certain amount of the stones to be mined per day. Failure to meet these goals was hazardous to one’s health. The lucky ones only had a hand amputated. When the process came into full effect back in 2003 there was legislation in the US that tied into the process. The US Legislation is known as the Clear Diamond Trade Act.

However over the last year there have been troubling signs emerging once again from Africa.
Once again instability is rearing its ugly head in Africa. Despite promising elections last year unrest still plagues the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The situation is so troublesome that last December the process actually swung into action over some missing diamonds. Over $400 Million of them. And the investigators have a good idea where some of them went to.

Around Christmastime last year some of the above mentioned $400 Million in stones was believed to have been mixed with legimately mined stones in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was granted access to some of the crucial diamond mines and timber regions of the DRC for its support in assisting the Kabila regime maintain power after overthrowing the old Mobuto government. It is believed that the mixed stones entered the market while in transit to its export site in South Africa. To this date the status of the investigation has not been made public.

Another conflict site where illicit diamond mining is going on is in the Ivory Coast. Last month Belgian authorities confiscated $ 21 million dollars of rough stones that entered the country. A ban was imposed on stones from the Ivory Coast after a cease fire between the authorities in Abidjan and the main rebel group, the New Forces, collapsed in 2005. There are concerns that the stones may be transshipped to London and Antwerp via Mali.

One main area of concern for the process is that there is no mechanism that allows for oversight and verification. There is also no means to independently verify or audit any information that is collected under the process. This means that there is no way to check up on the self-regulation processes that the various countries have in place to ensure that the stones were mined under conditions that do not pay for any conflict. So there are no assurances that the diamonds are conflict free.

*The author, Scott Morgan, has launched a new electronic magazine called Confused Eagle. It can be found at morganrights.tripod.com

Photo: President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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