Should Zimbabwe be made Kimberley Process Chair?

Rob Bates

The recent Kimberley Process Plenary in Moscow featured—as expected—mostly familiar squabbles and an all-too-familiar lack of progress. But the famously fractious certification scheme greeted the most surprising announcement—Zimbabwe’s bid to be named vice chair, the traditional stepping stone to becoming chair—with an also-surprising lack of dissent.

In 2022, current chair Russia will hand over the gavel to Botswana, which will chair the process that year, while Zimbabwe serves as vice chair. According to custom, Zimbabwe will serve as chair in 2023.

Certainly, Zimbabwe’s history with the Kimberley Process has been awful, as has the history of its diamond industry. In 2009, violence in the Marange region led to a two-year embargo on goods from the area, which came close to ripping the certification scheme apart, an outcome certain Zimbabwe officials openly wished for.

Marange diamonds remain banned from the United States by two different government agencies. U.S. Customs and Border Protection won’t allow them because of reports of forced labor (which local NGOs have doubted). And the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has banned goods from two major mining companies in the area—the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Co. (ZCDC) and Anjin Investments—because of links to sanctioned government officials.

Yet, so far, Zimbabwe has proven a relatively uncontroversial choice. It has certainly stirred up nothing like the ruckus that arose when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became vice chair, leading the Civil Society Coalition to boycott the UAE’s plenaries and sparking an ongoing cold war with Dubai.

World Diamond Council president Edward Asscher says, after Zimbabwe put its hat in the ring, “There were no comments from anyone. Civil society from Zimbabwe was positive about it. They want diamonds to help improve the local economy.

In general, I am optimistic,” he adds. “There is a great opportunity to get the situation [in Zimbabwe] much improved, like what happened when Angola was the chair. I think it will have a positive influence. No country can be the chair and be criticized for what’s happening in their country. There’s an opportunity to improve things for people living on the ground.”

So far, NGOs begrudgingly agree. Shamiso Mtisi, coordinator of the KP Civil Society Coalition and deputy director of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, didn’t respond to a request for comment from JCK but told Rapaport he hoped it would lead to further improvement.

Farai Maguwu, founding director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance in Zimbabwe, is more critical.

To avoid the chairmanship going to waste, the government needs to put in place a multi-stakeholder task force that advises on various aspects of the diamond sector—human rights, transparency, community development, tackling smuggling, labor issues etc.,” Maguwu says. “Above all, the government needs a clear agenda and a vision as to what it intends to achieve as chair.

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Source JCK Online

Photo © Jason Zhao, Unsplash.