Harare – Accused of being opaque, corrupt and murderous, Zimbabwe’s diamond sector wants to polish its image.
Beneath Zimbabwe’s soil lies wealth that could help transform the country’s battered economy.
Zimbabwe is home to the Marange diamond fields – one of Africa’s largest in Africa – and has the potential to supply 25% of the world’s diamonds.
Yet very few investors have been willing to cross the Rubicon.
That is because the sector has become synonymous with graft, torture and murder that has been linked to some of the highest powers in the land.
Rights groups say 200 people were killed in 2008 at Marange when the Zimbabwean army and anti-riot police cleared small-scale miners.
Zimbabwe was consequently banned from the Kimberley Process, a watchdog for the diamond trade. The ban was only lifted when the government said it had pulled out security forces out of the area.
Natural resource extraction watchdogs accuse President Robert Mugabe’s party of funnelling profits to senior military officers and party leaders as hush money.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a member of the anti-Mugabe MDC party, has complained that of the $600m in diamond revenues expected this year, only $46m has materialised.
He admits a “parallel government” may be raking in much of the cash.
But from next Monday, at the Victoria Falls, the country will try to convince 300 foreign mining experts and industry leaders that change is at hand.
Officials are not bashful about the aim of the conference.
It has been organised “to manage perception of the Zimbabwean diamond industry and lure more investment to the diamond industry”, according to the ministry of mines.
“We are now a diamond-mining country so we want to share with experts who are ahead of us in order to improve our systems,” said Prince Mupazviriho, the permanent secretary at the ministry.
But observers wonder whether they are being sold the real deal or a cubic zirconia.
The real test will be the government’s support for a law that would force mining companies to account for their production and sales.
“There are too many loopholes in the way the diamond mining companies are reporting their production and revenue,” analyst Charles Mangongera told AFP.
“We don’t even know how much they are producing as there is no independent mechanism to verify.”
“What we need is for the conference to push for legislation that compels the state and companies in the diamond sector to become accountable in a manner that will benefit the treasury and all citizens.”
But such legislation would run counter to the interests of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, according to Mangongera.
The legislation would particularly affect firms like Anjin, which is a joint Chinese venture with the Zimbabwean state.
“I doubt that Zanu-PF would support such legislation. The key characters in the diamond sector have linkages with Zanu-PF and obviously the party is benefitting from these linkages,” Mangongera said. (AFP)