• Owen Swift

Episode 47. The Resurgence of Africa's Conflict Diamonds

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Rundown:

Diamonds have been used to pay militias and rebel groups for decades due to their ease of transportation, global demand, and reliable value. After diamonds fuelled conflict across Africa, the Kimberley Process was created to stop the use of conflict diamonds, but its limitations have left key loopholes open. Exploiting these has allowed this trade to rampage through the African continent once again. How can this process be reformed? And who will pay the price?

Guests:

Brad Brooks Rubin

  • General Counsel at The Sentry

  • Former Special Advisor to the US State Department

Russel Shor

  • Author of several key papers on diamonds and minerals

  • Spokesman for the GIA and expert of the minerals industry

  • Reporter for outlets including the New York Times and Financial Times

Shamiso Mtisi

  • Environmental Lawyer and journalist focusing on the African Minerals markets

  • Kimberley Process Civil Society Coordinator

  • Deputy Director for the Zimbabwe International Law Association

Part 1: Coveted Carbon (4:34)

  • Rubin takes us through the history of the diamond trade, tracking its roots in Africa through to its internationalisation into Russia, Australia, the United States and India, and the development of the industry to where it is today.

  • We look at the chemical make up of diamonds - the occlusions and different chemical impurities in various diamonds which mark them as different types of diamonds. These imperfections can also be used to track the origin of diamonds, but only with regional specificity, which does not help with the issue of conflict diamonds.

  • We overview where diamonds come from - the comparative value and volume coming out of different countries, as well as who mines, owns, controls and benefits from them.

  • De Beers is globally infamous for their involvement with diamonds. Rubin takes us through the history of their involvement, the impact they had, and continue to have on the way that the industry functions, as well as what their involvement constitutes today.

  • Finally we tackle the Kimberley Process, including the state of the industry before this process and how easy conflict diamonds were to pass off as legitimate. We look at how it was created, and that while it has certainly had some impact, its limited scope, wording, and authority has left several key loopholes open, which are now regularly exploited.


Part 2: Undermining Sanctions (27:12)

  • Russel Shor helps us understand the complex relationship between African countries and the diamond industry. Although in stable, well governed states like Botswana it is an economic boon, in other states it has had various negative effects from empowering rebel groups and criminal organisations to being a source of human rights abuses against citizens of these countries.

  • The various important countries and companies involved in this industry are key in establishing legitimate, safe, and ethical diamond trades. We look at these players; how they got started, how their influence has developed, and the relationships between them.

  • We go through some of the specific ways in which De Beers built its stranglehold over the industry, and the extent to which that has changed today.

  • One options for tackling the problem of conflict diamonds is synthetic diamonds. Made in labs in first world countries like Australia and the United States, they offer a conflict-free replacement for diamonds and are more chemically pure. Shor takes us through the impact they may have on the market and on the miners.

Part 3: A Fatal Currency (38:45)

  • Shatimo Mtisi takes us through the limitations, problems, and failings of the Kimberley Process. With the evolution of conflicts over the last two decades to include things like non-state actors and private military companies, the Kimberley Process has failed to adapt with the times, and the limitations in its initial set up have only become more pronounced.

  • People have been working to expand the Kimberley Process' definition of a "conflict diamond" for years, and this has only become more important as conflicts continue to change. But despite conflicts and human rights abuses continuing to rack up, there has been no change.

  • Taking the conflict in the Central African Republic as an example, we look at the on the ground realities of using diamonds as a currency. We look at how they are used to buy arms, pay for military forces, and control populations. What it takes to turn a diamond from a conflict diamond into a legitimate one. Who is profiting from the mining, and who is paying the price?

  • Mtisi takes us through his suggestions for addressing the issue of conflict diamonds. Many of the key states involved lack strong central governance, and in some cases are not even party to the Kimberly Process. In addition it has key weaknesses like a lack of a central system, being heavily paper reliant, and being unsuited for the modern online diamond market. We look at the many possible reforms that could be undertaken to reform this process, or the possibility of replacing it.

The Red Line's Conflict Diamonds Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of conflict diamonds.


Books:

The Looting Machine

Tom Burgis


Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World's Most Precious Stones

Greg Campbell


The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent since Independence

Martin Meredith


Articles/Journals:

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This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Samuel Abate.