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Angola crafts new path for diamond sector, loosens Dos Santos’ family grip

30 july 2018

The election of João Lourenço as Angola’s new president last September after almost four decades of Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ rule has brought so much hope in the southern African country, which is one of the leading crude oil and diamond producers.

Dos Santos’ family had a tight grip on Angola, but that has changed, as the new leader was acting on his promise to tackle family monopolies and make Angola more attractive to investors.

Lourenço dismissed the former president’s daughter, Isabel, from her position last November as chairperson of state-owned oil company Sonangol.

The Angolan state-owned diamond company Sodiam, which markets the country’s diamonds, then pulled out last December of an investment in Geneva-based jewellery maker De Grisogono controlled by Sindika Dokolo, who married Isabel.

Bloomberg quoted Sodiam as saying at the time that it was cancelling its ties with De Grisogono for “reasons of public interest and legality”.

Reuters then reported in March this year that Isabel had lost diamond exploration licenses previously reserved for her to investors.

She previously held the Camafuca-Camazambo and Chiri licenses.

President of state diamond company Endiama, José Manuel Ganga Júnior said in a video clip of a closed-door meeting with mining companies in February that the licenses had expired and were now available for new exploration partners.

“It is true that these kimberlites we presented to promote and offer for exploration were already granted as licenses in the past, many years ago,” he said.

“These licenses have expired ... At this time, we don’t have any commitment with any former owners of these projects.”

New direction

Just recently, Ganga Júnior revealed that Endiama had suspended its exploration and mining projects in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Venezuela to focus on the exploration and mining of new diamond reserves in Angola.

He said the contract, involving diamonds and other mineral resources, with the CAR government had been suspended “because we understand that we do not have the conditions to develop various projects outside of the country”.

In June, the Angolan government also approved a new policy of rough diamonds trading, which would guarantee an effective system.

Reuters saw a draft presidential decree that revealed a plan to set the price of rough diamonds against an international benchmark and give producers greater influence to pick their own buyers.

Diamond producers like Catoca would be allowed to sell up to 60 percent of their output to companies of their choice, as well as to their own trading divisions, breaking Sodiam’s power to select buyers.

Diamonds would be priced according to a benchmark based on a sample of typical nationally-produced stones, along with an evaluation using a price list in line with the international market.

The southern African country was also set to introduce sales sessions for pre-approved diamond buyers, while rare stones would be individually placed under the hammer.

Lourenço visited Antwerp, Belgium earlier this year where he said his country had been absent from the diamond bourse and he wants that to change.

“It has been said that Angola has been absent from Antwerp, but that is set to change. We are going to be represented in Antwerp, and will work together in partnership,” the Angolan leader said.

Angola produced 9 million carats last year worth $1.1 billion, but about only a fraction of that was sold on the Antwerp diamond market.

The new Angolan leader and his team have clearly hit the ground running and are keen to spruce up the diamond sector, which was expected to augment the oil industry.

The sector’s future was bright, should they continue on this trajectory.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Rough&Polished