Wednesday, December 07, 2005

De Beers, Sierra Leone, Angola, the Congo, Ghana...

Extract from an article by Janine Roberts in New Internationalist, May 2004.

Kimberley, South Africa, a place of fabulous diamond riches set in a sea of poverty...

This is the headquarters of De Beers, a company that has ruled the diamond world for over 100 years...

In the last few years, they have slashed the wages of many of the black mineworkers who live in the shanty towns. Many of these miners also live in decaying huts within the mines’ perimeters...

When Africa was ruled by colonial regimes, De Beers negotiated marketing control over rich diamond deposits in Angola, the Congo, Sierra Leone and Ghana....

In 1960 when Africa’s first elected president, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, decided to market his country’s diamonds independently, he was deposed in a coup.

Similarly, when Prime Minister Lumumba – the first and only elected leader in the Congo – said in 1960 that he wanted to use his country’s diamonds for his country’s development, he was murdered with the assistance of the CIA and Belgian Intelligence. His replacement, the corrupt dictator Mobutu, was funded by a secret diamond deal.

When Angola gained a freely elected socialist government, the CIA funded a rebellion led by local group UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola).

But after oil was discovered there, President Clinton decided that he could do business with its government and in 1993 ended CIA support for UNITA. The rebels then seized Angolan diamond mines and financed the continuation of this very bloody war to the tune of $3.7 billion by selling diamonds.

As Global Witness reported in 1998 in A Rough Trade: ‘De Beers’ annual reports during the 1990s clearly state the company’s heavy involvement in buying Angolan rough diamonds, at the height of resumed fighting and a time when UNITA controlled the majority of Angola’s diamond production.’

It may be that these purchases were made to keep Angolan stones from flooding the market and lowering the world’s diamond prices. This had long been believed to be De Beers’ policy. When Angola was first found to be rich in diamonds, Ernest Oppenheimer had warned: ‘If uncontrolled, these will be a very serious menace to the market.’

Likewise, when Sierra Leone was found to be rich in diamonds, a De Beers report said: ‘These fields are a real menace to De Beers.’ The diamond giant then protected itself by negotiating total control over these fields.

The continuation of the Angolan war was now against the interests of the West. Thus, when the NGO Global Witness pointed out how diamonds were funding the Angolan civil war, it gained surprising support from both the British and US governments and De Beers shortly came under pressure not to buy what were fast becoming known as ‘blood’ or ‘conflict’ diamonds.
De Beers announced for the first time ever that it would not buy any diamonds from these countries, even if they were not ‘conflict’ gems – trusting that the conflict diamond campaign would take them off the market. Perhaps for the first time, De Beers’ interests, the strategic needs of the US and human rights NGOs all seemed to coincide.

De Beers announced it would not buy any diamonds from Sierra Leone, since in that country diamonds had helped to finance, train and equip brutal insurgents. A fortunate side effect for De Beers’ from all this, was that by shunning conflict diamonds, it could expect to reap higher profits as the quantity of diamonds on the global market decreased thereby increasing their value.

The ‘Kimberley Process’, as the agreement to control the trade in conflict diamonds negotiated in the town of Kimberley became known, was set up between 2000 and 2003 with the support of the British and US governments and De Beers. It was designed to remove diamonds produced by armed rebels from the market.

Yet it contained a major oversight which reflects the interests of the powers that support it. The Kimberley Process exempts from its sanctions the diamonds produced by government-owned or sanctioned mines, even if these mines violate human rights.

In 2001 Amnesty International reported that while the richest diamond mine in the Congo, in which De Beers had a minority interest, was a scene of frequent murders, maiming and illegal imprisonment, its diamonds were sold as ‘conflict-free’ under the Kimberley process since the mine was not run by ‘rebels’. Sierra Leonean diamonds are now also said to be clean – but in March 2003 the UN reported that a major effort still needed to be put into ‘stemming the extensive use of children as labour in [its] diamond mines’.



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