Zimbabwe Plays Chicken With Kimberley

Whatever happens with Zimbabwe’s current threat to sell diamonds from Marange outside the Kimberley Process – and remember the government has threatened to do this once before, and then backed down – it is clear Zimbabwe is now on a collision course with the KP and the rest of the diamond world.

Zimbabwe’s government has repeatedly disparaged the KP, with the minister of mines recently boasting to the state-run media:  “We are going to benefit from our diamonds whether with the Kimberley Process or not.”

What is sad is that Zimbabwe was given a perhaps-too-generous opportunity to correct things last November. If the government violates the agreed-upon action plan, World Diamond Council general counsel Cecilia Gardner says, “We would look at that seriously.” Even the State Department said last year: “If the Work Plan is not thoroughly implemented, we expect the KP to suspend Zimbabwe’s status in the KP certification scheme.”  If that threat is to have any teeth, it needs to be acted on.

But would the KP hold an emergency session to take action? Or would any decision have to wait until the next Plenary? Based upon the people I spoke to, the rules are not clear.

And, of course, the KP might give Zimbabwe yet another last chance. But that would be an embarrassment that would seriously undermine the KP’s credibility.

That said, kicking Zimbabwe out of the KP, as necessary as it may be, is “not ideal,” as Elly Harrowell of Global Witness puts it. It would mean a couple of things, she notes: Zimbabwe would have a lot less countries to (legally) sell diamonds to.  And other countries would “have more leeway” to block Zimbabwe stones. But it’s not in the KP’s interest to have a decent-sized producer outside the system.

And what of the legitimate mines producing there, particularly Rio Tinto’s Murowa? Rio has always been a big supporter of Kimberley. This would put the company in a bind: Do they go with the government, or the KP?

At this point, there seems to be more questions than answers. But the KP may have to address them, and soon.

JCK News Director