Mugabe’s Diamonds

Western understanding of African conflict, unfortunately generalized, comes through a set of pre-designed hot button words and issues. Corruption. Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Cronyism. Ethnic tension. And of course blood diamonds. Gaining prominence during Sierra Leone’s civil war and solidifying itself in the international psyche with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Blood Diamond, the blood diamond has come to embody the perversion of Africa’s mineral wealth. Once again, they are back in the news. Beginning in January, human rights groups began to raise questions about how Zimbabwean diamonds were being mined. Accusations that the military was using forced labor to extricate the gems began an international campaign to put pressure on Robert Mugabe’s regime to reform their practices. As a microcosm of Mr. Mugabe’s disastrous reign, Zimbabwean’s diamond trade is at a deadlock. As one of the final outlets of wealth in Zimbabwe, does the end of the diamond trade signal a tipping point in the stranglehold of President Mugabe?

Mugabe and diamonds.

As one of Africa’s independence heros, Robert Mugabe assumed the Presidency of Zimbabwe in 1987 and has never looked back. Calamitous land reform acts, ruthless suppression of the opposition and the media and horrendous economic policy have turned Zimbabwe from the African “City on a Hill” to a tragic example of how to ruin unlimited potential. Stuck in a cycle of crippling hyperinflation and with an estimated unemployment rate of 95%, the Zimbabwean economy is in utter shambles without much possibility of improvement. You would think that with such egregious statistics the Mugabe administration would be feeling the pressure to leave office. That has not happened. Other than rampant violence after the 2008 Presidential election, there has been little to shake the confidence of the African big man and his Zanu-PF party.

So what will be the catalyst to drive Mr. Mugabe out of office? It seems counterintuitive that a mechanism of the rich, the diamond, may in fact be a step towards that goal. There may be merit in it though. Mr. Mugabe and his cronies are protected by the military and the elite; those that still have any money at least. Standard neopartimonial theory dictates that “strong man” regimes can only function as long as there is money to keep that strong man’s (Mr. Mugabe in this case.) underlings happy. Reality dictates that Zimbabwe is very close to being completely stripped of the processes in which to accumulate wealth. No wealth, no cronyism. No cronyism, no dictatorship. It is a thought at the very least.

As of today, the Kimberly Process remains at a standstill at what to do about Zimbabwe’s diamonds. Further skewed by the recent arrest of a human rights activist, the trials and tribulations of Zimbabwe’s precious gems and its fallout will have to be followed with keen eye. While this will probably not be the beginning of the end for Mr. Mugabe, it is another step in a road that will eventually lead to his dethronement. Until then, Zimbabwean citizens will have to hope for a better day when they are responsible for their country’s mineral wealth, elections, military, economy and civil society instead of the money hungry, selfish and corrupt Zanu-PF.

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