Bloodstained riches: Zimbabwe’s diamonds

New finds have sparked a diamond rush in impoverished Zimbabwe. But are the diamonds a mainly a lifeline to prop up a tyrannical regime?

At a meeting today, international experts will decide whether to ban the sale of diamonds from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond field.
Zimbabwe has been ruled for thirty years by the aging Robert Mugabe, a controversial figure who was seen as a hero of the country’s struggle for independence, but is now widely blamed for economic disaster. He has been accused of serious human rights abuses.
The country is one of the world’s poorest. But in 2006, large numbers of diamonds began to be unearthed at Marange, in eastern Zimbabwe.
Thousands of desperate Zimbabweans arrived in the area, ready to work long hours in terrible conditions for the chance to get rich quick.
For most, it was a life of hardship, punctuated by bloody police raids. Then in 2008, the army arrived. Soldiers used helicopter gunships to kill around 200 illegal miners, beat and raped local villagers and seized the diamond fields for themselves.
It’s not the first time diamonds have caused trouble in Africa. During civil wars in Angola and Sierra Leone, large diamond fields were mined by rebel forces. The money that rebels earned from these “conflict diamonds” helped them to buy guns and to commit atrocities.

To stop the bloodshed, African diamond producers and the UN established a system called the Kimberley Process. Anyone selling diamonds now has to prove that money from the sale isn’t going to fund rebel violence and trade in forbidden “conflict diamonds” has been vastly reduced.

Ill-gotten gains?

Now Kimberley Process officials are deciding whether Zimbabwe’s diamonds should be banned too. Mugabe’s government says the diamond fields are under control, and they’ve worked hard to stick to the rules. And Zimbabwe needs the money. The mines could be worth more than 1 billion pounds a year – a real lifesaver for a country in crisis. But human rights activists say that Marange diamonds fund violence by the government against its own people. The mines are a nightmare of shootings, beatings and forced labour. And anyway, little of the money goes to those who really need it. Instead, it just helps to support the tyrannical Mugabe regime – a corrupt government that, in the long term.

You Decide

  1. If someone gave you a diamond as a present, would you mind where the diamond came from? What if people had died digging it up?
  2. If money from Zimbabwean diamonds helps support a tyrannical government, should the diamonds be banned?

Activities

  1. In the 2006 movie “Blood Diamond,” Leonardo DiCaprio plays a diamond smuggler in war-ravaged Sierra Leone. The plot is fiction but the movie is based on real events about the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) who ran diamond mining villagesin Sierra Leone during the 1990s. Research the RUF and present your findings as a web page resource for history students.

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