Boycott of KP does nothing for Africa

A wise man once said “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”, meaning negotiation was infinitely preferable to destructive confrontation. The leaders of the Civil Society Coalition, the organisation that aims to protect the rights of diamond workers and their dependents in the multibillion dollar gems trade, should take that adage to heart.

For the past year, CSC has been boycotting the UAE’s chairmanship of the Kimberley Process, the institution set up to bring order to the international trade in the precious stones and in particular to prevent “blood diamonds” – gems that originate in areas of civil conflict – from entering the global market.

Specifically, the boycott has meant 11 African non-governmental organisations have not taken part in meetings in Dubai and elsewhere that discussed crucial matters: readmission of certain countries to the trade; valuation mechanisms for rough diamonds; and the challenge from synthetic gems. These issues affect the lives of millions of Africans, but their voices have not been heard.

Earlier this week, the designated KP representative of one of the 11 – an NGO from the Democratic Republic of Congo – decided it was time to end this blinkered attitude and told the UAE he was going to take up the offer to attend the big event of the year, the KP Plenary meeting in Dubai next month.

Surely it is time for others to follow.

The CSC is a key part of the diamond business, recognised as one of the three KP “pillars” when that organisation was set up, along with producing countries and corporates. But it appears to have fallen under the influence of one particular organisation – the Partnership Africa Canada (Pac) – which insists on enforcing the boycott.

When the UAE was awarded the chairmanship of KP – in recognition of Dubai’s growing importance as a diamond trading centre – Pac referred to it as the “elephant in the room”, declared its chairmanship a “red line” and went on to denigrate the ethical standards of the UAE.

Despite this the KP chairman, in the person of Ahmed bin Sulayem, the chairman of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, which is home to the emirate’s diamond exchange, insisted his door was open to CSC members, who he invited to attend KP functions. Pac turned its back and sulked.

Mr bin Sulayem stepped up the pace of reform within the KP. To date, he has visited 12 African countries; started the process to bring Venezuela and Central African Republic back as diamond exporters; and launched initiatives aimed at getting a valuation standard for rough diamonds, the issue at the heart of Pac’s grievances regarding Dubai.

“The world needs to do better for Africa,” he said last week, announcing another initiative to put the KP under United Nations auspices.

The boycott has done nothing better for Africa at all. It freezes the continent out of the KP process. It robs civil society of a voice in the most important chambers of the diamond industry. It harms the very people civil society is supposed to defend.

The other members of the CSC – including Pac – should urgently rethink their pointless and self-destructive boycott.

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