The Kimberley Process’ Year of Living Boringly

After two years of crisis, and then another year of renewed energy with the United States at its helm, the Kimberley Process this year was pretty unexciting. And that’s both good and bad.

The good news is that the organization stopped lurching from crisis to crisis, and has mostly rebuilt the good will that is essential to its continued operation. The bad is that in many ways this year failed to live up to its promise. 

In 2011, the United States, trying to salvage something after agreeing to re-allow Marange exports, conceived the idea of a two-year reform agenda: In 2012, the United States would bring up a suite of reforms, and then South Africa would follow them through in 2013.

It’s safe to say, that hasn’t happened. There was a good deal accomplished at the most recent plenary—you can read the official communiqué here—but most of that was technical in nature. Alan Martin, research director of Partnership Africa Canada, considers himself disappointed. 

“I thought it was a missed opportunity for South Africa to place an African vision for the KP,” he says. “But they were more interested in celebrating ten years of Kimberley than in moving it forward.” (JCK was unable to get an interview with chair Welile Nhlapo.) 

As for the most high-profile, and arguably the most important, reform—changing the definition of conflict diamond—that remains sadly stalled, with participants agreeing to keep talking. (Is there anything more to say at this point?) So the proposal isn’t dead, but the odds of it getting enacted in the next few years seem longer and longer.

”I don’t think anyone was under the impression that it would be advanced,” Martin says.  “But it’s almost like they were scared of any discussion.”

Coming up, the Process will be chaired by China in 2014—click here for an interesting look at what that might mean—and Angola in 2015.  The choice of Angola, is of course, a little contentious, given the ongoing controversy over human rights in the country’s diamond fields—questions that continue to this day. In 2006, when Angola put its name forward for chair, NGOs actively blocked it. This time, there is a little more reason to be optimistic, Martin says. 

“There are things we are all very concerned about,” he says. “So we are going in with our eyes open, but it is based on the premise that the current minister is reform minded. Everything doesn’t seem to be solved overnight, but we are hoping for some progress.”

He notes that when the Democratic Republic of the Congo was chair, “it led to them playing a leadership role in the KP. It is possible that could happen with Angola.”

So it is yet another half-full/half-empty year for the Kimberley Process—with not much to get excited about either way—as most of the reform-minded elements in the industry increasingly look elsewhere. 

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JCK News Director