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07 January 2010

Forget about the NGOs. Forget about the World Diamond Council. Forget about the Kimberley Process people. Forget about all those organizations that are warning consumers against buying conflict diamonds. They can all move out of the way. The African diamond-producing countries have now independently launched their own TV/internet consumer campaign against conflict diamonds.

The first one-minute video clip is destined to shock you - or make you sick. Prepared by the Cape Town office of the international Young & Rubicam advertising agency, the short video, prepared on behalf of the African Diamond Council (ADC), takes us inside a mortuary. The opening shot shows a dead body of a young boy perforated with bullet holes.  A pathologist is seen cleaning up the corpse and removing bullets, one after another, which he demonstratively drops onto some kind of metal plate. Ping, Ping, we hear the bullets drop. At some point, the camera zooms in on those bullets, and lo and behold, we see that they are actually beautifully polished diamonds. Yes, a pathologist extracting diamonds from a dead body, brought you by the diamond producers of Africa.

The clip then ends by separately displaying three different lines: "Every Diamond has a History,"  "Insist on Certification," and "Insist on the Truth."  Some may argue that this clip is shockingly effective or disgustingly distasteful. Others may argue that it is both.

But the message of the video clip is almost beside the point. Rather, we should ask what is the good of having yet another organization bringing the conflict diamond message to the public, without guidance for the retailers as to what truth and what certification they should be giving. There is one more line on the clip: a reference to the ADC website. There, the truth can be found.

Blaming the Foreigners

What are the producers saying?  It is explained that the ADC is one of the instruments of the larger African Diamond Producers Association (ADPA), which in turn is made up of a Council of Mining Ministers. ADPA's stated mission is to support, defend and oversee transactions of each diamond-producing country within Africa. (Freely translated: they all will, for example, oversee what is happening in Zimbabwe.) In addition, ADPA institutes effective strategies and policies aimed at devolving sovereignty and recovering loss revenue for each of its member states.

The full members of this association are Angola, South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, Namibia, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo and Zimbabwe. Algeria, Congo Brazzaville, Côte D`Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Mali and Mauritania are observers of the ADPA, whose head quarter is in Angola.

"Devolving sovereignty" and "recovery loss revenue" are code words for domestic beneficiation and for assuming full self-determination on the disposal of their own diamond resources. There is nothing wrong with these aspirations and, as I have said earlier, in a way, it is "payback time."

The intentions for the diamond-producing countries to take the initiative to convince consumers not to buy conflict diamonds are also laudatory, however it seems quite hollow when they do so little themselves to bring law and order to their own countries.

If this would not have been such a serious matter of deep concern to all of us, I would have added 20 seconds to the video clip and would have zoomed in on the "bullets" to verify whether they came from the machine guns of the Zimbabwe military or from another government-supported militia. Of course, that would not have been appropriate considering Zimbabwe is a founding member of the ADPA. No diamond-producing country's military shoots at diggers - and if they do, this is supposedly their good right as it doesn't impact the issuance of Kimberley certificates. We could also add more question marks to the video clip, though this would not be constructive, nor would it be a good way to start the New Year.

It is convenient for this organization to blame overseas parties for Africa's diamond trouble. The ADC's website gives a simple explanation for all the continent's diamond trouble: "Greed, on the part of foreign governments and private companies involved in the diamond trade, has caused a significant portion of the political turmoil experienced in many of the African diamond-producing countries and has led to the highly variable production of diamonds and severe degradation of the environment from uncontrolled mining. In light of this, the mission of the ADC is to remove the negative stigma associated with diamond production in Africa and return credibility to the African diamond trade by addressing issues of corruption and infiltration."

Accusing De Beers by Implication

In a subtle way, the African diamond producers shift the misery in some (or actually very few) of the diamond fields to the manufacturers and distributors of diamonds, far away from the miners.

Says the ADPA: "The world diamond industry breeds a network of secrecy and sophisticated levels of corruption. This has created an environment in which a significant proportion of African diamonds are allowed to circulate in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, to determine where they originate. As a result, African diamonds act as a form of currency used to back international loans, pay debts, pay bribes, and buy arms."

I don't know what "sophisticated corruption" is - but what I do know is that it invariably takes a payer and a recipient. Generally, people pay bribes in response to requests - there are two sides to any crime of corruption - and the sovereign governments have plenty of tools to police their sides, if there is the political will to do so.  

Says the ADPA further: "This [bribery and arms dealing] phenomenon often leads to the unfair mislabeling of African diamonds by the world's most established diamond organizations and cartels. These problems are compounded by the fact that bloody wars are being fueled throughout Africa by many non-African countries with the intent of distracting African countries, while their valuable natural resources are quietly being extracted to build wealth in more developed nations outside of Africa."

Let's call a spade a spade: the website accuses De Beers and others of "mislabeling their African diamonds." Apparently, the mining companies' lawyers are still on vacation.

A Need for Unity

A few years ago in London, I was privileged to see a video presentation on the ADPA's establishment by a senior Endiama official. According to the website, the ADPA has been an initiative "exclusively conceptualized by Congo-based diamantaire, Dr. André A. Jackson and spearheaded by Angolan head of State, José Eduardo dos Santos."  I was impressed and supportive. I understood at the time that the organization meant to establish a platform for permanent cooperation among the African diamond-producing countries.

That could also mean price coordination or collusion, something we wouldn't encourage. But these nations have the right to do what they feel is best.

Discussions about the formation of the ADC began as early as 2000. It's only now, about a decade later, that we see some tangible outcome of all of these efforts in the form of a video clip aimed at consumers. Perhaps the ADC held more activities during its first decade of existence, but I must admit that if there were, they have not been on my radar screen.

The ADC currently counts some 22 members or observers. It's a most powerful and impressive body.  But its message needs to be fine-tuned.

Get House in Order First

If, after seeing this video clip (see link below), a consumer would ask a retailer whether the bullets in the body of the young fellow in the morgue may have come from the Zimbabwe military or government militia, what should be the answer of the retailer? Should he simply say "No, it is definitely not from Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe is a member of the Kimberley Process that is issuing the certificates that the commercial says you should ask for!"

The ADC claims it is also working to promote cooperation between the diamond industry and African diamond-producing countries and their respective governments to ensure that diamonds are sold in the legitimate diamond trade by implementing an efficient and workable system of African diamond controls.

This is great. And necessary. But it is not consistent with the simultaneous blaming and implicating of cutters and traders, with attributing all the trouble to the greed of the foreigners, and with hiding the source of the bullets in their commercial. It seems that the ADC is definitely starting out on the wrong path.