Global Policy Forum

Botswana Defends Diamonds from Campaign

Associated Press
March 14, 2001

Botswana is sending its top officials on a public relations offensive to ensure that its diamond-based economy does not become a victim of the war on conflict diamonds.

The government has hired a U.S. public relations firm and dispatched Cabinet ministers, the governor of the central bank and even the president to spread the word that most diamonds are mined in peaceful countries like Botswana, not war zones. "We are fearful of a consumer boycott of diamonds, being honest producers and at the same time being more dependent on diamonds than most," President Festus Mogae said Wednesday to foreign reporters invited as part of the "diamonds for development" campaign against such a boycott. Officials did not name the U.S. firm.

Human rights groups in recent years have charged that diamonds mined in conflict zones have helped finance brutal wars in countries such as Angola and Sierra Leone, where rebels amputated civilians' limbs as part of a terror campaign. The United Nations has banned exports of these so-called "blood diamonds" by rebels in those countries. It threatened last week to impose sanctions on Liberia in two months unless the government stops helping rebels in Sierra Leone with their guns-for-diamonds transactions.

Industry officials estimate these diamonds account for only 4 percent of the world diamond trade, but human rights organizations say the number could be as high as 15 percent. But diamond-producing countries fear the campaign against blood diamonds could dirty the gem's image, crushing bystanders like Botswana. "If you are an American housewife ... and you are shown little girls with their arms amputated and you are told that this is because of diamonds, the natural reaction is to have a revulsion against diamonds. And that's what we are afraid of," said Louis Nchindo, managing director of Botswana's national diamond company, Debswana. Botswana, a southern African nation with 1.5 million people, is one of Africa's most stable countries and accounts for one-third of the world diamond trade.

Despite its relative prosperity, no country in the world is as dependent on diamond revenues as Botswana. Thanks to diamonds, its average annual income has risen from about $80 three decades ago to $3,600 today. They account for three-fourths of all export earnings, one half of government revenues and one-third of Botswana's gross domestic product. Botswana's diamonds were used "to build schools and hospitals, roads and bridges, offices and homes," Mogae said.

The country has joined in efforts to devise a certification process to help weed out diamonds fueling wars. It has strongly supported U.N. resolutions condemning conflict diamonds. But Botswana officials say governments and rebel groups should be blamed for the violence, not the commodity they are exploiting. "We are not saying 'Don't do something about the wars,"' Nchindo said. "We are saying 'Hey, in this country, diamonds have done much for the people, let's not jeopardize that."'

More Information on Diamonds in Conflict


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