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Part 1: KPCSC gives insight into illegal diamond mining, trading in Africa

18 october 2021

shamiso_mtisi_xxz.pngAlthough the diamond watchdog Kimberley Process (KP) prides itself for significantly reducing the flow of conflict goods since its establishment in 2003, the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition (KPCSC) alleged that illegal diamond mining is still taking place in some parts of West Africa, Central Africa, and southern Africa.

Rough&Polished's Mathew Nyaungwa spoke with the KPCSC coordinator Shamiso Mtisi about illegal diamond mining in Africa as well as their efforts to have a new definition of conflict diamonds, which is being resisted by some members of the diamond watchdog.

In this first installment of the two-part exclusive interview, we focus on illegal diamond mining in the continent and where the contraband ends up to.

Mtisi, who is also the deputy director of the Zimbabwe Environment Lawyers Association (ZELA) revealed what is being done to stem the problem of illegal diamond mining as well as how the state-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) is turning the corners in terms of human rights.

Below are excerpts of the interview.

What is the state of artisanal diamond mining in Africa?

You might want to look at it from an employment perspective when you look at artisanal mining in Africa, especially in the area of diamond and gold sectors. So, I think it's widespread and found in many African countries where there are alluvial diamonds. If you look at West Africa for example, most of the operations are predominantly artisanal diamond mining and they are a few small-scale diamond miners. You will also find that some of the big companies are now looking at artisanally mined diamonds as an opportunity to get material. For example, if you look at De Beers, they have the GemFair concept which can allow them to buy artisanally mined diamonds in Sierra Leone but of course from a responsible sourcing perspective. So, there are quite a number of other programmes in DRC, Liberia, and others. For example, if you look at DDI they are also into promoting artisanal diamond mining. That is in West Africa and some parts of Central Africa. But down here in southern Africa I think we also have an emerging trend now with South Africa having allowed, I understand, some level of artisanal diamond and they are in the process of actually developing an artisanal mining policy, which will definitely cover diamond mining. In Zimbabwe, it's happening [artisanal diamond mining] but it's outside the law in Marange. There is artisanal mining going on in Marange and of course, it's outside the law. It's unlike in West Africa where you have it legalised in terms of the different classes of artisanal mining. So artisanal diamond mining employs quite a lot of people. I don't have the statistics with me here, but I think there are quite a number of people who are employed through artisanal mining. So that means there is a need to closely look at that sector and make sure that it complies with any existing national legislation and then it's done in accordance with the Kimberly Process minimum requirements. I think there is one called the Washington Declaration which profiles some of the ways in which artisanal and small-scale mining activities in the diamond sector should be conducted and within the KP there is also a working group that is dedicated to artisanal and small-scale miners.

You have already mentioned that there is illegal diamond mining in Zimbabwe’s Marange. Can you shed some more light on that?

I think on Marange the key point before I talk about the problem is to now think about licensing artisanal mining or finding a formula that can capture those diamonds that normally find their way outside the country. So, that means that maybe the ZCDC all such other innovative companies can think of a formula to buy those diamonds from those artisanal miners by offering very competitive prices. But I know that sometimes people want to take advantage of artisanally mined diamonds and then buy at cheaper prices which would then lead to the smuggling of diamonds. So, I think that's what we should be avoiding. So that means in Zimbabwe we need to think of a formula that can allow artisanal miners to mine big those areas that are not commercially viable. So that's one key issue that we should be looking at and we are happy that at least it's something that we have raised before with the minister of mines and I am not sure how far they have gone together with ZCDC. I hope they will do something about it, but we will be happy to collaborate with them and share experiences from West Africa where for example De Beers has like I said [come up with GemFair] approach which allows them to buy artisanally mined diamonds and make sure that those diamonds go into the diamond supply pipeline rather than outside.

Where else are you witnessing illegal diamond mining in Africa?

