As Zimbabwe divides Kimberley Process, a contrarian view of the diamond certification scheme

Jun 25, 2011

Last week's Kinshasa meeting of the Kimberley Process diamond certification scheme ended with the  official announcement of Zimbabwe now being free to market its diamonds from Marange 'legally.' Predictably not all the KP's members agreed with the decision, so the controversy will continue. But as some question the existence and relevance of the KP in the wake of its divided stance over Zimbabwe, others interrogate the very basis of having such a diamond certification scheme at all.

There is now a clear gulf between the Western members of the KP who say the issues of human rights abuses by the Mugabe government at the Marange diamond fields continue, and that lack of regulation and oversight mean a lot of the diamonds are being looted and smuggled instead of benefiting Zimbabwe. African and other non-Western suspect Zimbabwe is being unfairly singled out for political issues that have little to do with  the immediate issue of diamonds.

Civil rights groups say they way the interests of the people of Marange in particular have been sidelined goes against the KP founding ethos of preventing 'blood diamonds' that are mined and marketed on the back of the exploitation and abuse of local communities. Some have pointed out that Zimbabwe's Marange diamonds issue presents a problem that was not envisioned at the formation of the KP in 2002 because in this case the accused abusers are not a rebel or mercenary army as in West Africa then, but a sitting government.

In all the discussions there is the underlying premise of the appropriateness, the rightness of having a scheme like the Kimberly Process, even by those on both sides of the argument that it has now become overly politicised and/or corrupted. 

But in an article ( on the website Spiked, Kieron Ryan makes a very different, rarely heard argument, the main points of which are summarised here ( does not see the KP as a noble effort to control abuses and corruption in the way diamonds are extracted and traded, but as, "Like the war on drugs, ineffective, pointless and unenforceable, encouraging underhand dealings and putting local people in greater danger rather than protecting them."

Says Ryan, "The concept of ‘conflict diamonds’ - gems mined in order to finance military operations - bears no relation to the complex on-the-ground realities in Africa and the international efforts to stem the trade in these stones have only made things worse."

Specifically about the disagreements over the Marange diamonds, Ryan says the case does not fit 'the KPC template' at all because despite sustaining 'a despicable is a purely economic conflict and has nothing to do with rebel warfare against governments.'

Ryan gives examples of how he says it is very easy in a country like the DRCongo to buy diamonds without being asked for licenses or whether they have a KP certificate. Where regulatory officials are present they can be easily and cheaply bought off, he says. He also mentions the ease of buying diamonds in one country and have them be certified as coming from another. He argues that proscribing the free trade of diamonds has made all these practices to try to get around the KP rules more prevalent, rather than less. 

'The concept of bloods diamonds is a giant hoax. All over Africa, tens of thousands of diggers and traders make an honest living finding and selling stones. They carry no guns and do not trade with warlords,' writes Ryan, and ends with 'it’s time we started to fight back against the ridiculous and ineffective encroachment on our freedoms that the KPC represents.'

As the controversy over Zimbabwe's Marange diamonds continues, there will no doubt be more questions about the role and the relevance of the Kimberley Process.

The Zimbabwe Review


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