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Something is Wrong with the Kimberley Process

03 june 2009

Ian Smillie, one of the architects of the Kimberley Process (KP) has announced he is leaving the management of Partnership Africa-Canada, a non-governmental organization (NGO). On the 2nd of June 2009 he was interviewed by Le Temps and said his resignation was due to an utterly low level of efficiency of the KP in some of the diamond-mining countries including Brazil, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Guinea as well as because of uncontrolled diamond traffic in the Middle East, namely in Lebanon. Ian Smillie has virtually acknowledged failure of the KP Certification Scheme confirming the possibility of buying KP Certificates by shadow dealers through corrupt practices and even naming an approximate amount paid for such a transaction. “For a person possessing some tens of millions of dollars worth of rough diamonds to pay $50,000 for a Kimberley Certificate is nothing,” he said.

We could argue with Ian Smillie as for the bribe amount – according to our information, the cost of obtaining the notorious certificate for smugglers operating in the countries he mentioned in his interview as well as in a dozen of other no less civilized nations is ten times cheaper. However, this will not change the fundamental picture and we shall eagerly agree with the disappointed Ian Smillie that the KP has turned out to be inefficient in attaining its declared goals. Since this sorrowful situation has been no secret for quite a long time it would be curious to find an answer to the question – Why did this breakthrough come to Ian Smillie right now, during the unprecedented crisis on the diamond market?

Before giving an answer to this question let us consider an example illustrating the role and significance of NGOs in solving the task of regulating global markets. In the mid 1990s there was launched a roaring campaign to ban antipersonnel landmines initiated by an NGO, Norwegian People’s Aid (Norway). Mind-blowing pictures of people with torn-off limbs in the African and Asian countries where antipersonnel landmines were widely used flooded the pages of popular press publications and public figures such as Princess Diana pronounced angry speeches addressed to mine manufacturers and broadcast by TV; of course, Hollywood, too, did not remain aloof (“Sweepers” with Dolph Lundgren, 1998). The initiative set forth by the Norwegian NGO was approved by the United Nations and in March 1999 there came into operation the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines ratified by about 150 nations. It is noteworthy that this Convention took effect virtually at the same time when Belgrade was bombed and when “tomahawk” splinters were tearing limbs off peaceful inhabitants of Serbia in a no less successful way than antipersonnel landmines did it with Africans. However, this process somehow missed the attention of the Norwegian NGOs.

The maniac struggle of the world public to prohibit namely antipersonnel landmines and not some other means of destructing human flesh seemed straight idiotism only at first sight. The UN Convention contributed to a sharp decrease in manufacturing and stockpiling antipersonnel landmines of conventional designs made by way of relatively simple and accessible techniques which was instrumental to a quick and efficient liquidation of a very large segment on the global weapons market dominated by China, Bulgaria, Hungary and CIS manufacturers. Only a narrow circle of experts possessed information that virtually at the same time with the start of the global campaign to ban antipersonnel landmines the United States launched a program named Intelligent Mine Field also developed by companies belonging to the military industrial complex of West European countries. Actually it dealt with landmine weapons manufactured by way of the newest technologies accessible exclusively to the most advanced economies of the world. Only the research part of Intelligent Mine Field exceeds $30 billion. But the expensive “intelligent” landmine will be required by the market only after it will be cleared of “the weapon of the poor” – the cheap classic landmine. We may only guess if the representatives of Norwegian People’s Aid will voice their disappointment when the products of Intelligent Mine Field will hit weapons shows or if they will turn their holy wrath against napalm or for instance thermobaric bombs. They have made their contribution (which is not insignificant) to regulating the weapons market – and this is obvious reality.

