Diamonds are Africa's friend

2004-11-16 12:08

Johannesburg - Foreign diamond traders have a responsibility to enhance economic growth in Africa and eradicate perceptions that the precious stone, like oil, is a curse to many African states, government news agency BuaNews on Tuesday quoted President Thabo Mbeki as saying.

Appealing to Belgium's High Diamond Council (HDC) to make diamonds "Africa's best friend" on Monday, Mbeki said it was incumbent upon dealers to change the world's negative view of metals as a cause of instability, corruption, poverty and long-running conflicts in Africa, BuaNews said.

Diamonds and oil deposits abound in many of the countries, with some foreign dealers prepared to do everything including overthrowing governments to lay their hands on these minerals.

This, President Mbeki said, should come to an end.

Diamonds are a blessing

"Therefore, together we should do the things that would make it natural for us as Africans to speak of diamonds as a blessing, and heartily to sing the song we are still to compose - diamonds are Africa's best friend," he said.

Both African governments and foreign dealers ought to ensure that "no basis exists to accuse Africa of being the source of blood diamonds".

"Certainly we have to destroy the wrong belief among some that diamonds are a cause of conflict, as we have to ensure that diamonds are not misused to sustain destructive conflicts," he implored.

The former African Union chairperson was speaking at HDC's home in Antwerp, which is one of the top diamond-cutting centres in the world.

The love for diamonds has on many instances fuelled and prolonged conflicts in countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Many foreign multinational companies stand accused by among others, the United Nations for sponsoring rebels by trading arms for raw diamonds.

In 1998, HDC - the world's trading centre for rough diamonds - registered imports of 777 000 carats from Sierra Leone alone.

Mbeki said since diamonds were important to Africa as they provided employment, much needed foreign exchange and tax revenue, it was crucial for foreign dealers to help reconstruct some of these affected countries' economic and social infrastructure.

"... it is both incumbent upon, and would be of benefit to the international diamond industry to support and invest in the beneficiation and value-adding projects in African diamond producing countries to ensure economic sustainability beyond the depletion of the diamond resources," Mbeki said.

It was important to restructure and transform the multimillion-dollar industry in Africa to enable it to embrace good corporate citizenship, be responsive to poverty alleviation, economic empowerment as well as being a leading force in value adding investments in Africa.

President Mbeki continues with his visit to Europe on Tuesday, meeting among others, the High Representative of the EU's Commission on Foreign and Security Policy.