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Africa's blood diamonds, bloody still

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Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures

(Read caption) Actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou starred in the 2006 Warner Bros. film "Blood Diamond," about the mining and sale of diamonds to finance conflict in African war zones. Despite the movie and other major awareness campaigns, such as the Kimberley Process, the bloody trade continues.

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The international process to discipline the mining and sale of diamonds has been a Potemkin Village for some years – all show and no go, as enlightened English people sometimes like to say about themselves. In the case of diamonds, the so-called Kimberley Process has never worked as well as advertised.

The process was designed largely by activists and then enthusiastically embraced and implemented by diamond mining companies and dealers (De Beers, notably). The favorable embrace, which also covered governments, was essentially the kiss of death for the prevention of abuses in the “monetization” of raw diamonds.

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“Blood Diamonds” indeed became a popular cause, inspiring a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio – and causing many wealthy consumers of diamonds to wonder, at least, who got hurt in order for them to look rich. In many ways, the blood diamond campaign was the greatest success of a global movement aimed at disciplining resource exploiters, especially those in Africa. Intended at its outset 10 years ago to showcase a new kind of voluntary, global, and bottoms-up monitoring of resources obtained and sold by combatants in African civil wars, the Kimberly Process never captured the complexity of mining diamonds in African nations ostensibly at peace and under the jurisdiction of legal, recognized governments.

Recommended:The sordid history behind Africa's conflict diamonds

In a richly detailed report about Angola, an important diamond producer, Michael Allen of The Wall Street Journal valuably documents many of the contradictions of the monitoring the “diamond miners and sellers and international activists trying to insure good.

In fairness to the activists who designed Kimberley, they meant well. They were ambitious, and the problem they tackled is very difficult. They tried hard. One of the activist groups, Global Witness, amply lived up to its name and for years has witnessed what’s gone wrong with diamond mining and attempts at transational regulation.

The cynical might conclude that any well-intended but ultimately voluntary transnational process aimed at disciplining the shadowy business of diamond mining and dealing will inevitably founder. What’s needed are national governments who impose tough rules on diamond mining and trading within their own borders – and stiff, swift penalties for evasions. Of course, the Angolan government is hardly about to do so, which may only mean that activists should be pushing for the government to be replaced by a “better” one. In the absence of any reasonable prospect of a revolution in Angola, reasonable people can reasonably propose Potemkin Villages in the meanwhile.

Yet the failure of Kimberley doesn’t mean the return to the worst years of blood diamonds. Those sad days aren’t likely to ever return. But the complexities of halting the brutality associated with diamond – and turning them into a “normal” product like coffee or textiles – are too difficult for voluntary transational monitoring.

--- G. Pascal Zachary blogs at Africa Works.

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