The Tyrants’ Best Friend
Only Mugabe and his friends benefit from Zimbabwe’s diamond wealth.

Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe


Mr. Maguwu hoped that the Kimberley Process (KP) — the association of governments and diamond interests that aims to prevent mining in conflict areas and to stop the proceeds of illegal mining from financing bloodshed — would at least have refused to endorse the sales. This would have limited the buyers, lowered the price the diamonds could have sold for, and thus decreased the income available to ZANU. But after Mr. Maguwu met with an official from the KP on May 25, 2010, he was arrested and spent nearly a month in jail. No independent expert I spoke with thought this a coincidence.

The KP then quickly released a report endorsing the sales of stones from the Marange area, completely undermining the sanctions of Western nations against Mugabe’s elite. Last week, the KP’s new chairwoman, U.S. ambassador Gillian Milovanovic, reiterated the organization’s position that the Marange stones cannot be seen as conflict diamonds under current definitions. The Kimberley Process was always flawed; Human Rights Watch and others that helped found the KP left it in disgust.

Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s cronies were siphoning the vast majority of the funds from recent sales. Late last year, MDC claimed that the Treasury Ministry, which MDC controls, was vastly underpaid in tax revenue from diamond sales. ZANU deny any irregularities.

Local sources tell me that violence still occurs in Marange. It is probably less frequent than it was in 2009 and 2010, but it is also harder to inspect. Private security and military order render it impossible for uninvited white foreigners to even get close to the mines, and difficult for black locals to source information.

What really worries experts such as Mr. Maguwu and Harare workers such as Henry Ncube is that all the diamond wealth is going into just a few pockets. The lack of trickle-down diamond income obviously harms the poor, but it has more pernicious effects too. After all, while Mugabe’s men retain power, financing and developing any business remains a risky proposition, since any deal may be arbitrarily overthrown. Worst of all, with a renewed war chest and new weapons, ZANU-PF looks set to violently steal yet another election, probably in early 2013. That would be another tragedy in a country that has already suffered so much.

There is not much the West can do about this. But, at the very least, U.S. officials should focus their attention on how diamond sales are undermining U.S. sanctions. An American withdrawal from the Kimberley Process, especially now that the chairman is an American, would surely destroy the KP and hopefully lead to a more useful successor. It cannot come a moment too soon.

— Roger Bate is the Legatum Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review