I should mention that there is a lot of illegal diamond mining activities in West Africa. Some of the diamonds are actually marketed and traded outside the KP because we have porous borders. If you look at the Mano River Union and we are talking about Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire). As for these four countries, I think diamonds actually cross from one country into another and then you cannot even say sometimes that these are diamonds from this part of Sierra Leone and these ones are from … because the borders are porous, people share common boundaries, language, culture and they also live closer to each other. We once visited Sierra Leone and Liberia and you could see people cross from this side of the river to the other side of the river and they are all mining there. So you see there is a lot of illegal trade that goes on but now what is happening is within the Kimberly Process, the European Union is supporting a program which is called the Mano River Union regional approach which tries to harmonise diamond mining policy, diamond mining practices in the region and harmonise even the taxation system there so that diamonds do not move from Sierra Leone into Liberia maybe because the buying conditions in Liberia are more favourable than those in Sierra Leone. So that the harmonisation process can help. It was noted that there are problems around the smuggling of diamonds in that region. So the same applies to Marange, so the problems are actually similar. There is nothing unique or too grave about Marange in terms of artisanal mining but the only difference is in Zimbabwe it is not yet legalised. The best approach is to legalise it and then add create that formula. In West Africa, it is legalised but the diamonds are going out even though with those laws in place.

Where are the illegally mined diamonds from Marange and West Africa going?

Definitely, some of them [illegally mined Marange diamonds] go through Mozambique. Some go through the porous borders. In West Africa, the borders like I described are not watertight …there is no fence…you just walk to the other side of the border, and you are in Liberia or Sierra Leone. So, if those kinds of channels are called illegal entry points but these are open borders. In terms of the final destination, definitely, Dubai is one area where most of these diamonds go to. In some cases, they go via Kenya and then they are injected into the system. The issue of fake certificates which we have seen, for example, Sierra Leone has a high number of fake certificates that come from there. So, who knows, diamonds from Zimbabwe may actually end up with a KP certificate from Sierra Leone and then go to Dubai. From Dubai, they go to Antwerp because what happens in Dubai is that the diamonds from different destinations, from different places, are mixed. Once they are mixed in Dubai then they are described as Diamonds of mixed origin and then they are exported to Antwerp. So you will not see that these are from Sierra Leone, these are from Zimbabwe unless if you are talking about footprinting or fingerprinting, which I think hasn't been religiously applied and I don't think a lot of industry players are keen on doing that because that will deprive them of cheap goods.

Apart from what De Beers and the European Union are doing in West Africa as well as DDI in Central and West Africa, what else needs to be done to curb illegal diamond mining in Africa?

I think the Working Group on alluvial and artisanal diamond mining has been encouraging members of that group including those countries that are producing alluvial and artisanal diamonds to come up with diamond development initiatives at the national level so that people can benefit from something and get fair prices for their diamonds but I think the challenge with that grouping is that even though there is a Washington Declaration - which they are supposed to be implementing and which calls for fair value for diamonds - the challenge is that the group does not have resources and technical capacity to make sure that at least the countries are implementing a fair price system. There have been a lot of weaknesses when it comes to customs and border control…Despite efforts to sensitise countries by the World's Customs Union on border control systems and customs control systems we still have a lot of gaps even here in Zimbabwe - for example, we did a study with ZELA on border control and customs. We noticed that the guys lack capacity in terms of equipment, cameras not working, or scanners do not work, and the searches are not thorough. Some of them do not know how a diamond looks like. You know these days, people are using drones and stuff like that and these things are not there at the border. So, diamonds just go out, so I think the system is just weak and this does not only applicable to Zimbabwe, it is all over the world.

To what extent are human rights being observed when dealing with illegal diamond miners especially in Zimbabwe?

I think in Zimbabwe there has been a change and I want to be emphatic about it because over the past three to four months I have not received a major report from Marange of someone who was beaten or mauled by dogs but it does not mean that things are not happening on the ground. We have community monitors in Marange and we have a WhatsApp group and for the past three to four months I have not seen a report on that WhatsApp group from Marange. In the past we used to receive reports on a daily basis of someone being mauled by dogs, beaten up by the private security at ZCDC.

When you say in the past, which period are you referring to?

We are looking at 2007 up to 2020.

What has changed in Marange in terms of these violations?

What might have changed is 1) We did some training for ZCDC on human rights, we trained their security guards and their management and ZCDC has also joined what is called the International Responsible Mineral Assurance (IRMA) which calls for responsible sourcing of minerals so the IRMA actually encourages companies to carry out due diligence or processes in terms of the impact of their operations on human rights, environment, labour and also on corporate social responsibility. So those are the kind of steps that [ZCDC chief executive) Mark Mabhudhu has introduced which is quite important. The management at ZCDC is better at looking at these things. They are also using drone technology to monitor what is happening on the ground and that I think offers management and even the ministry of mines [officials] an opportunity to view what is happening in Marange in real-time. I am not just saying this to praise ZCDC, we have been very critical of them, but I think they are doing a very good thing nowadays in Marange.

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