Saturday, 30 October 2010

Zimbabwe's blood diamonds

Zimbabwe is supposedly enjoying political stability under the coalition government formed in 2008. However, according to the UK's Channel 4's Unreported World programme, which Channel 4 describes as a "critically acclaimed foreign affairs series offering an insight into the lives of people in some of the most neglected parts of the planet", the reports from Zimbabwe are of a country still "gripped by terror and violence."

Reporter Ramita Navai and Alex Nott filmed undercover to investigate claims that gems from one of the world's biggest diamond fields are being used by Robert Mugabe's ZANU PF party to entrench their hold on power by buying the military's loyalty. (Navai is the same reporter whose story on the escalating violence in South Sudan I wrote about on this blog in November of last year). The current reports from Zimbabwe are against the backdrop of human rights abuses, which victims say are being perpetrated by the military and the police.

Filming covertly and secretly, (footage that was broadcast during the programme Friday evening), the team discovered a climate of fear reminiscent of the pre-coalition Mugabe years. Almost everyone Navai and Nott met was too terrified to talk about the diamond fields, including several members of the MDC party, which forms part of the coalition government. We see some people speak out, albeit at great personal risk. They detail stories of beatings, killings and rape connected to the diamond area. There were suggestions that powerful individuals within the government oversee and control these activities.


A military insider told the Unreported World team about how different Zimbabwean Army units are allowed to rotate through the fields to make profits from the diamonds in exchange for loyalty to president Mugabe. The serving officer claimed that syndicates of civilians are used by soldiers to mine illegally and they then sell the gems to middlemen. (In June last year, Human Rights Watch reporting on the same issue wrote about forced labour, torture and military massacres in the Marange district in Eastern Zimbabwe where the diamond fields are located. Click here for the HRW report).

The team followed the diamond trail, showing how smugglers move precious stones from the Marange fields across the border to the boom-town of Manica in neighbouring Mozambique. Filming secretly, they showed how the stones are purchased no questions asked, by Arabic speaking buyers who claim to be Lebanese. We are then informed that Manica, once a sleepy rural Mozambique village, is now buzzing with diamond buyers from around the world chasing after the flush of Marange diamonds from across the border. Its impossible to track the diamonds once they have been purchased from the smugglers, usually for meagre sums. From Manica the diamonds are absorbed into the international market and sold in upmarket and high street stores across the world.


The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) a UN-backed industry watchdog has been tasked with ending the sale of conflict diamonds. Its function is to ensure that diamonds are not used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments. It is thought however that this definition is narrow and doubts have been expressed as to the effectiveness of the KPCS, as in this BBC report of June this year. For sure, the KPCS has not prevented the reported widespread looting and human rights abuses connected to Marange and there is the suggestion that it has failed to deal with the unfolding crisis.


Next month in Tel Aviv, Israel, the members of the KPCS meet for their annual summit to decide what to do next. The State of Israel is the current Chair. The Unreported World reporters indicated that at the time of filming, there were fears that the situation in Zimbabwe could precipitate the end of the Kimberley Process itself, as internal politics and in-fighting about how the watchdog should proceed may tear it apart. (This caught my attention and is something I will be investigating further).


vast natural resources found in the Marange district of Zimbabwe could potentially change the fortunes of a country whose economy has hit hard times. These reports however, despite the coalition government, confirm that Zimbabwe is a country still plagued by corruption and violence, a serious warning of what is to come ahead of the 2011 elections.

For those in the UK, Unreported World series 10 episode 15 'Zimbabwe's Blood Diamonds' is available on the Channel 4 website for the next 29 days. Click here to watch.

1 comment:

snagay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.