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08 december 2017

‘Non-diamond producing countries shouldn’t lead KP’

04 december 2017

mzee_fula_ngenge_xx.jpgNon-diamond producing countries should not lead the Kimberley Process (KP) as was the case last year with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the African Diamond Council and African Diamond Producers Association chairperson, M’Zee Fula Ngenge.

He told Rough & Polished on the sidelines of the De Beers diamond conference in Gaborone, early November, that diamond producers cannot be “overseen” by consumers of diamonds.

Diamond producers and consumers as well as the civil society were allowed to be members of KP, which was established in 2003.

A country or bloc has an opportunity to chair the diamond watchdog for a year and the current leader, Australia, will pass on the baton to the European Union when its term come to an end next month.

Ngenge also said that some diamond mining company heads are not prepared to hear what they were advocating for.

He, however, praised De Beers for their willingness to listen to the organizations’ viewpoints.

Below are excerpts from the interview.  

Can you shed some light on your position as the chairperson of both African Diamond Council and African Diamond Producers Association?

We are a legislative governing body. We write policies for the diamond producing African countries and we also advise them, defend them and we basically give them structure. We introduce and implement cohesive diamond policies across the board. Locally we are here in Botswana, this is our star diamond producer, the number one diamond producer in Africa, one of the best examples we have in terms of putting a mile there for other producers just to follow and I think when you look at this country 51 years ago, it was one of the poorest countries in Africa and you look at what diamond revenue has done. There is no oil here, but [look] what diamond revenue has done alone, it has actually created a middle class…. It’s a wonderful thing that we have an opportunity to witness a very much successful story here.

Can you spell out the difference between the two organizations, if any?

The council is basically made up of heads of state and the producers association is basically made up of ministers. So, we have two entities that can come together and resolve problems. That’s something we lobbied for because it’s very important when you look at two people, a minister versus a president, usually that’s typically over 100 years of experience that is addressing a problem and we like to have two sides or perspectives. What might maybe the view of a minister might not be that of the head of state, so I like to come here and create some wonderful situations and hear both perspectives. We can come to the right conclusion, whatever the problem is.

What are the roles played by the African Diamond Council and African Diamond Producers Association?

We listen to all the diamond producing countries, the first thing we want to hear from them is what are the issues they have in their particular countries. We try to address those issues [and] if we feel we are having a collective problem in more than eight or nine different countries, we might even introduce a policy that is cross border. We can introduce something that they can all benefit from, so that’s pretty much where we go. We defend them when they are under fire. You look at the Central African Republic (CAR) or Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and maybe Angola and Congo. Whenever they are under attack by human rights groups or the civil society, we try to come in and look at why they are under attack and try to provide solutions. Most of these attacks come as a lack of understanding, so civic society may need to have a prospective that they didn’t previously have, so we have to provide it or defend or to resolve even.

What is your response to criticism that your organizations are propaganda machines for the countries you defend?

But there is no propaganda attached to us, we are not excessive in terms of exposure. It’s a very tight net. The diamond industry is a big industry, but it’s a small circle of people and we don’t have a big entourage. What is important is for us is to listen carefully to the head of state of that diamond producing country, what are his objectives for his diamond industry or state mining company? The second objective would be the ministers. We don’t even go public, we don’t have conferences, we have meetings where we can get to the root of the problem. We can be very effective, so it’s a very secretive business, very dangerous business. I think when you look at Africa and what we represent…what you saw inside that (conference) room was the back-end …no one really addresses what happens in the front-end. There are guys getting dirty, guys getting killed maybe, so these are things we like to address because no one else is willing or in position to do that. So, propaganda no! I will disagree, it’s a little strong it’s not the road we usually take.

Can you give me an emic view of what is happening in the CAR. You argued during a round table discussion that there are no conflicts in Africa, but one of the panelists said there was actually a conflict in CAR?

When you look at Africa in general, you always have countries that are under attack to destabilise and when you look at the diamond industry there are always controversies, there will always be a country under fire. If it’s not Zimbabwe, its CAR, its Angola, Sierra Leone so some of this chaos is created to make some of these initiatives relevant and that’s why I said when you look at KP, for example, it is a certification scheme that we created for us to stop specific causes, it prevents a rebel movement from taking over a diamond mine, using that diamond revenue to fight the government. So, if we don’t have that situation, if they are not willing to change the definition of a broader conflict diamond, it might lose its relevance and even the people who came in to support it may not support it today because they don’t see the real purpose.

