/ 11 July 2010

Diamonds make Zanu-PF and MDC best friends

Zimbabwean diamonds have been a hugely divisive issue around the world, but within the country’s ruling coalition their lure has become an unlikely unifier among the frequently feuding parties.

Reports have suggested a split within the government over the fate of Zimbabwe’s diamond stockpile. But the prospect that the diamonds present for the battered economy are uniting the fractious coalition against a global campaign for a ban on diamonds from its controversial Marange fields.

There have been claims of murder, forced labour, rape and rampant smuggling by top political and military figures. But these grave charges are outweighed by the economic realities in a country shorn of friends and desperate for money.

This week Finance Minister Tendai Biti, whose Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has the responsibility in the unity government to restore the economy, pleaded with the world to allow Zimbabwe to sell its diamonds.

The country could earn up to $1,7-billion if it sells its 4,6-million carats — earning revenues close to its entire budget for 2010. Even for the MDC, which has fought Robert Mugabe’s rights abuses for more than a decade, the numbers are hard to ignore. Biti, who is MDC secretary general, dismissed suggestions of Zimbabwean “blood diamonds” and backed the sale of the country’s diamond stocks, if only to allow the economy to function.

“It will be very unfortunate if the Kimberley Process does not allow us to sell the diamonds, because they will be punishing the people of Zimbabwe,” Biti said. “If you have issues — allow the diamonds to be sold but rein in the political elite, because they will still sell diamonds outside the [Kimberley Process] at the expense of the poor. Sitting in this cold office, I feel the heat because I have to pay civil servants and pay for electricity and other government expenses.”

While the MDC side of the coalition is anxious to sell diamonds quickly to fund the economy, critics argue that Zanu-PF’s own eagerness is driven by top officials involved in the industry.

But Rugare Gumbo, Zanu-PF’s spokesperson, said the proceeds of diamond sales would “go a long way in addressing economic challenges facing the country”.

Zimbabwe’s mines minister, Obert Mpofu, has threatened to sell the diamonds despite a ban remaining in place after a meeting of the Kimberley Process last month ended in stalemate. Less radical members of the government appear to have managed to force caution, but there is little disagreement that the country needs to start selling its diamonds.

Biti points out that, despite all the promises of foreign aid, Zimbabwe has received just $2.9million in budgetary support in the past year, well short of the $810million the country was promised. The country is $6billion in foreign debt, leaving it unable to attract any fresh credit, even from traditional allies such as China.

Zanu-PF sees the diamond ban as part of a wider anti-Zimbabwe plot by the West. “All these diabolical efforts against Zimbabwe are designed to demoralise the people, who are still suffering from illegally imposed sanctions by some Western countries,” said Gumbo.