By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
24 July 2014
Government this week banned the export of rough diamonds, in a move which mines minister Walter Chidhakwa claimed was meant to ensure Zimbabwe gets maximum value for its minerals.
Chidhakwa told a conference in Bulawayo Wednesday that cabinet agreed that it was ‘not proper or rational’ for the country to continue selling rough diamonds and ordered that exports should stop forthwith.
Chidhakwa claimed that exporting rough diamonds did not help Zimbabwe’s economic development. He said government wants to embark on what he called ‘serious value addition programmes that include the cutting and polishing of diamonds and manufacturing of jewellery.’
The minister said the government has been negotiating with ‘prospective investors’ who were willing to help Zimbabwe break into the international market as an exporter of cut diamonds.
But Farai Maguwu of the Center for Natural Resources Governance said while his organization is for increased value addition of diamonds it was against this week’s cabinet decision. He said: ‘You don’t just make an abrupt stop to diamond exports. The companies are already facing problems; workers are being sent home because of viability problems. So if you just stop the exports you are putting the final nail in the coffin for the companies.’
He added: ‘The government should have a timeline and a gradual development process of the local cutting and polishing industry. Both the export of rough diamonds and the development of the local cutting and polishing industry can run concurrently until such a time when the latter is developed enough that exporting rough diamonds becomes unnecessary.’
Maguwu said: ‘It takes several years to develop a cutting and polishing industry. It can even take hundred years and it is not something which you can do overnight. This country is a victim of abrupt decisions.’
The decision to stop diamond exports comes after President Mugabe visited the Dubai Diamond Exchange earlier this year and expressed his satisfaction with its operations. Around the same time Zimbabwe sold about 400,000 carats of diamonds in Dubai for $30 million.
According to the Kimberly Process Certificate Scheme report released this week Zimbabwe has exported $500 million worth of diamonds in the years to June 30th 2014.
Maguwu said Dubai, like China, was not interested in developing industries of countries whose resources it exploits. He added that the Antwerp World Diamond Center was willing to help Zimbabwe develop its own industry but ‘criminals within the Zimbabwean government, who have been benefiting from working with syndicates from the East, prefer Dubai.’
Maguwu said the ban on rough diamond exports could mean even more of the precious stones were smuggled out of the country as government won’t be able to develop a local cutting and polishing industry. He said in the end, government may be forced to lift the ban.