The Kimberley Process and Zimbabwe: “The Least Bad Option”

So now the ball is, once again, in Zimbabwe’s court. But it really always was.

After two marathon negotiating sessions failed to achieve any type of consensus, we end up with thestatus quo. Which means no suspension for Zimbabwe, but no exports from Marange either.  So Zimbabwe really isn’t in the Kimberley Process. But they aren’t really out either.

An NGO release called this the “least bad” outcome. And I have to agree.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. The meeting took place in the shadow of an arrest of an NGO worker in Zimbabwe. That inflamed tensions considerably.

The irony is that Zimbabwe really has made an attempt to become compliant with the Kimberley Process and get its systems in order. That was made clear in this week’s meetings. In fact, one could argue, their systems are more compliant than many other countries’. But with the military still in the diamond fields, human rights abuses still occurring, and all the things Zimbabwe has done to flout the KP’s authority, the country has a knack for making things worse for itself.

“It comes down to trust,” said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness. “And, at this stage there is no trust between the civil society contingent and Zimbabwe on these issues.”

Pre-meeting, the NGOs all called for Zimbabwe to be
suspended, but that was never really discussed. Instead, the talk centered on whether Zimbabwe could export stones from Marange, as the KP Monitor recommended.  Entities pushing for a tougher line on Zimbabwe included the NGOs, the U.S., Canada and Australia. On Zimbabwe’s side were just about all of the other countries in the KP, as astounding as that sounds. (The European Union was somewhere in the middle.)

The discussion on Marange sometimes took a backseat to other issues, including the arrest of NGO Farai Maguwu And while the official Zimbabwe delegation position was that this was a matter for the country’s courts and they had no control over it, there were indications his release might be “on the table.” But no one really wanted to make Maguwu’s freedom a “bargaining chip,” as a future country could simply arrest an NGO in exchange to win concessions from the KP.

There was also controversy over the current KP  Monitor for Marange, Abbey Chikane. Chikane, the KP’s former chairman, didn’t seem at first to be a bad choice for Monitor, but once he issued his report and his actions led to Maguwu’s arrest, the NGOs basically lost faith in him. (And naturally, none wanted to meet with him, as it meant they would risk being turned into the police.) One proposal even called for a “supplemental” monitor.

With all these issues being feverishly debated, the industry spent most of the meeting trying to broker a compromise, where Zimbabwe would be allowed to export Marange diamonds under certain conditions. That compromise ultimately didn’t happen, despite one marathon negotiating session that went to six in the morning. “We came really close a couple of times,” says World Diamond Council chairman Eli Izhakoff.

So now that Zimbabwe is still prohibited from exporting diamonds from Marange, the question is: Does Zimbabwe make good on its threats
to simply exit the Kimberley Process?

That would likely mean the country gets less money for its diamonds, but enforcing it will not be easy. Dunnebacke notes that “it would take a very concerted effort to prevent them from trading.”

It’s also possible that Zimbabwe may “semi-walk” – meaning it would follow the KP everywhere but Marange. This would let the country continue to sell diamonds through the KP from its Murowa mine (as it owner, Rio Tinto, would likely insist on), but “follow the Monitor’s report” and export the diamonds from Marange.

A “semi-walk” is, of course, pretty ridiculous. It’s an open act of defiance, but something the KP may find it hard to react to.

In the end, just about everyone agreed that the best approach was continuing to engage with Zimbabwe, no matter how bad its behavior has been (and, let’s not kid ourselves, it’s been bad). The NGOs even seemed to have softened their position a bit.  While all the pre-meeting NGO papers called for Zimbabwe’s suspension, their post-meeting release took a markedly different tack, saying, “We would welcome the opportunity to work with Zimbabwe in the collaborative spirit of the scheme, to address challenges in the country’s diamond sector.”

Consider it from their perspective: If Zimbabwe leaves the KP, as Venezuela did a few years ago, then the NGOs have far less leverage over the country. There could even be reprisals towards Maguwu. And, of course, if Zimbabwe successfully sells its diamonds after leaving the KP, that would leave it all but dead.

Which may be why, for all the negative talk about the KP this week, the NGOs are now also stressing its value.

“The Kimberley Process benefits a lot of African countries and could benefit even more,” says Dunnebacke. “We need to keep it together.”

And that’s an important thing to note, as we reflect back ona week where the KP seemed on the verge of falling apart.

One final point: the news coming out of this meeting was not all bad. In fact, there were some good signs.

First, there were strong reviews for the new KP chairman, Boaz Hirsch, especially in light of the disappointment with his predecessor. “He was excellent,” Izhakoff says. In addition, the negotiating sessions were surrounded by two meetings: One on ways to reform the KP, and the other on how to enforce it. Both were described as positive.

I’m also told negotiations with Zimbabwe may be ongoing, even though the meeting has officially ended, and the talk may continue at the World Diamond Council meeting in St. Petersburg.

From everything I’ve heard, a compromise remains possible. Let’s hope, the sensible heads in Zimbabwe prevail, before the “least bad” option turns into something far worse.

JCK News Director