BCP ON GOVERNMENT'S FAILURE TO DEVELOP DIAMOND INDUSTRY
16th April 2011
Last week Sabbath was a special day for our small congregation at the Phakalane Primary School. We were hosting a community guest day, a day when we invite non church members to come and worship with us. Within the Seventh day Adventist Church, the unwritten rule for such days is that everyone is expected to put up their best possible performance, for this is a grand opportunity to win souls for the Lord. The preachers, just like the singing groups, never disappoint on such days. Though my weekend was packed with political activities, I was not going to miss out on the main service for the day.
The key message for the day was drawn from the book of Jeremiah 2:14. For ease of reference, the verse reads thus, “Is Israel a servant? Is he a home born slave? Why is he plundered?” For the benefit of the readers whose association with the bible is limited, the simple background is that Israel qualified to be classified as Gods favored nation. They were freed from Egypt to escape the tyranny of the political leadership that existed at the time and were guided by the Lord through a difficult terrain to the Promised Land. However, the children of Israel almost always disappointed the Lord with their propensity to drift from the set standards. For this, they were allowed to suffer for their misdeeds and Jeremiah used his good command of language to give a picture of what had become of Israel.
When the verse was read, I could not help but link it to the developments of the week in Gaborone. These developments are associated with the diamond industry, the one clear resource that could possibly qualify Botswana as having been favored by the Almighty, just like the Israelites. The diamonds that we have are God given and we cannot claim that we demonstrated any greater entitlement to them ahead of other less resourced countries. Last week, we had the diamond beneficiation pitso, followed by a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a diamond cutting and polishing factory.
I was not invited to the pitso, but like other Batswana had the opportunity to see snippets of the colorful event on national television. As was to be expected, the gathering was dominated by foreign nationals whose skin color is radically different from ours. It has always puzzled me that though Botswana is home to some of the most valuable diamonds in the world, any gathering of those who have truly benefitted from the gem, are from countries that have no mines to speak of. It was not surprising that the few Botswana government officials who were at the pitso were swamped by the huge wave of foreigners who are for all intents and purposes in full control of the Botswana diamonds.
I attended the second key event of the week, the groundbreaking ceremony. Like at the pisto, the locals painted a sorry sight. The true owners of the industry, whose life line is the huge open pits that define the towns of Jwaneng and Orapa, were once again in full control. We, the sons of the soil, were clearly relegated to the margins and were only invited for purposes of protocol. Mine was not a feeling of xenophobia, but rather a sense of hopelessness and frustration. How did we lose control? Why is it that we do not seem to be at the center of the exploitation of the mineral that the Lord so generously implanted in our land? Why does Botswana appear to be a servant in the diamond industry? Is Botswana a home born slave? During the biblical times, a child born to a slave was automatically assumed to be the property of the slave owner who owns his/her parents, hence the term home born slave. Are we, the modern day generation, slaves of our former colonizers who have a greater entitlement to what should have been our inheritance?
For the many years that we mined the diamonds, we believed that we were not blessed with the wisdom to cut and polish what we mined. The privilege of adding value to our diamonds was the preserve of countries like Israel, whose nationals now dominate the cutting and polishing industry that is belatedly emerging in Botswana. Even as we seek to assert our presence in the cutting and polishing industry, we are doing so in a rather shy and timid manner that lacks ambition. Presently, only a portion of the low value diamonds are processed in Botswana, with over 70% of our total value production of rough diamonds being shipped off to the more developed countries to create jobs, whilst our people are told to focus on backyard gardens for their future economic prosperity. Except for Botswana, most diamond mining countries have opened up the sector to small and medium entrepreneurs. When I visited the DRC, I was surprised to see numerous traders of what are clearly low value diamonds, some of who will possibly in the long term graduate to more serious and higher value diamond trading. In Botswana, we have successfully closed out our citizens from the industry. All that Batswana know is that if you are found with a diamond, you are likely to be locked in jail.
What I also find difficult to appreciate, is why Botswana does not derive a monetary value from the trade of diamonds that is commensurate to our contribution of total rough diamonds in the world market. I am told that we presently contribute about 25% of the total global rough diamonds and our diamonds are regarded as the world’s best in terms of quality and grade. My expectation is that what Government ultimately gets as its revenue from diamonds, must approximately amount to about 25% of the total value of the diamond industry. On average, the annual value of the world diamond industry, taking into consideration rough diamonds, polished diamonds and jewellery is worth about US$ 90 billion and Botswana only gets US$ 3 billion. This translates into about 0.03% of the total revenue accrued from global diamond sales. Non diamond mining countries like Dubai, Belgium, India and Israel benefit from diamonds far more than Botswana. Like a home born slave, why are we being plundered?
I cannot claim to know much about the diamond industry, but I strongly believe that there is something fishy going on. We will not have the diamonds to mine forever, and we need to get the most out of this finite resource. Available information around the diamond industry has me worried. One day, I will have to explain to my children what my role was this in addressing the clear imbalances that dominate the industry, and my answer cannot be that I am a home born slave.
(This article appeared on second edition of the WEEKEND POST"