Illicit Trade

Diamond Smuggling Thrives in Zimbabwe


Enos Chikwere spills nine uncut diamonds from a bag at Restaurante Piscina in the town of Vila de Manica in Mozambique near the Zimbabwe border. He says the stones are worth $75,000 and that he bought them from Zimbabwean soldiers. The diamonds come from a mining concession the government seized in 2006 from a private company. The army has used forced labor, human-rights groups say, to mine the gems. The stones are sold illicitly via smuggling.

Chikwere is part of a chain that stretches back to the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), the party of President Robert Mugabe, which has won four violent and disputed elections since 2000.

The dealer says his gems come from Marange, Zimbabwe's biggest field, in in the east. By selling the army-sourced stones abroad, the dealers are enriching the 86-year-old President's party ahead of next year's vote, according to Human Rights Watch, Partnership Africa Canada, and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the political party led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that governs in a forced coalition with Zanu-PF. Extensive interviews with these human-rights groups, as well as MDC, smugglers, and diamond dealers, provided the information for this story. The human-rights groups in turn have based their assertions on interviews with soldiers, diplomats, diggers, community leaders, and members of government, including the Parliamentary portfolio committee on mines and energy.

Under Mugabe's policy of seizing farmland from white farmers and redistributing it to his followers, the once-prosperous Zimbabwean economy has shrunk drastically. Zanu-PF, in search of a steady source of financing, found it in the mines. "Revenue from the mines is serving to prop up Mugabe and his cronies," Tom Porteous, the U.K. director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News on Dec. 8. "There are real concerns that diamond revenue will be used to fund political violence and intimidation of Mugabe's opponents." In previous political campaigns, Zanu-PF paid youth militia to beat up political opponents and intimidate voters.

The smuggling from Marange benefits Mugabe's party because it is mostly carried out through the military, which controls the mine and reports to Mugabe. Marange diamonds can't be exported legally because the field hasn't met an international certification standard showing that the proceeds don't go to finance conflict. Mozambique, meanwhile, isn't a member of the Kimberley Process, an organization of governments and diamond companies that tries to reduce the number of conflict diamonds in the world.

Mugabe's party denies the allegations of smuggling diamonds to support its campaign efforts. "These are just inventions of the Western imperialists who are trying to discredit Zanu-PF," spokesman Rugare Gumbo said in a Dec. 6 phone interview from Harare, the nation's capital. "There is no corruption at Marange, and Zanu-PF is not using the proceeds."

Soldiers mostly entrust the Marange stones to smugglers who then link up with buyers outside Zimbabwe. The MDC, the coalition partner that Mugabe reluctantly accepted into the government under pressure from other African countries, condemns the military's role. "We need the money to pay civil servants," says Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a member of the MDC. "We must rein in the political elite who are prospering from the stones."

The soldiers are very open in their trading, says a Nigerian dealer in Chimoio, capital of Mozambique's Manica province, who says his name is Colonel Rambo. They give their cut to their superior officers, who surrender a share to politicians, he says. In Vila de Manica, Chikwere boasts that there is no limit to the number of stones he can get. "Don't worry about me and the border," he says. "I have my systems."

The bottom line: According to Human Rights Watch, the Zimbabwe military is selling diamonds illegally to finance Robert Mugabe's reelection campaign.

Latham is a reporter for Bloomberg News.
Katerere is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

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