Zimbabwe’s Diamond Wealth: Interview with Farai Maguwu

< back to Freedom At Issue Blog

Farai Maguwu is the director of the Center for Research and Development (CRD), a leading Zimbabwean advocacy group that has documented human rights abuses in the country’s extractive industries, most notably in the Marange diamond field. Maguwu received the Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism in 2011.

Could you explain who currently controls the diamond industry in Zimbabwe? How is this source of wealth likely to factor into the upcoming national elections?

The official view is that all mining is done through joint-venture partnerships between the Zimbabwean government and private enterprises. However, in practice there are several private companies involved in mining activities in the Marange diamond field. For instance, the deputy mines minister recently revealed that Anjin Investments, which is by far the biggest diamond mining company in Marange, is controlled 50 percent by the Chinese, 40 percent by the Zimbabwe National Army through its subsidiary company Zimbabwe Defense Industries (ZDI), and 10 percent by another company linked to the army. This militarization of the extractive sector in Zimbabwe, where the generals have become company directors and shareholders on behalf of the government, is extremely worrying.

I see the conflict in Zimbabwe as having more to do with resources than anything else. Political power becomes the means to acquire and retain wealth. For that reason, those in control of the diamond fields will see the next election as a defining moment and will stop at nothing to secure their economic interests. Diamond revenues are failing to find their way into the treasury; instead they are being channeled towards political campaign strategies and funding political violence and intimidation campaigns countrywide. And I believe there is likely to be a repetition of 2008, when the Zimbabwe National Army was implicated in a reign of terror against opposition supporters and civil society activists in an effort to ensure President Mugabe retained power. The military interest in a ZANU-PF victory is much stronger today than in 2008 due to the newfound diamond wealth, which is largely benefiting senior military officials at the expense of the nation. In my view, involving the military in diamond mining is one of the most agonizing economic and political own goals Zimbabwe has scored in recent years.

Could you describe some of the abuses that CRD has documented? Are the perpetrators of these abuses being held accountable?

The abuses that we documented range from torture, forced labor, and rape to murder. However, these were most frequent during the period from November 2008 to mid-2010, and the army was the biggest perpetrator of these abuses. Lately, the private security guards have become the chief perpetrators of human rights abuses as they battle with artisanal miners who often break company perimeter fences to dig for diamonds. Perpetrators of these abuses have not been held accountable, mainly due to the fact that their victims do not report the matter to the police, as they fear further harassment or even arrests.

Human rights abuse is one of the primary reasons the United States and the European Union have instituted sanctions against Zimbabwe. How do sanctions influence the diamond trade? Would removal of sanctions make any difference?

The Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe are on EU and U.S. sanctions lists, meaning Zimbabwe cannot sell its diamonds to Europe and the U.S. Today, sanctions are used by the looting elites as an excuse to engage in opaque diamond deals under the guise of sanctions busting. However, there is no indication that if sanctions are removed there will be greater transparency and accountability. Removal of sanctions may as well be a blank check to those who are looting Marange diamonds. On the other hand, there is pressure from some sections of the diamond industry in the U.S. and the EU who feel that sanctions are giving China and India an unfair advantage over them. Others feel that sanctions do not work at all, since Marange diamonds are finding their way to all corners of the world in spite of them. However, I think if the EU and the U.S. feel strongly that they should lift sanctions as a way of promoting diamond revenue transparency, they should suspend them for a provisional period of six months and thereafter phone the finance minister, Tendai Biti, to inquire if there is behavioral change regarding remittance of diamond revenue to the treasury.

What role can Zimbabwe’s civil society play in both exposing and preventing human rights abuses and bolstering transparency in the mining industry?

CRD continues to play a watchdog role in the extractive sector. There is a lot of awareness-raising work being done to ensure that the diamonds story is pushed up high on the national agenda. Coalitions such as the Publish What You Pay campaign are also helping to discuss ways of improving revenue transparency in the extractive sector in Zimbabwe. The Publish What You Pay Zimbabwe Chapter is meant to mobilize Zimbabwean civil society to demand that mining companies declare how much revenue they are paying to the Zimbabwe government. This will in turn help us to hold the government to account for the revenue they are receiving from mining companies.