Diamond-rich African nation has made a select few wealthy

In many COUNTRIES IN AFRICA, dia- monds are a dictator’s best friend. Not only are the precious stones used to finance internal and external wars, but they have made a small group of leaders and their factotums very rich.

Unfortunately, the vast diamond reserves have not alleviated the widespread poverty that has been the bane of Africa’s existence. Starving children have become the symbol of corrupt governance in country after country.

The world already knows about blood diamonds, also called conflict diamonds, and steps have been taken by the United Nations to deal with them.

The trial of Liberian President Charles Taylor, who terrorized the people of neighboring Sierra Leone by orchestrating atrocities committed by militias, spotlighted the evil that diamonds have come to represent. Taylor fueled the civil war in Sierra Leone because he wanted to get his hands on diamonds from that country.

The human cost of this and other expeditions gave rise to the name “blood diamonds” — or conflict diamonds.

The precious stones were smuggled out of Africa and proceeds from their sale financed wars across Africa in the ’90s and into the new century. Those wars resulted in millions of Africans being killed or maimed for life.

The diamonds were sold in rich western nations.

In 2003, then President George W. Bush signed an executive order banning the importation of rough diamonds used to finance civil wars in Africa.

But even diamonds considered legitimate are being used for criminal purposes.

This week, Partnership Africa Canada, a member of the Kimberley Process, the world regulatory body on the diamond trade, accused Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s ruling circle, international gem dealers and criminals of stealing at least $2 billion worth of diamonds.

Mugabe has been in power in the southern African nation for decades by silencing through violence his critics and intimidating the populace. Poverty is rampant in a country once considered the breadbasket of Africa.

Vast earning

Zimbabawe’s eastern Marange field, one of the world’s biggest diamond deposits, has been mined since 2006 and its vast earning could have turned around the nation’s economy, the Partnership Africa Canada contended. But the revenue from the sale of the diamonds have not made it to the state treasury. Millions have gone to Mugabe and his cronies.

It is ironic that the report coincided with the Zimbabwe government’s conference on the diamond trade.

The world community has been guilty of allowing Mugabe to remain in power even though elections are a farce and he has governed with an iron fist.

It’s time to bring an end to his criminal enterprise. The Kimberley Process should move to file charges against Mugabe and his henchmen for crimes against humanity.

In addition, the world community should put pressure on Switzerland and other countries that permit the dictators to hide their money in secret accounts to make public the value of the riches that have been amassed.

The wealth belongs to the people — most of whom are barely surviving because criminal government officials are robbing the public blind.

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