The United States has softened its position on the sale of Zimbabwe’s diamonds, though it has not yet lifted sanctions on the country. It even agreed to have the Kimberley Process ban lifted at the plenary session in Jerusalem at the beginning of this month but this was thwarted by the Canadians who felt that they had not been consulted.
A diamond trade insider Chaim Even-Zohar says, the United States wanted to the KP to get Zimbabwe off its agenda and look at other issues such as Venezuela, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, governance, needed reforms and the administration of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS).
He said the seriousness of the United States was demonstrated by the high-powered delegation it sent to Jerusalem. The delegation was headed by Jose Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs. Fernandez held several discussions with Mines Minister Obert Mpofu.
“That by itself was seen as a significant move,” Even-Zohar says. “By the end of the last day of the plenary, virtually everyone was confident that an agreement had been reached, an agreement that probably would not have made anyone happy but one with which everyone would have, somehow, lived.”
He adds that there was, however, one thing Fernandez overlooked, the Canadian delegation. “The KP’s Canadian delegation doesn’t just represent that country’s government, it behaves and thinks like an NGO. Actually, even within the NGOs, one may find Canadian government officials seconded to NGOs. They have a cosy type of relationship.”
Canada is the home of Partnership Africa Canada, one of the non-governmental organisations that have been at the forefront of calling for the ban of Zimbabwe’s diamonds allegedly because of the country’s human rights violations.
Even-Zohar says:“the Canadians were outraged when they discovered that the superpower had worked out an agreement with Zimbabwe without their involvement or approval. If there was a stalemate at the end in which the KP Plenary did not reach a consensus on the Zimbabwe issue, it was mostly because of this Canada factor.”
But he adds that Fernandez meant serious business and was against the “overly dominant role played by the NGOs” in setting the agenda for the KP. “Apparently, he put them diplomatically in place,” he says.
Fernandez is no small fry. As Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, he leads the bureau that is responsible for overseeing work on international trade and investment policy; international finance, development, and debt policy; economic sanctions and combating terrorist financing; international energy security policy; international telecommunications and transportation policies; and support for U.S. businesses and the private sector overseas.
Zimbabwe is currently under United States sanctions which bar US citizens and business enterprises from doing business with specified Zimbabwean individuals and companies. The Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, a joint venture partner with two of the major mining companies at Marange, Mbada and Canadile, is one of the companies on the targeted list.
Zimbabwe also has another ace up its sleeve. The United States wants the vice-chairmanship of the KP. Even-Zohar says Zimbabwe has publicly stated that the vice-chairmanship is linked to “unfettered exports” of its diamonds by compliant mines.
He says that if the United States does not secure the support of Canada and possibly Australia to allow Zimbabwe to openly sell its diamonds, the KPCS will be back to the drawing board, not only looking for an alternative solution for Zimbabwe but also looking for another party to become KP chair in 2012.
The Democratic Republic of Congo will be chair from January.