Ignore the skeptics and embrace the new Botswana reality

Albert Robinson

The skeptics had a field day when De Beers and the Botswana government announced a 10-year diamond mining and sales agreement in 2011. The Diamond Trading Company (DTC) was committed to transferring many of its operations to Gaborone by the end of 2013 as part of the deal. In return, the miner received a 10-year agreement, instead of the five-year periods which had been the case previously.  By the end of 2013, the Southern African country was due to be ready to hold the first Sight. A difficult task that most other countries would also struggle to achieve and a huge logistical challenge? Certainly.

No longer would aggregation and sorting be carried out in the hallowed halls of De Beers, Charterhouse Street in London as they had been for decades. But, some asked, who would want to move to such a remote country? And even if a number of the DTC’s UK-based employees did agree to move, they would surely be a tiny minority.

And how could Botswana possibly hope to have trained and skilled sorters in place in such a relatively short space of time? Such skills, after all, need many years to perfect. Let us remember, proclaimed the naysayers, De Beers has 11,500 categories of diamonds.

And then there were other more practical considerations for De Beers Sightholders: the long travel times involved, for one. There are no direct flights – you typically have to fly via Johannesburg, and then catch a 40-minute flight to Gaborone. Some diamantaires need a visa to enter South Africa, a transit visa, and a visa to enter Botswana. A headache, to put it mildly, and a great deal of time spent out of the office, as well to-ing and fro-ing between embassies with passport in hand.

No more short hops across the English Channel for Belgian diamantaires, or four-hour flights for their Israeli counterparts, and around seven hours of travel time for the Indian and American Sightholders.

And Gaborone is not exactly London, the skeptics helpfully pointed out. The cradle of modern democracy, a city from which the fate of hundreds of millions across Great Britain’s far-flung former empire had once been decided. No trips to the West End to see the latest play or musical. World-famous museums and galleries. The finest hotels, restaurants, and cafes, as well as top-class shopping facilities, and combining the trip to London with a short vacation with your partner.

And Botswana’s hotels and restaurants? Quickly written off as probably not good enough. Water quality? Power supply? Likely intermittent at best. Internet? On and off – and probably mostly off. Transparency? Rather opaque was the assumption. Security? Sightholder facilities? Kosher food? The list of concerns was long. Indeed, these widespread fears and questions were still being raised as recently as late last year.

And then a funny thing happened – or perhaps not funny, but rather exceptionally well-organized and executed. The first Sight in Botswana took place in November – ahead of the year-end target date. Sightholders arrived. They were whisked to excellent hotels with most, if not all, of the facilities to be expected of 4-5 star hotels around the world. The service, and I can vouch for this, having visited the country last week in order to look at the facilities, is first class.

Botswana, a country which gained its independence less than 50 years ago, and which is bordered by countries which have known substantial turmoil and uncertainty, is a peaceful, democratic and stable country. It has good roads, and transport did not seem to be an issue. For a country which had only a handful of kilometers of tarred roads at the time of independence, its roads are of a relatively high quality and the road network extensive.

It may not be London, but the country provides sightseeing experiences you won’t see in Piccadilly Circus or Shaftesbury Avenue: a trip to the Bush or a safari, either in Botswana or nearby South Africa.

The whole experience for Sightholders and many other diamond company representatives visiting Gaborone – such as those traveling to inspect diamonds on offer at the Okavango Diamond Company – is world class. The security at the De Beers, DTC Botswana, Debswana offices and the Diamond Technology Park where the ODC and several Sightholders are based, is beyond anything that I, personally,have  seen anywhere else in the diamond world, built on layers of protection of diamonds, visitors and staff.

Of course, there are still some teething issues, it would be unrealistic to claim that everything is perfect. Indeed, officials such as De Beers Resident Director in Botswana, Reo Moroka, and Executive vice president of global sightholder sales, Paul Rowley, frankly say as much.

But the country has made exceptional progress in the past several years, and it is a work in progress and there are targets still to achieve. Not the least of which is talks with various airlines about the possibility of direct flights. Crucially, the Botswana government is fully committed to ensuring that the experience for Sightholders and other diamond industry members is as smooth as possible.

If anyone still believes most of the previously expressed concerns to be true, then they should pay a visit rapidly. The Batswana people with whom I came into contact were, without exception, charming, polite, incredibly friendly and provided a level of service that I would be delighted to enjoy in many others parts of the world.

Botswana is committed to becoming a global diamond hub, as well as a jewelry manufacturing center. This is the diamond industry’s new reality, so hop on and enjoy the ride.

Source Idexonline