WikiLeaks and the Kimberley Process

A group of “WikiLeaked” cables paint a picture of a stark,
“Wild West” atmosphere in the Marange diamond fields after the Zimbabwe
military tried to get control of the area in 2008.

One State Dept. cable from November 2008
reports:

Despite efforts to control the
diamond site with police, the prospect of accessible diamonds lying just
beneath the soil’s surface has attracted a swarm  of several thousand local and foreign diggers. The police
response has been violent, with a handful of homicides reported each week,
though that number could grow as diggers arm themselves and attract police and
army deserters to their ranks …

In response to aggressive police
action, diggers began arming themselves with handguns and in some cases
automatic weapons. They also formed loose gangs in an attempt to protect
themselves as well as “claimed” areas. [African Consolidated
Resources CEO Andrew] Cranswick  
said that some members of the police and army have deserted in order to
join the digging, and they typically brought their firearms with them. Some
former police even still wear their uniforms as they search for diamonds. …

According to Cranswick, all
extraction is now being done by hand panners who merely sift the top meter of
soil. Some of these panners operate in teams that sell their diamonds to
representatives of the above-named officials and connected elites. Other
panners are individual operators who merely sell to the highest bidder. Often
the panners who are affiliated with a particular regime buyer, will only sell a
portion of their diamonds to that person’s representative, holding back the
remainder to sell for higher prices to foreign buyers offering hard currency.

It should be noted that ACR, Cranswick’s company, has been
in litigation with the government over its claim to Marange diamonds. It was recently
charged with fraud by the government, which it
denies.

The cable adds:

In a country filled with corrupt
schemes, the diamond business in Zimbabwe is one of the dirtiest. Mining in
general remains the largest single source of foreign exchange, but the
potential of Chiadzwa is being lost to Zimbabwean corruption. …At present,
police trying to bring order to Chiadzwa are benefiting Zimbabwean officials
who see the diamond field as a new source of illegitimate income; the people of
Zimbabwe are seeing little return.

These comments do not apply to the Murowa
mine, which the writer calls “well regulated.”

A January 2009 cable
has similar observations. One informant, whose name was redacted but was
described as a “tribal chief,” said diamond digging…

…is continuing in Marange largely
under the supervision of the military. The typical practice is for soldiers to
supervise and escort groups of panners as they dig. Then at the end of the day,
any diamonds found are apportioned between soldiers and diggers … [M]ilitary
helicopters fly in daily and transport many of the diamonds to bases near
Harare, where presumably they are taken by senior military commanders

The country notes that many of the region’s diamonds
are being sold to buyers in Mutare, a city in Zimbabwe, and over the border in
Mozambique by “a mix of panners, police, and soldiers”…

…in particular, Lebanese buyers
have set up shop in large numbers 
in Mutare and typically pay for the diamonds with U.S.  dollars. In order to operate safely,
the Lebanese have formed profitable relationships with senior military and
police officials in the region.

One thing to stress: These cables were never meant to be seen by the
public. There are claims in them which are based on hearsay and may not be true. Still, the general picture here echoes what has been said
by human rights groups; in fact, the cables often quote them. As the U.S. has
been one of the countries pushing for tougher restrictions on Zimbabwe’s
diamond exports, here we see an interesting view into the government’s
mind-set.

JCK News Director