Over the past 12 months, Zimbabwe has jumped into international headlines as the prime example of suffering in Africa. The country is being devastated by a cholera epidemic, hyper-inflation, mass starvation and unemployment are rampant, and political turmoil brings with it the ever-present threat of civil war.
Add one more to the list of Zimbabwean woes. Earlier this month, Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), an Ottawa-based NGO, published the damning “Zimbabwe, Diamonds and the Wrong Side of History.” The report brings to light the widespread human rights abuses that are resulting from Zimbabwean government’s violent attempts to takeover the country’s burgeoning diamond industry. Moreover, PAC’s commentary is unflinchingly critical of international bodies responsible for controlling stemming the flow of conflict diamonds from Africa.
Africa is rich in mineral wealth and conflict diamonds—or blood diamonds—are nothing new. Control of mineral resources was central to South Africa’s apartheid regime, and illicit diamond trading fueled both the Angolan Civil War and Liberian warlord Charles Taylor’s bloody campaign in Sierra Leone.
However, it wasn’t until 2004 that significant diamond deposits were discovered in Zimbabwe. After that, mining was begun immediately by foreign conglomerates but in 2007, mines were seized by the government, and a diamond rush began in which thousands of independent, officially illegal, miners flocked to mines like Murowa and Marange in Chiadzwa. Most of the stones found were of relatively poor-quality but the cash-strapped government was unable to purchase the, and a thriving black market quickly developed; at the same time large numbers of smuggled diamonds began appearing in South Africa.
Recently, however, Robert Mugabe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, has taken a renewed interest in diamonds, which are an invaluable source of foreign exchange for a government cut off from the international community by sanctions. In Africa, where there are diamonds, violence is sure to follow.
Late last year the military moved into Chiadzwa and began confronting and arresting independent miners. In December, a helicopter attack left 100-200 dead, many shot as they fled into the bushes. The opposition party, MDC, has claimed that hundreds more are buried in mass graves. 5 000 people have been arrested and many severely tortured, reports Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Currently, the minefields are heavily militarized and local villagers are being forced to mine diamonds which are handed over to army commanders, who in turn smuggle the diamonds to Kenya in search of buyers.
Meanwhile, despite a World Food Program report suggesting that almost half of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people are malnourished, the nearly bankrupt government has promised to assist the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation begin commercial mining. At the same time, the Governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, Gideon Gomo, suggests that as much as USD $40 million is lost each month to diamond smuggling.
Ultimately, says the PAC report, the international community is to blame. During the blood diamond wars in West Africa at the turn of the century, 75 nations, including Canada, the United States, and the European Union, began the Kimberley Process, a UN body designed to ensure that diamonds were not used by rebel groups to finance wars against legitimate governments. Zimbabwe is a unique scenario, in which an illegitimate government (ZANU-PF won June’s election using violence and intimidation) is financing elitist kleptomania and perpetuating widespread human rights abuses.
PAC charges that the Kimberley Process (KP), which has offered only soft criticism of the industry, has failed to appropriately monitor and react to the situation, calling it “sluggish, timid, and wholly inadequate.” Israeli diamond industry journalist, Chaim Even-Zohar, agrees, suggesting that the KP “is slowly degenerating into an anti-democratic, non-accountable and no-transparent mechanism.”
Earlier this week, the KP responded, and sent an envoy to Harare to investigate the Chiandzwa killings. However, much like international attempts to mediate last year’s political strife, this is bark without bite. The KP is a non-binding protocol, and the man responsible for implementing it in Zimbabwe is the ZANU-PF Minister of Mines, Obert Mpofu, is a close friend of Robert Mugabe, with a dubious record including accusations of illegal ivory trading. Mpofu, a ZANU-PF veteran, was formerly the Minister of Industry and International Trade, where he developed close ties with China. China is importing more ‘Zim’ diamonds each year and last month, Grace Mugabe, the shopaholic First Lady, made a visit to Hong Kong, where she completed a secretive real estate deal and discussed the creation of a diamond cutting and polishing facility in Qingdao.
Once again, Robert Mugabe and his inner circle are flouting international law, thumbing their noses at the rest of the world, while millions of Zimbabweans continues to suffer. And once again, Western democracies have a chance to disprove the notion that when black people suffer, nobody cares.