Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Superpower Can Be Tamed...Is This A Turning Point In EU-Zimbabwe Relations?

A superpower can be tamed...Is this a turning point in EU-Zimbabwe relations?

Saturday, 05 November 2011 23:00
By Brezhnev Malaba recently in Kinshasa, DRC
Zimbabwe Herald

DID you ever imagine that the day would come when the United States would be forced by geostrategic realities to undermine and subvert its own sanctions on Zimbabwe?

This is exactly what happened at the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme plenary in Kinshasa last week.

The battle for African resources between Western nations and China is throwing up some surprising outcomes. Desperate to thwart China and cornered by African diamond producers, who vowed to back Zimbabwe all the way, the outfoxed and outpunched superpower staggered dramatically, slumped into a corner and waited for the inevitable 10-count.

It was game over!

These are the two factors which have forced the US to inadvertently bust its own sanctions on Zimbabwe by approving the Marange exports: the fear that China will come and enjoy all the resources, and the sobering reality that African members of the Kimberley Process (KP) were solidly backing Zimbabwe’s unrestricted right to export the Marange diamonds.

The Americans left the African delegates gasping in shock when they displayed satellite pictures of the Marange mining operations.

These were no ordinary satellite images. These were detailed pictures, so clear that you could pick out a small vehicle. Wow, so the Americans are busy spying on our Marange operations!

It was now obvious that those pictures had played a crucial role in forcing the Americans into swift capitulation. All along, US officials had assumed that Zimbabwe’s Marange mining operations were small-scale amateurish efforts that could not affect world diamond trade.

They were wrong. Diamond mining in Marange has developed at a blistering pace in the past 12 months. There is world-class equipment and expertise out there in Chiadzwa.

The Americans were utterly stunned by what they saw on those satellite images. Remember, the World Diamond Council and other industry experts have confirmed that Zimbabwe could potentially satisfy up to 30 percent of global diamond demand in a few years’ time.

Once it dawned on the Americans that Zimbabwe’s Marange output would soon become a game changer in world diamond trade, the imperatives of US foreign policy pragmatism automatically prevailed over any racist grudge arising from Britain’s gripe with the land reform programme.

US foreign policy is shaped not only by Washington’s quest to enhance American security on the global stage but is also about enhancing US prosperity. When there is discord between US actions and US interests, alarm bells go off in Washington, forcing the political class to pursue pragmatism.

With China making tremendous progress in clinching huge deals with African governments in the sectors of energy, minerals and other natural resources, the alarm bells have been ringing non-stop in Washington.

It has since dawned on the Americans that the sanctions imposed by the George W. Bush administration on Zimbabwe are unsustainable.

The embargo is self-defeating because, while it makes it harder for Western companies to do business with Zimbabwe, it inadvertently gives an enterprising China a glorious opportunity to move with speed and take advantage of the situation by doing brisk business with Harare.

Zimbabweans are shrewd enough to understand the geostrategic implications of this scramble for Africa. This could be our trump card.

Mr Eli Izhakoff, president of the World Diamond Council, made a vital point when he told the plenary that diamonds are much more than just resources.

“The past two years have been tough but they also provided us all with the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons. What we are certainly more aware of today is that when the diamond sector plays a prominent role in a country’s economy, the stakes are not only commercial. Control over natural resources is also associated with issues of national pride, identity and independence,” said Mr Izhakoff.

The DRC has come a long way

As you land at Kinshasa’s Ndjili International Airport, you are immediately struck by a series of neat election billboards displaying huge portraits of a broadly smiling President Joseph Kabila.
Africa’s youngest leader for many years, President Kabila has surprised his detractors by lasting in power this long. The Democratic Republic of Congo is holding presidential and parliamentary elections on November 28.

President Kabila’s beaming face is everywhere. But look closely at the gigantic billboards and you will notice, far beneath the smiling face, that President Kabila’s fingers from both hands are firmly intertwined.

The body language is telling. Although the DRC is a growing democracy, the state remains largely weak and the stark reality on the ground demands a strong president who can prevent things from falling apart. Kabila is not doing badly in that regard.

And it must be remembered that Joseph Kabila came to power at 29 following the assassination of his father, President Laurent Desire Kabila, at the height of devastating civil strife dubbed “Africa’s World War”.

In 2006, Joseph Kabila won the DRC’s first democratic elections in 40 years. It has not been an easy road. Despite boasting the planet’s most diversified mineral riches, the DRC has the second-highest infant mortality rate and the second lowest GDP per capita in the world.

President Kabila’s contribution to the DRC’s transformation cannot be ignored. All over Kinshasa, there are new construction projects, particularly office blocks and roads. When I commented that the newly constructed motorway linking Ndjili Airport and central Kinshasa was impressive, a Congolese man sharply retorted: “We want food, we don’t eat roads.”

I was to later discover that although many people in the DRC appreciate President Kabila’s efforts to develop the vast country, there is a general feeling that his government is not doing enough to tackle poverty.

In a city where a kilogramme of beef can set you back a staggering US$20 (but fish is way cheaper), a hairdresser told me that in many of Kinshasa’s poor families, people eat only on alternate days, meaning that in a family of four, two members will eat today and the other two members will eat tomorrow, as they take turns in a bid to stretch the little food they can afford. She said she earns the equivalent of US$30 a month.

