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A New Kimberley Process Agreement on Zimbabwe! (Perhaps.) (Maybe.)

By Rob Bates, News Director

Posted on April 21, 2011

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Here we go again .. in Dubai last week, the Kimberley Process Working Group on Monitoring hammered out the framework for (yet another) agreement with Zimbabwe. But of course, this isn’t really an agreement – yet. 

Zimbabwe didn’t attend the negotiations, so it’s still not certain that the government will accept the deal. As one attendee put it, everyone was basically “negotiating with an empty chair.”  This may have worked in the country’s favor—according to one source, everyone was so nervous about Zimbabwe accepting the deal, they made sure it was one the country couldn’t refuse. But government officials there have been so unpredictable they just might decline anyway.

The deal was described to me as “pretty close” to the one the KP chairman put forward in his ill-considered “administrative decision” (which KP participants have basically acted like didn’t exist.)  The controversial section 3B, the American-authored provision that Zimbabwe thought was unfairly signaling it out, is gone. There was language added about a new monitor and the local “focal point”—and yet some of these provisions were in previous agreements; Zimbabwe just never did them. And, sadly, under this new deal they may end up being much harder to enforce.

The NGOs didn’t try to block the agreement, but they are not happy with this deal, and will likely issue a statement denouncing it. Like everyone else in the KP, they seem to have “Zimbabwe fatigue” and feel the need to move to other things. (Canada, another Zim critic, also didn’t attend the meeting, but it apparently won’t block the agreement, either.) For all the success the NGOs have had framing the debate over the last years, they pretty much failed this time around; to many of its neighbors, this became a struggle between a poor African nation and “colonial” powers and NGOs unfairly pointing the finger at it. One of the real dangers here was that African countries, angry about Zimbabwe’s treatment, would withdraw from the KP out of protest, thereby spelling its demise. That would have put NGOs in a knotty PR position; it’s one thing to go against one African nation—but against just about every nation in Africa? Not so easy.

That said, let’s not forget that there were very good reasons for Zimbabwe to be in this position—including, first and foremost, the bloody crackdown that sparked this mess in the first place. Yes, there are inconsistencies—there are other countries in the KP with diamond industries just as chaotic as Zimbabwe’s. But, once it was under the microscope, Zimbabwe pretty consistently failed to redeem itself. It often did the minimum required for compliance, and sometimes, not even that.  The situation in Marange is much better than it was: there are very few problems “in the fences,” where the diamonds are produced. That is important, and gratifying. But “outside the fences,” who knows—there remain credible reports of nasty things still going on.

For what it’s worth, i do hope concerned retailers will be very careful about buying Marange diamonds, for reasons I spell out here. If there was any bright spot to all this, I am told this was one of the most harmonious WGM meetings ever. Everyone was courteous and respectful; they came to get something done, and they did. The KP needs more of that spirit if it is to survive and grow stronger in the years ahead.  

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