The Kimberley Process started a bit later than the movement to ban antipersonnel landmines, but some key peculiarities of these initiatives are surprisingly matching. In 1998, Global Witness and Partnership Africa-Canada, both being NGOs, which expressed their concern over financing regional conflicts and terrorist groups from illegal diamond traffic funds, displayed brilliant awareness of the problem, the sources of which remain not very clear up to now. The diamond market was confronted with a long list of charges: collaboration (though involuntary) with illegal armed units, financial feeding of regional armed conflicts, unmerciful exploitation of child labour, and finally the worst thing – use of diamond traffic by Muslim terrorists. This entire nightmare in the opinion of these public organizations was so detrimental to the industry’s image that consumers were actually toeing the line to flee from “blood diamonds” as if they were plague. Torn-off limbs, haggard faces of children mining diamonds and pictures from the files on Hezbollah functionaries buying diamonds to arm radical followers of Mohammed were abundant in popular editions; of course, Hollywood, too, did not remain aloof - “Blood Diamond” with DiCaprio was even more impressive than “Sweepers” with Lundgren.

Like the movement to ban antipersonnel landmines, the Kimberley Process received full support of the United Nations and in 2002 in Interlaken, Switzerland, there was approved the KP Certification Scheme designed to exclude diamonds mined in armed-conflict areas from legal circulation and to exempt criminal and terrorist organizations from diamond trade. Thus, a shopworn red-tape procedure was chosen to serve a means of suppressing evil, which automatically guaranteed failure of the entire initiative taking into account the level of corruption in a significant number of countries traditionally tied to the global diamond market. Finally, seven years later Ian Smillie found courage to say this overtly.

The initiators of the Kimberley Process were widely promulgating the thesis attractive in its simplicity that if access for natural resources from conflict areas to global markets will be blocked by the civilized community this will inevitably result in ending local wars due to extinguished funding. This primitive logic is akin to argumentation that death from a spurt of napalm is more preferable than getting blown on an antipersonnel landmine. In the modern world organization, management and financing of local conflicts are not executed by their immediate participators and mineral resources controlled by warring factions in the majority of cases play negligent roles or do not play any role at all. It wouldn’t be bad to put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by blocking their export of mineral resources – the only problem is that there are no mineral resources in this conflict area at all. The opposition in Nigeria does not export a single barrel of oil, but this does not preclude them from getting the most modern armaments and perform regular raids against oil platforms in the Niger estuary thus pushing oil futures further up. Even in Angola the civil war was ended not at all because UNITA’s diamond traffic to Antwerp had been cut, but because Sawimbi was killed and an agreement was reached with his confidants. In reality there is not a single convincing example proving that depriving mineral resources possessed by conflicting parties of access to appropriate markets brings about peace. Theoretically this could be surmised from the very start and the ten years of Kimberley practice were a persuasive piece of evidence.

Sure enough, the Kimberley Process managed to close some of the diamond flows from “conflict” countries in Africa. To a certain extent this decreased the pressure on the market and served to maintain high prices for rough diamonds for some years. This is the definitive merit of Global Witness, Partnership Africa-Canada and Ian Smillie personally. As Martin Rapaport rightly put it some time ago, “GW is literally driving customers to De Beers and Canadian diamonds and away from artisanal diggers with their shockingly provocative “Blood Diamond” campaign.” Indeed, by strange coincidence the average cost of one carat of diamonds mined in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire blocked by the Kimberley Process in 2000-2006 was in the same range ($120 - $150) as the cost of diamonds mined in the fields of Canada and Tanzania. To put it simply, the intensive growth of output on the promising diamond fields controlled by De Beers was accompanied by blockade of similar products from Western Africa where De Beers’ presence was equal to zero. So analogy with Intelligent Mine Field comes all but involuntarily.

NGOs similar to Norwegian People’s Aid, Global Witness, Partnership Africa-Canada and movements initiated by them appear to be a sufficiently fine and efficient tool to regulate global markets for the convenience of the most influential players. However, these tools are efficient when markets are on the rise and in need of precision adjustments. But when markets go bust and require more brutal measures to be taken there is no need in such tools. His reply to the question put by Le Temps’ correspondent “Why do you resign right now?” Ian Smillie started with misty “Something is wrong…” All told, it is clear – what.