De Beers is losing friends

The Grand Hotel is easily the centrepiece of Kinshasa’s hospitality industry. It is quite a glamourous facility — by Central African standards — and comes complete with conference rooms, a shopping mall and the ever-popular L’Atmosphere nightclub.

The hotel, close to President Joseph Kabila’s official residence, has stunning views of the mighty Congo River. It also has restaurants. As I traversed the busy corridors of the hotel, a man emerged from one of the restaurants and came directly into my path.

"Good afternoon, sir. Are you the gentleman from De Beers?" I asked him. His response was swift and dramatic.

"Hahahaha! No I'm not, thank goodness. I hate De Beers, actually!"

As I chatted with him, I began sensing a distant familiarity. Where had I seen that face before? Wait a minute! I suddenly remembered.

This man was none other than Mr Chaim Even-Zohar, the Israeli diamond industry analyst whose writings are mandatory reading for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding into the complexities of global diamond trade.

When the irony of this chance encounter hit me in the face, I laughed out and told Mr Even-Zohar that De Beers seemed to be running out of pals these days. Readers of this newspaper would have been aware, of course, that two weeks ago we ran a story quoting Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu as saying De Beers is an international looter and challenging the mining company - which, by the way, was founded by the gangster colonialist Cecil John Rhodes - to come clean on the thousands of tonnes of diamond ore it exported from Marange before the Government of Zimbabwe decisively intervened.

Africa played crucial role

The DRC hosted the Kimberley Process plenary in its capacity as outgoing chair. Prior to the plenary, there had been no indication that the meeting would make history in many respects.

The KP appeared to be headed for an embarrassing stalemate. Stalemates are almost inevitable in the grouping because of the nature of its decision-making procedure, which is consensus-based rather than majoritarian. In other words, 75 members of the KP can back a motion, but it takes the dissension of just a single member to throw the cat among the pigeons and scuttle the whole discussion.

When behind-the-scenes manoeuvring got off to a frenetic start at the Grand Hotel, the discussions over Zimbabwe's diamond question took on a political complexion, with serious lobbying and horse trading between Western countries on one side and African nations on the other.

The United States, Canada, Australia, the European Union and their allies in the 76-member KP grouping had relentlessly frustrated Zimbabwe's efforts to sell the Marange diamonds on the international market, citing so-called human rights abuses and alleged non-compliance with KP certification requirements.

With this history in mind, it would have been near-impossible to correctly predict the outcome of the Kinshasa plenary.

But African nations showed commendable tenacity by caucusing behind the scenes in a push to tame the powerful countries.

Here is how the drama unfolded. The US wanted to succeed the DRC as chair of the influential KP next year, but the African Diamond Producers' Association (ADPA) set a strong conditionality for the Americans: Africa will only back Washington's candidature on condition that Zimbabwe is finally given the go-ahead to sell its Marange diamonds without further obstruction.

It must be pointed out, though, that the African caucus was not as smooth sailing as it now seems.

South Africa, led by Mines Minister Susan Shabangu, initially appeared offside and this could have created serious problems for the African diamond producers.

The South Africans - it became clear - had already been in active contact with the US. South Africa had agreed to back the US bid for the 2012 KP chair. The South Africans would then come in as vice chair.

At that early stage, South Africa's decision to back the US was viewed with suspicion by many African countries who were wondering why Pretoria should be quick to jump into bed with Washington.

African diamond producers told Minister Shabangu that they would only back a US bid for the KP chair on condition that the Westerners consented to the unrestricted export of Marange diamonds. The African position was clear and unequivocal.

Turning point in EU-Zim relations?

The EU brewed a shocker by averting full-scale confrontation between the US and the African diamond producers.

The EU delegation, sensing the suffocating tension between the African states and the Americans, moved in swiftly to help draft the historic proposal that would see Zimbabwe gain certification to sell its Marange diamonds while also ensuring that the US succeeded in clinching the KP chair in 2012.

Could the EU's commendable role in Zimbabwe's victory be a turning point in relations between the European bloc and this nation?

In his closing speech to the plenary, Minister Mpofu thanked the EU, among other members of the KP.

"We look forward to a full restoration of trust and good faith as we go forward.

"The days of disagreements belong to the past and have no place in the future," he said.

Minister Mpofu, Attorney-General Johannes Tomana and their support teams deserve praise for the Kinshasa victory.

Yesterday, the KP dispatched a monitoring team comprising Mr Abbey Chikane and Mr Mark van Bockstael to visit Marange.

The KP has directed the monitoring team to perform its duties "with collegiality, impartiality, objectivity and fairness".

When noisy Western-funded non-governmental organisations announced in August that they would boycott last week's Kinshasa plenary, their aim was to plunge the KP into turmoil and frustrate Zimbabwe's exports.

They failed dismally. The meeting went ahead without them and, for the first time in years, the KP plenary made amazing progress.

The Namibian delegation told the African caucus that the boycott by NGOs was actually a blessing, because it enabled the delegates to focus on the important issues without disturbance.

Hopefully, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme has seen the last of cheap politicking. For far too long, Zimbabwe's economic rights have been violated by a shameless gang of bullies.

Minister Mpofu emphasised this point when he told the plenary: "It is my sincere hope that the KP will continue to shut politics outside of the business of this organisation.

"We all know how divergent our political views are, and that these views have no place in the Kimberley Process."

Zimbabwe has won a decisive victory in Africa's war against Western economic hegemony. The Government has a responsibility to ensure that the diamond income enhances our people's quality of life.

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