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An Open Letter to Abbey Chikane, the New KP Monitor for Zimbabwe

Mar 4, 2010 11:19 AM   By Avi Krawitz
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Dear Abbey:

Firstly, congratulations on your appointment as the Kimberley Process (KP) monitor for Marange, Zimbabwe. It would be appropriate to say welcome back to the diamond industry and even more appropriate to say welcome home. Given your experience as a founding member and former chairman of the KP, I can’t think of any individual who is more suited to the job at hand.

I doubt you need be told, but what a job you have on your hands. Then again, you are no stranger to challenges nor, I believe, are you fazed by them.

Need we be reminded that you faced up to the challenge of putting the KP on the map and cementing its role in society, uplifting the ethical standing of our industry in the process? Do you remember how fragile we were back in the days when the atrocities of the Sierra Leone civil war were revealed to the world and how, if it wasn’t for the very systems you helped to implement, our standing with diamond consumers would be far weaker today?

So, you were a natural choice when it comes to Zimbabwe. But I dare say that your new role may represent your greatest challenge yet. It may also unravel your legacy, at least so far as your achievements at the KP are concerned.

Zimbabwe presents the greatest challenge to the KP since your chairmanship because for the first time in the KP’s existence, a country has exposed the organization’s weaknesses. While the KP was set up to prevent rebel movements from using the trade to fund civil war, it has failed to prevent rogue states from manipulating the system for their own gain. Thus far, it seems the KP does not have the structural capacity or political leverage to deal effectively with Zimbabwe.

The KP has been so manipulated by Zimbabwe that the organization failed to recognize its own peer review accounts of murder, rape, mass burials and other human rights abuses carried out by state personnel at the Marange fields. We saw the country hold the November KP plenary ransom and we have seen its leaders consistently disregard the KP’s purpose since. As a result, today, no one can guarantee that blood diamonds from the Marange fields have not entered the market.

Here’s a quote we read just this past week through the BBC from Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, who, by the way, orchestrated that incredibly arrogant display at the November plenary: “If the KP is unsatisfied with our efforts and wants to be difficult, saying that we have failed to comply with their requirements...we will not lose sleep, but rather, we will just pull out and not lose anything. The KP does not own the diamond trade markets. Zimbabwe will pull out of the KP and sell its diamonds to those markets.”

As if on cue, Mpofu spoke as you touched down in Harare for your first visit in your new capacity. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you who the minister’s remarks were directly aimed at.

Because the KP — with its three pillars of government, civil society and industry — has allowed itself to be so manipulated and so ineffective, two of your co-founders, Ian Smilie, and my boss, Martin Rapaport, have resigned from the organization. They felt they would be more likely to enact change outside the KP than from within.

For now, however, you’re in a different position for a number of reasons. First, you are perhaps one of the very few individuals who has been engaged with all three KP pillars. Second, you are a native African, which I believe is vital to understanding and dealing with Zimbabwe’s actions. Finally and most importantly, your position as KP monitor for Marange is the only one that can cull positive change from within the KP.

But there is a catch. It will take twice the boldness and far more guts this time. It will require you to be unpopular in Zimbabwe and at times, I suspect, in the KP.

We trust that you will approach the job at hand neither as a bureaucrat, nor as a politician. Rather, we look forward to your true assessment of the Marange diamonds, taking every aspect of the controversial mine’s history into account, including the ethical questions surrounding both its past and present ownership and their abuses.

Your judgment will dictate whether Zimbabwe’s diamond stockpile from the past year and a half plus, as well as its current and somewhat dubious production, can morally, legally and confidently be exported for consumers across the world to purchase — conflict-free.

We also anticipate you tackling this task with a high degree of transparency, which, as an organization, the KP may not be able or willing to allow. We — and I think I speak on behalf of at least one pillar of the KP — deserve to know what is happening and expect constant and open discussion with you about how things are progressing. We need your first-hand account of what is truly happening on the ground.

Finally, we expect that you realize there may come a time when you, too, are being manipulated for political expediency and will need to make some tough choices of your own to send the right message to all affected parties. After all, it is not only your legacy that is at stake, but that of the diamond industry, whose respectability and image hang in the balance based on this very issue. That is quite the challenge, indeed.

Good luck!

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Tags: Abbey Chikane, Avi Krawitz, Blood Diamonds, Consumers, Government, Kimberley Process, Marange Fields, Production, Zimbabwe
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