The Kimberley Process: The Scheme Is Over?

I’m hearing that at the current Kimberley Process Certification Scheme meeting in Kinshasa, DRC, after an initial burst of hope, the circus has returned. Zimbabwe has once again accused its critics of racism, and the NGOs have walked out of the meeting and cast a vote of “no confidence.” (Here is their just-posted statement.) Things look dire.

But it’s important to clarify just what the issues are here. Some media accounts have fixated on the question of whether Zimbabwe’s diamonds are “conflict diamonds,” since they don’t meet the traditional definition (“sold by a rebel group against a legitimate government.”) But while that remains an issue, it really isn’t the most important thing here. When exports from Marange were suspended in November 2009, that, at least in my view, unofficially ratified human rights as a criteria in judging whether a country is Kimberley-compliant. Now, not everyone agrees with what I just said, and I still strongly feel “human rights language” should be officially included in the KP charter. Yet it’s also obvious the reason Zimbabwe was singled out is because of the violence there. There is also smuggling, corruption, and other signs of non-compliance in Marange, but that is true of many other African countries as well.

One of the reasons why it has been so hard to come to an agreement here is because it’s a glass half-full/half-empty situation. Zimbabwe was given certain obligations to meet in November 2009. It has met some of them—the violence “in the fences,” meaning the two mines that may be cleared to export, is widely said to have stopped. Even its worst critics admit things are much better in Marange.  But it hasn’t done everything. And that’s the problem. 

If you’re sympathetic to Zimbabwe, as a surprising number of countries seem to be, you say: The violence is over. These mines aren’t producing “blood diamonds,” by any definition. Let them go. If you aren’t, you fixate on how Zimbabwe has ducked out of its obligations, the reports of ongoing violence in other areas of Marange, and try to include safeguards to make sure the bad things don’t start up again. To which Zimbabwe complains that it is being held to a higher standard. And on it goes. Which is why we’re stuck.

To understand the current situation, we should probably review a little history. (And even though this seems long, believe me, there is much I left out.) Since November 2009, when participants agreed on a ZImbabwe “work plan,” there have been at least six attempts to figure out a possible solution to this stalemate. In each of these, the KP has failed to come to a long-term solution, even as the NGOs’ bargaining position (their “hand”) has gotten weaker and weaker, partly for reasons I hope to go into at a later date. Let’s review:

– June 2010:  The work plan is seven months old, and the KP meets in Tel Aviv to decide what to do with Zimbabwe. The NGOs at first call for Zimbabwe to be completely suspended, but later back-track. The group talks all night, but there is no agreement, and tensions run particularly raw as the result of the arrest of Farai Maguwu, a researcher for a Zimbabwe NGO. (The meeting was marked by “Free Farai” shirts.) This Plenary basically sets up the battle lines to come. In November 2009, most of the world was against Zimbabwe, and suspension was a serious possibility. However, by this point, the tide has shifted, and Africa in particular has rallied to Zim’s side. Zim’s opponents can now basically be counted on one hand: the U.S., Canada, Australia, and to some extent, the European  Union. As a result of this stalemate, a new meeting is called, alongside the World Diamond Council’s meeting in Russia.

– Two months later, stalemate broken—sort of. Things have improved in Marange, and by this point, just about everyone agrees there should be some kind of an agreement with Zimbabwe but disagree over the terms.  In St. Petersburg, the KP agrees to let Zimbabwe export two shipments in return for meeting new conditions. Alongside the deal, the NGO activist is released. Some rejoiced; some weren’t so sure. But at least things seemed brighter for the KP.

– As a result of St. Petersburg, two months later, a monitoring mission is sent to Marange. That also splits over Zim’s current compliance. In a meeting in Jerusalem in November, an agreement that would allow further exports falls apart, supposedly because some governments felt certain other governments acted too “unilaterally” in their negotiations. 

– And so the Working Group in Monitoring meets again in Brussels the next month to come to a deal. It does, though Zimbabwe is a no-show. At first it looks like this deal will be enacted. The 2010 chairman proclaims it a done deal. And then the 2011 chairman says “not so fast.”   Supposedly, Zimbabwe objects to the so-called “violence clause,” championed by the United States, which sets out a mechanism to stop future sales, should violence recur. So no deal.

– In March 2011, chairman Mathieu Yamba decides he will break the deadlock.  By himself!  His “unilateral directive” lets Zim export, with no “violence clause”  and very favorable terms to Zimbabwe. But the Working Group on Monitoring objects, complaining that the Chair has overstepped his authority. The diamond industry is confused, and warns traders not to import Marange goods until the dust settles. Meaning: Still no (effective) deal. 

–  A month later, the WGM meets again in Dubai to hammer out yet another agreement. Zimbabwe again stays home, though apparently its officials were in close telephone contact with the Chairman. Zim’s opponents, by their own admission, make significant concessions. The new deal has no “violence clause,” and is pretty similar to what Yamba wanted. But Zimbabwe never replies, and eventually rejects the deal. Then South Africa imports at least one parcel of Marange goods—a significant crack in the ranks. 

And so we get to now, and attempt number 7. If the Yamba/Dubai deal was weak, what Zim and its allies are pushing for now is even weaker. There is no violence clause, no “local NGO focal point,” not much of anything. The U.S., Canada, and the European Union have blocked it, meaning no deal again.  And the NGOs are walking out, but I assume they will still participate in some form.

I’m not a fan of walking out and other such stunts. I understand the deep-seated frustration behind such a move, but I do think this kind of brinksmanship, from all sides, has brought the KP to where it is. Which is just about dead. The Zimbabwe minister of mines is, in fact, crowing that it’s “defunct.” Of course, the KP has survived a lot of near-death experiences, but at some point its luck, and everyone’s good will, is going to run out. We may be witnessing that right now.

Eventually, one hopes, a new mechanism may sprout up to supplant the KP. But it’s hard to imagine any new system having anything close to the KP’s global scope and power. 

It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get the KP out of this mess. Keep posted to this blog and my Twitter feed for further updates.

JCK News Director