An NGO Is Going to the KP Plenary. Or Maybe Not

The latest drama surrounding the Kimberley Process boycott

This has been a crazy year in a lot of respects. And so it is at the Kimberley Process.

Normally, it wouldn’t be news that a nongovernmental organization (NGO) was attending a KP meeting; civil society has been an essential part of the KP’s tripartite structure from the beginning. But for the last year, the group’s civil society coalition (CSC) has boycotted the KP’s annual meetings, in protest of the United Arab Emirates rising to the chair spot.

Last week, KP chair Ahmed Bin Sulayem formally asked the CSC to attend the upcoming plenary in Dubai. Initially, it seemed his efforts had borne fruit: A representative of Democratic Republic of Congo–based CENADEP (the National Center for Development Support and Popular Participation) committed to attending the KP plenary.

“CENADEP believes that the best way to lend credibility to the KP process is by reenlisting within the KP family to address different challenges inside, and not outside,” said the letter from the group’s Albert Kabuya Muyeba.

The KP chair’s PR firm blasted out an email alerting the media to this seeming break in the CSC’s ranks.

Then a few days later, the CSC sent out a second letter, from CENADEP director general Danny Singoma, taking it all back.

“While some progress has been made under the United Arab Emirates’ chairmanship, CENADEP still stands with the Civil Society Coalition and supports the boycott launched in November 2015,” the letter said. “If one of our CENADEP officers has indeed responded to a letter sent by the Chairman of the Kimberley Process and confirmed that they would attend the plenary session in Dubai, they have done so on personal terms. Their response does not commit our organization in any way.”

In other words, if ranks are being broken, that has happened within CENADEP. (Emails to the group and its officers were not returned.)

The spokesperson for the UAE KP Chair seemed as confused as anyone.

“This is a matter for the parties involved,” said her statement. “We remain committed to improving the working conditions and the social environment related to the diamond industry under the auspices of the Kimberley Process.… The invitation to all members of the Civil Society Coalition (CSC) to attend the upcoming Plenary in Dubai, UAE, still stands and we hope they attend.”

But the CSC says it’s holding firm. Zuzia Danielski, spokesperson for Partnership Africa Canada, a member of the CSC, tells JCK: “The boycott is still in effect, and that is not going to change.”

While the CENADEP situation is clearly odd, let’s take a look at some of the larger issues here.

The boycott was sparked by the UAE being chosen to chair the KP. Now, the sad truth is many KP chairs don’t do much. It’s not clear why a country would apply for the job, and then do little with it, but—absent a crisis—that’s what often happens; most chairs hold another full-time job.   

By contrast, Bin Sulayem has been an extraordinarily active and engaged KP head. He has met with the heads of many diamond-producing countries—and while some might see a self-serving aspect to that, he has made progress on some important issues, particularly regarding the Central African Republic. He has also injected a number of worthy ideas—such as the adoption of blockchain and a permanent KP secretariat under the auspices of the United Nations—into the organization’s bloodstream. That’s all for the good. Just this week, he floated a new proposal, which would establish a new funding mechanism for the scheme’s NGOs.

But his tenure has been overshadowed by his ongoing feud with civil society. For years, when activists criticized the practices of Dubai or its allies (particularly Zimbabwe), UAE leaders hit back. But when the country applied for the chair job, it unveiled an NGO-friendly vision statement. After it got the nod and the NGOs threatened to boycott, the chair issued a statement snubbing them. Following that, the two sides engaged in mediation. When that failed, the chair personally attacked the NGOs at the June plenary. Now four months later, the chair wants to woo the CSC back again.

This cycle of lashing back, then reaching out has no doubt exacerbated tensions, but these disagreements are, at bottom, about more than just some impolitic comments. Real questions exist—and have from the get-go—concerning the way Dubai is managing its diamond business, from its internal controls to acting a seeming haven for transfer pricing. (Currently, the UAE reexports African diamonds at 44 percent average higher value than it imports them. That’s four times more than competing centers.)

In a 31-page proposal for remediation sent to the NGOs last month, Dubai said it’s made progress on these issues, pointing to the rough diamond valuation forums it’s held in collaboration with the OECD. The second meeting committed to developing a universal rough valuation methodology, based on real-time prices.

The NGOs, however, did not attend either conference, which they have labeled a distraction from the UAE’s issues. (The second was held in Antwerp, Belgium, to disassociate it from Dubai. NGOs still didn’t come.) There is also considerable skepticism about the chair’s flurry of proposals. Given that the KP is generally not considered a model of efficient decision-making—attendees once spent a half hour debating a line in a press release—it is standard for chairs to focus on a narrow goal and spend the year bringing it to fruition. But with all that’s been proposed, it is not clear what UAE’s main priorities will be at the plenary.

Bin Sulayem deserves praise for sparking a dialogue on important issues. But ultimately Dubai still needs to get its house in order. As was stated at September’s World Diamond Council meeting, the issues surrounding Dubai and the larger industry present a serious reputational risk for the diamond business. Fixing them will take more than a few olive branches. 

JCK News Director