Blood Diamonds Turn Zimbabwe into a Minefield

The Mugabe government’s violent takeover of Zimbabwe’s diamond industry is leading to widespread human rights violations.

Misery-ridden Zimbabwe is a regular in the headlines these days. The country is being devastated by a cholera epidemic. Hyperinflation, mass starvation and unemployment are rampant. Political turmoil means the ever-present threat of civil war.

Zimbabwe’s list of woes is growing. Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), an Ottawa-based NGO, recently published the damning “Zimbabwe, Diamonds and the Wrong Side of History,” which reveals how the Zimbabwean government’s violent takeover of the country’s diamond industry is leading to widespread human rights abuses.

Africa is rich in mineral wealth and conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds, are nothing new. Illicit diamond trading fueled both the Angolan Civil War and Liberian warlord Charles Taylor’s bloody campaign in Sierra Leone.

Significant diamond deposits were discovered in Zimbabwe in 2004. Foreign conglomerates began mining immediately and worked until 2007 when the government seized mines. During the subsequent diamond rush, thousands of independent (officially illegal) miners flocked to mines like Murowa and Marange in Chiadzwa. Even though most of the stones found were of relatively poor quality, the cash-strapped government was unable to purchase them and a thriving black market quickly developed.

Robert Mugabe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, has recently renewed its interest in diamonds. Diamonds are a valuable asset for foreign exchange, especially when a government has been cut off from the international community by sanctions.

Late last year the military moved into Chiadzwa and began confronting and arresting independent miners. A helicopter attack in December left 200 dead and there are assertions that the military has claimed more victims. Zimbabwe’s opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), for example, says that hundreds more miners are buried in mass graves. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reports that 5,000 people have been arrested and many severely tortured.

The minefields are heavily militarized and local villagers are forced to mine diamonds, which are handed over to army commanders who smuggle the diamonds into Kenya in search of buyers. Diamond smuggling, according to the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank, costs the country more than $40 million each month.

Meanwhile the nearly bankrupt government has promised to assist the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation to begin commercial mining.

The PAC report blames the international community. During the blood diamond wars in West Africa, 75 nations (including Canada and the United States) initiated the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), a UN body designed to ensure that rebel groups do not use diamonds to finance wars against legitimate governments.

Zimbabwe, however, is a unique scenario. An illegitimate government (Zanu-PF won June’s election using violence and intimidation) is financing elitist kleptomania and perpetuating widespread human rights abuses.

The PAC report charges that the KPCS has failed to react to the situation properly. Israeli diamond industry journalist Chaim Even-Zohar agrees, suggesting that the KPCS “is slowly degenerating into an anti-democratic, non-accountable and no-transparent mechanism.”

The KPCS has responded by sending an envoy to Harare to investigate the Chiandzwa killings. But this is bark without bite. The KPCS is a non-binding protocol, and the man responsible for implementing its policies in Zimbabwe is Obert Mpofu, the Minister of Mines and Mining Development. Mpofu is a ZANU-PF veteran a close friend of Robert Mugabe.

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 continue to suffer. Western democracies need to rise up and disprove the notion that when Africans suffer, nobody cares.

Séan O’Flynn-Magee