Why Last Week’s Press Reports About the Kimberley Process Were Completely Wrong

The Central African Republic remains under embargo, sources tell JCK

Last week, the United Arab Emirates newspaper The National  trumpeted the news that diamond exports from the Central African Republic will soon resume, thanks to a deal brokered by Ahmed bin Sulayem, the current chair of the Kimberley Process representing the UAE.

The article quoted Bin Sulayem as saying: “The effective resumption of exports from CAR was one of the main priorities of the KP chairmanship 2016, and I am particularly proud that we have been able to break the deadlock that has obstructed effective exports for so long.”

Yet, four separate sources involved in the KP tell me this is not true, and the blockade is still in effect. A few grumbled the chair overstepped his bounds with his announcement, though there is talk he was misquoted. (Emails to Bin Sulayem and the KP chair’s office were not returned.)

That said, the Kimberley Process is looking at okaying certain CAR diamond exports, but with provisos. CAR is still a fractured country, with rebel groups active in certain regions. Right now, only one area may be cleared to resume exports: the diamond producing area of Berbérati, which government forces firmly control.

Last year, at the request of the CAR government, the KP settled on criteria that would put Berbérati back in business. These criteria are tougher than is standard for the KP (they amount to “KP plus,” as one source put it), with an additional export procedure meant to track the movement of the diamonds from the mine.

All this represents a dramatic change from standard KP operation, which generally judges countries rather than areas of countries. The organization is making an exception here for a number of reasons: First, there is concern for the livelihood of people on the ground, many of whom depend on diamond revenue. In addition, the body feels that setting up a legal channel for exports will halt smuggling and improve the stability of the country—which, let’s not forget, is the main point of this exercise. The KP also wanted to recognize that CAR had done a lot of work controlling its diamond pipeline.

A monitoring team—composed of the standard KP mix of industry, government, and NGOs—recently visited the area to judge its compliance with the new terms of reference. But that team will ultimately make the call, sources say, not the chair.

One further note: If the area does get the green light, it will be able to export only newly mined diamonds. The clearance will not likely include the large diamond stockpiles that the handful of companies still active in CAR built up during the last two years of embargo. Those stockpiles have been slated for a forensic audit, but it is still not clear what will happen to them, given that those stockpiles may contain conflict diamonds.

If they do contain verboten diamonds—and some think that is likely—the question becomes: What should happen to those goods? Should they also be cleared for export? The diamond industry is, as usual, nervous about any kind of public black eye that would result from conflict diamonds entering its supply chain. When Amnesty International did a report on the stockpile last year, it sparked headlines such as: “Thousands Of Carats Of Blood Diamonds May Be Set To Hit World Markets.”  

So then, does the government take those diamonds? This makes a certain amount of sense, though some fear this could set the awful precedent of a government seizing a private company’s assets. Some NGOs have even suggested destroying the diamonds, but that idea seems even worse. After all, one of the goals here is to help countries get more value for their diamond assets, not to grind those assets into dust.

These are difficult questions—and despite recent press accounts, they have not been answered.

JCK News Director