The news that the Russian diamond giant Alrosa will begin exploring for diamonds throughout Zimbabwe follows hot on the heels of unusually frank criticism by Vice President Joice Mujuru, on the failure of revenues from the country’s established and controversial Marange diamond mines to reach the Zimbabwean people. Whether new players will take heed of her words is anyone’s guess, but if they’re wise they will do. Now, more than ever, it seems Zimbabwe’s political elite are ready to talk diamonds and the terms of the debate appear to be shifting.
The Vice President certainly wasn’t pulling any punches. The potential successor to President Mugabe reportedly claimed that India had built an entire town on the back of proceeds from Zimbabwe diamonds, while the country itself had nothing to show for its diamond wealth.
The town in question, Surat, is actually a city. It is also the world’s largest diamond cutting centre and was in the business a long time before diamonds were discovered in Marange in 2006. But the Vice-President’s remarks, reportedly made at a church gathering, are an important signifier of the scale of the problem. In July Global Witness contrasted Zimbabwe’s latest multi-million dollar diamond tender to rising unemployment and an economy spiralling downwards. Mujuru’s comments are a highly visible step towards a more open discussion of the situation and potential change in attitude, at least in public, by the government.
It signifies a tiny crack in what has until now been some pretty defensive armour. Notwithstanding a few frustrated Finance Ministers, until very recently, Zimbabwe’s political establishment had remained tight-lipped whenever the problems associated with Marange diamonds came up. Lately though, it appears that there is an increased willingness to publically acknowledge the failure of such an extraordinary natural resource to benefit Zimbabwe’s citizens.
While such recognition by the government can be seen as a positive sign, the building blocks for meaningful change must include the removal of potentially harmful players from the sector, such as serving and retired members of Zimbabwe’s highly partisan security forces. Global Witness’ investigations have revealed how opaque company structures can hide who benefits from diamond revenues providing cover for the military and secret police in Zimbabwe.
We still don’t know exactly who has received the lion’s share of Marange’s huge bounty.What we do know is that there is an urgent need for concrete measures to increase transparency and accountability.
The Minister of Mines and Mining Development Walter Chidhakwa, talking about some of the problems associated with Marange diamonds referred to “sins of commission and sins of omission,” earlier this year. The former referred to the inaction of those who have failed to speak up and prevent the mismanagement and corruption they have witnessed. The latter to the actions of those who have set out to “deliberately prejudice” the proper beneficiaries of Zimbabwe’s diamond wealth—namely the Zimbabwean people.
The fact that the political elite are finally voicing concerns about Marange diamonds is a good sign, but these warnings mustn’t evaporate into thin air. Reforms can’t come soon enough and it’s not only the Zimbabwean government that must come to the table. Companies such as Alrosa should also be ready to play their part.[Photo: Flickr/Richter Frank-Jurgen: Hon J.T.R. Mujuru, Vice President of Zimbabwe, at the 2012 Horasis Global Arab Business Meeting, licensed under Creative Commons]