Kimberley Process Strikes Deal With Zimbabwe

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—The diamond industry is breathing a sigh of relief after Kimberley Process negotiators reached a deal with Zimbabwe that keeps the country in the international certification scheme. The deal, announced at the World Diamond Council’s annual meeting in St. Petersburg, allows the troubled African nation to export diamonds from its Marange fields under strict monitoring and supervision.

Many expressed unease with continued reports of violence in the region, but KP supporters worried that if Zimbabwe sold on the black market, it would render the Process meaningless. The stakes grew higher when Namibia’s diamond commissioner, Kennedy Hamutenya, threatened that his country would exit the KP unless Marange exports received a green light.

Marange sales were first blocked in November 2009, after a KP monitoring mission found instances of noncompliance with the KP and human rights violations. Negotiators then agreed exports could resume upon approval of a monitor. Six months later, that monitor—former KP chair Abbey Chikane—decreed sales could begin, but the U.S., Canada, Australia, and human rights groups disputed Chikane’s report, claiming it failed to present a complete picture of the region, thus blocking further sales. (KP rules require all decisions be made by absolute consensus.)

All of which led to three fevered days of talks in Tel Aviv in June 2010—where attendees failed to reach consensus—and another two days of negotiations in Russia in mid-July. Sources said that Zimbabwe, sorely in need of foreign currency to bolster its battered economy, was insisting on selling Marange diamonds immediately, while the NGOs and allied governments were pushing for a review mission to ensure things really had changed.

The final agreement allows Zimbabwe to conduct some initial sales; however, it can only sell from its significant diamond stockpile if a pair of review missions gives the okay. (The stockpile had accumulated during the eight months Marange exports were banned.)

The agreement in Russia was anything but a sure bet. One hour prior to the deal, some negotiators believed a settlement could not be reached. But once it became reality, the mood among WDC attendees turned jubilant, with some sipping champagne.

While human rights groups agreed to the deal, some also expressed reservations. Anne Dunnebacke, campaigner for Global Witness, told JCK allowing sales was a “goodwill gesture” but said the “ball is really in Zimbabwe’s court.”

At the World Diamond Council meeting, Zim­babwe’s mining minister, Obert Mpofu, pledged to abide by the deal terms: “I want to assure everyone that Zimbabwe means business. We will adhere, we will comply. We will not let you down.”