Do you think KP is still relevant?

My view will always be if you are not a diamond producing country and if there are more non-diamond producing countries involved in an initiative pushing an agenda, you have to approach this with caution and suspicion. [You have] the [U.S.] State Department wanting to be the headquarters for Kimberley Process and it’s a diamond consuming nation not a producer…, if you look at KP, Angola, two years ago, was the secretariat and we turned it over to the UAE, which is not a diamond producing country and they were competing against Australia, which is a diamond producing country. Dubai is the youngest major diamond centre, but how did they end up with KP? I even said that once they get it, they might even promote smuggling, especially in Africa. It’s a young diamond centre, which is basically trying to stay at the top of KP … most of those guys don’t get into a plane and come to Africa, they are not hands on, they don’t know the problems we [face], so when it’s time to go there to try and talk about our problems they can’t connect.

What is your projection of KP’s future?

We can always correct something that is incorrect, if all four tyres are on a flat, we can buy new tyres and the car will run fine, but am saying if you are not willing to address that, confront it, let’s say hey we have a problem, there are some things we have to address. We shouldn’t wait from 2003 to 2017 to decide if the definition is applicable.

So, apart from the definition are there any issues that you want addressed by KP?

I will always lobby for a diamond producing country to be the secretariat of KP, it’s a diamond certification scheme and when you look at seven out of 10 diamond producers in the world are African and then the UAE was basically overseeing us.

What were your experiences in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe came under fire and a lot of that fire was designed to remove the head of state. I didn’t really commented from a president to chairman type of a relationship I saw a diamond producing country under fire and our job was to defend them. Of course, I get involved, ‘why is Zimbabwe being attacked?’. If I felt that they were being attacked unfairly, my job was to defend them. You can’t pressure African Diamond Council to kick out Zimbabwe out of the ADC, if they haven’t really broken any rules and basically as far as am concerned they were compliant. We went to Marange, we didn’t see anything that we weren’t supposed to see. We went there several times for more than two and half years…        

I understand you are always at loggerheads with the civic society?

Aha.

What do you think is the driving force behind their aggression towards the African diamond producers?

You always need someone to mix it up, you cannot always invite people that are going to agree with you. So even if they are little extreme you want to hear how extreme they can get so you can find some middle ground and write a policy that actually applies to everyone. Civil society will always be there and even when I look at artisanal miners in places like Angola or Congo, we are aware of who they are, we have revenue recovery tactics that we use to get the product, so it doesn’t leave the country. The government may want to have a data base to know who these people are, because it helps us, we give them a job and they bring us revenue. It serves us a purpose. I don’t want to put them in jail as they work for us. They bring us the goods, why not stick with them?

In as much as your role is to defend African diamond producing countries, but surely it cannot be all rosy (interrupted)

No!

What are some of the challenges that you have witnessed or at least tried to address?

Every day is a challenge, it’s a dangerous business in the world, it’s the most secretive business in the world. Of course, it’s challenging every day. You see these scars (pointing at his head) they don’t come from working out in the gym. I live in Angola and I also have a home in Congo (two fiercest countries in terms of how you have to maneuver, if you don’t speak French or Portuguese …you might encounter some problems). There has been a history of unrest in Congo, for example, and Angola had a war for 27 years…like I said it’s a tough terrain, but I feel like I was made for it and I don’t run away from these types of countries. I could live in South Africa or Botswana and I won’t have any stress, but I have to be in there, I am a hands-on guy and when you hear me talking on a panel it’s because I am in the middle of the fire. I have been there and felt the heat and I know what I need to communicate to those who would never put their fire-resistant suit on to walk through the fire. Most of these mining company heads are not really prepared to hear what we have to say regarding these things. So, I did take my hat off to De Beers because they came after us and they said we need this perspective. We want to hear it and they were willing to listen for the first time to a perspective they were never interested in before and that’s how we were able to make progress.

So, what does that mean to you?

It means that De Beers has realised that they are being allowed to come in and conduct business in Africa. They operate in three African countries (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa); they feel that it’s enough for them. They are trying to demonstrate that sustainability is one of their top issues, they are trying to lead rather than to follow. There are other mining companies, Rio Tinto and Alrosa, for example. It’s very competitive, Alrosa want in here (Botswana). De Beers is just trying to stay ahead of the game and when you succeed in this diamond industry in 2017 you are doing everything outside your comfort zone. That’s why you see what De Beers is doing with this conference is far out of their comfort zone. It’s dangerous to put me on stage.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished

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