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The diamond curse

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Reports that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was barred from the diamond-rich Chiadzwa area should be understood within the context of the resource curse thesis.

The term “Resource curse” was coined by Richard Auty in 1993 to describe how countries with abundant natural resources are unable to use that wealth to strengthen their economies.

The haggling over diamonds in Zimbabwe suggests the country is following closely in the footsteps of countries in Africa that have failed to turn this resource into a blessing.

Angolan, Congolese (DRC) and Sierra Leone nationals learned the hard way that diamonds can easily attract disastrous conflict the way a magnet attracts iron filings. Millions were displaced or killed in the resultant civil wars to control the money-spinning mineral in their countries.

Conflicts in diamond-rich countries are usually triggered by the rapacious attitude of the oligarchy — a small number of powerful people who form the ruling elite.

These greedy people use proceeds from diamond revenue to enrich themselves and to create personal armies and militia to crush any dissenting voices.

With the backing of such armies and financial muscle emanating from illegal diamond revenue — mainly through illicit trade of the precious stones — the oligarchy seeks to consolidate power through force, milking their nations while living extravagantly.

Diamonds are then used to finance rampant corrupt patterns and personal aggrandisement at the expense of national development.

In countries where diamonds eventually breed conflict, the ruling elite, instead of using revenue from the gemstones to enhance development and service delivery, ensure the revenue goes directly into their private pockets and those of their foreign friends.

In such countries, the oligarchy’s emphasis is on purchases of weapons and the construction of military academies in preparation for the anticipated and unavoidable conflict with disgruntled citizens due to the unequal benefits emanating thereof.

The diamond-mining areas are militarised and civilians — including top government officials who are not part of the oligarchy — are barred from setting foot in these economic centres.

Commercial corruption would be rife in such areas. Diamonds are easy to smuggle. The Wikipedia notes that to an untrained eye, uncut diamonds look more like pebbles with no value and they can be smuggled in boots, socks etc and they are on record as being difficult to detect under X-ray machines — what more with the backing of an army and other security agents!

Because they can be easily moved, dealers can buy them low and sell them at high prices.

International syndicates, in connivance with the greedy ruling elite, make a killing out of the illicit trade of the gems. Citizens would be extremely lucky to get the biblical crumbs from the greedy elites’ table.

The few government officials and politicians, through the use of complicit security personnel who form part of the oligarchy, prevent anyone from peeping into the happenings of the mining and selling of the precious stones under the guise of protecting a profound natural and national resource.

To anyone who threatens to reveal the underhand diamond dealings, the oligarchy hates him/her with the passion of the proverbial antelope that hates not the one who sees it but the one who alerts others to its presence.

Of course such a person risks imprisonment and/or death.

In light of the natural resource curse syndrome dogging developing countries and the haggling and politicisation attendant to the diamond revenue from Chiadzwa, we wait with bated breath to see whether diamonds are a curse or a blessing to this nation.

If Zimbabwe follows in the footsteps of the likes of DRC, Angola and Sierra Leone among others, we shall rue the day those diamonds were discovered. We will live a nightmarish life instead of a blissful one.

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