Zimbabwe’s inaugural diamond conference ended in Victoria Falls on Tuesday with authorities declaring that the two-day event was a major success as it sought to change world perceptions on the country’s diamond industry.
Companies mining in the controversial Marange diamond fields made presentations at the conference with some accusing the United States of blocking the fair marketing of Zimbabwe’s diamonds on the international markets.
Mines Minister Obert Mpofu has in the past said the United States was confiscating diamond proceeds, preventing Harare from racking in high earnings from the lucrative industry. Marange Resources and Mbada Diamonds are under U.S. targeted sanctions.
Mpofu says Harare has lost over $20 million due to an embargo by the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand blocking their companies from trading in Zimbabwean gems.
Diamond companies in Europe and the Middle East, however, are keen to trade Marange stones, according to traders at the conference.
Stephane Fischler, president of the Antwerp World Diamond Center, said: “We’re convinced that the resulting de facto exclusion of imports from certain areas negatively affects the ongoing social and economic development of Zimbabwe.”
“Your diamonds are not fully exposed to the international market, and as such failing to guarantee you the best price and optimal return.”
Mike Gonzales, the U.S. Embassy’s first secretary in Harare, denied his country had imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe saying targeted restrictive measures have been imposed on individuals and companies linked to them for violating the rule of law.
“The ball lies with the government of Zimbabwe to honor its laws and honor the role of its institutions as defined by its people and when that happens then sanctions can be gone,” Gonzales said.
Addressing delegates, among them President Robert Mugabe, Kimberley Process chair, Ambassador Gilliam Milavanovic of the United States proposed that the definition of conflict diamonds should be changed to ensure that the diamond watchdog continues to be relevant.
The definition of blood diamonds previously centered on gems used to finance rebel armies seeking to oust legitimate governments but some in the KP say it should be broadened to include rights abuses by sitting rulers, a move strongly opposed by Harare.
“The question we must ask ourselves is whether the KP certificate still provides the assurances that consumers want,” Ambassador Milavanovic said.
Milovanovic said: “Are we, as you sit here today, sufficiently confident that we are investing adequately in the future of the Kimberley Process?”
“With respect, I would submit that we must do more. Consumers are – or will be – looking for more, and that the core definition of ‘conflict diamond’ therefore needs to be updated as our own investment in the KP’s future as a modern and relevant system of certification, just as other industries are doing as we speak.”
But speaking with the VOA Studio 7, chairman Tafadzwa Musarara of Resources Exploration Watch, said it was not for the United States to change the definition of conflict diamonds but the United Nations.
Speaking at the same conference, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who was the guest speaker, said the Kimberley Process has been politicized to advance the interests of a few.
Mr. Mbeki said the KP, launched during his presidency in 2003 in South Africa, previously was incorrect in classifying Zimbabwe’s gems as blood diamonds.
He called on the West to lift sanctions on Harare.
Ilala Lodge manager Siphambaniso Moyo said such conferences are boosting businesses in Victoria Falls.