The dissipation of hope

HARARE - Facets of Power: Politics, Profits and People in the Making of Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds, Edited by Richard Saunders and Tinashe Nyamunda; Harare, Weaver Press, 2016.

THE discovery of diamonds in Marange was probably the best news to have emerged from Zimbabwe since the turn of the millennium. It generated hope in a population that had been vanquished by poverty and deprivation for decades.

Given the challenges facing the national fiscus, there was optimism that after all, economic recovery would be achieved without borrowing from international lenders — only if we had known.

Talk revolving around the Marange diamonds has occupied the Zimbabwean public platform for the past decade, albeit from different angles.

There is discourse from those who wield power and would want to justify their prescriptions and proscriptions on Marange gems at all costs.

These, together with the mining operators, drew immense benefits from the diamonds — at one time thought to be the panacea to Zimbabwe’s economic challenges.

Facets of Power: Politics, Profits and People in the Making of Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds is a book that seeks to explore the operations in Marange that link the country’s gems to destabilisation and conflict, attributes that push them into the “blood diamonds” category.

Published by Weaver Press, the book — itself a collection of informed articles on Chiadzwa — takes readers through memory lane while also hazarding to read the future.

Whereas the net losers in the struggles and operations at Chiadzwa have been the ordinary people who were displaced as well as the nation of Zimbabwe, there are today officials who have tried to sanitise the State over its handling of Marange diamonds.

“The biggest losers from Marange are clearly the Zimbabwean Treasury and, by extension, the wider economy and government social and development programmes.

“This is primarily seen in lost revenues to the fiscus, theft and various forms of corruption at the institutional, business, private sector and individual level.” (p63)

Besides displacement, which came in as a direct consequence of formalisation of operations at Marange, the local residents suffered several rights abuses over and above the little sustained economic benefit.

“Informal miners and traders, who have been harshly treated and enjoy no legal standing, have been marginalised from the benefits of the diamond exploitation in favour of powerful political, economic and business interests.” (p63)

There has remained a cloud how concessions were awarded at Chiadzwa by the Mines ministry.

During the period of the inclusive government from 2009-13, contradictions always surfaced over the control of Marange.

“ . . . it was not in the interest of Zanu PF and its business-security allies to implement a power-sharing agreement that might have enabled a transition leading to free, fair and decisive elections — which Zanu PF would very likely have lost. A dysfunctional GNU was required for secretive accumulation — and the electoral politics of violence and intimidation that depended on it — to succeed . . .”

Critically, according to the book, Zanu PF used this period of the GNU to re-energise and re-legitimise itself in the “one-sided militarised” arrangement under the auspices of the inclusive government.

As a result, Zanu PF “ maintained unilateral control over the timing, agenda, and re-organising of the next national elections in order to win them” (p36)

The leakages at Marange can not be denied given that President Robert Mugabe himself admitted that $15 billion worth of diamonds revenue went missing, with accusations that some miners who operated in Marange before they were kicked out by government had externalised huge amounts of cash.

“Moreover, extensive research by civil organisations into the corporate ownership of Mbada and Anjin, both of which were registered in offshore jurisdictions in Asia and the Indian Ocean, concluded that the companies were structured to hide not only profits but also the identities of the main shareholders, the latter including some individuals with links to the Zimbabwean security establishment and human rights violations.” (p51)

Most of the time, it was political connections who circumvented due diligence processes.

Even before the formalisation of diamond mining in Marange, the cities of Mutare in Zimbabwe and Manica in Mozambique had always acted as conduits in the illicit gem trade.

The two cities were “overrun with dealers and hucksters from other lawless outposts, including veterans of diamond-fuelled wars in West Africa. Those of Lebanese origin were the most conspicuous by their numbers and enthusiasm, although several Mutare residents . . . ran lucrative businesses driving diamonds across the border for everyone from the military and police-led syndicates . . .” (p53)

What we begin to see, therefore, are international conduits of criminality.

“dubai has become the principal destination of laundered illicit Marange goods — and indeed many other problematic areas in Africa. In recent years, it has earned a reputation as the place where dirty diamonds — and gold as well — go to get washed”. (p54)

Today, Zimbabwe is facing a cash shortage of sorts amid indications that the scarce greenback was being shipped abroad by corporates and individuals. Some of these cases are before the courts and are yet to be determined.

Marange around 2006 set in motion debate on who owned the claim with African Consolidated Resources — a British company — had been licensed to mine and their significant strike opened floodgates of informal mining operations in the area.

The Kimberly Process (KP) Certification Scheme had been established in 2003 after high-value minerals like diamonds had been used to fund armed groups, especially the wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The KP was meant to determine the linkage between violence-tainted mining which led to and sustained conflicts which bred social and economic devastation.

It is also important to note that the social and economic dynamics associated with diamond extraction inadvertently had powerful effects on the delivery of education.

While the informal diamond economy in Marange had provided consumption value and allowed for some multiplier effects, formalised trading destroyed all this.

Students and teachers in Marange, who had new-found purchasing power suddenly found themselves stripped of this through formalisation of operations.

Shifting State strategies and developmental outcomes in Marange always raised questions on the State as the custodian of natural resources in the country.

In a way, informal activities gave the local communities survival strategies that are entirely absent today within the context of formalised trade which has also sadly not benefitted the national Treasury.

Former Finance minister Tendai Biti — who held the portfolio during the inclusive government era — is on record complaining that diamond revenue from Marange did not find its way into national coffers.

He clashed with his Zanu PF counterparts over this position.

However, in his national budget statement, incumbent Treasury boss Patrick Chinamasa indicated that Zimbabweans benefited more from diamonds during the period of informal mining than after formalisation of operations.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact that given a second chance in Marange, both citizens and the State would almost certainly act differently, and probably better.

With the president’s own admission that “mining companies his ministers had licensed and whose concessions he had personally approved, had acted like robbers, engaging in ‘‘swindling’’ and ‘‘smuggling’’ and making off with the lion’s share of Marange diamond wealth, surely we would have acted differently.

Because of the eventual nationalisation of all mining activities at Marange and the creation of one outfit — the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company, Mugabe must have reached the conclusion that private companies “could not be trusted with public resources”.

It is in this light that Facets of Power: Politics, Profits and People in the Making of Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds becomes a must-read for both desirous of a better understanding of the goings-on as well as those who might have been involved — directly or indirectly — especially the powerful, so that they at least act better with the larger interests of mankind in mind.

 

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