VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE —
Zimbabwean officials have dismissed a report by a non-profit group leading the campaign against conflict diamonds. The report says at least $2 billion worth of diamonds have been stolen from the country’s diamond fields and have ended up in the pockets of President Robert Mugabe's ruling circle.
In a report released Monday, Partnership Africa Canada said Zimbabwe's Marange fields have seen "the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes," the colonial magnate who exploited South Africa's diamonds more than a century ago.
The Canadian non-profit is a member of the Kimberley Process
, the international organization set up to stop the trade in so-called "blood diamonds" - diamonds mined to finance conflict.
On Tuesday, Zimbabwe’s mines minister Obert Mpofu said the report was “nonsensical” and a work of “detractors.”
"The first thing about detractors is: Who do they want to please by raising issues which are only nonsensical? They always run around to do those things," he said. "This is sponsored by their governments who imposed sanctions on us. It is real desperate attempt by people who are criminals just to create a smoke screen.”
A smoke screen to dim Zimbabwe government's conference on the diamond trade here in Victoria Falls, said the minister.
Zimbabwe has some of the world’s biggest diamond deposits. But the gems, discovered just a decade ago, have failed to spark the country's economy, which has yet to fully recover from the deep depression it went through.
At the conference, President Robert Mugabe was mum on the Partnership Africa Canada report, which accused his security and military officials of looting proceeds from diamonds instead of channeling the funds to the treasury.
Mugabe has his own explanation why the diamonds are not lending some sparkle to Zimbabwe’s weak economy.
“Due to the illegal sanctions imposed on the local diamond mining companies, the country has not been able to realize full benefits, particularly from diamonds mined in Marange," said Mugabe. "The diamonds have been marketed at depressed prices owing to a negative buyer perception resulting from these illegal sanctions. I don't know why sanctions are still imposed."
That is reference to targeted sanctions that Britain, the United States, and other countries imposed on Mugabe and his close associates in 2002 following human rights abuses.
At the conference, officials accused civil society groups of casting a unjustly negative light on what is happening in Zimbabwe. But Shamiso Mtisi, who heads Zimbabwe’s civil society coalition for the Kimberley Process, has some words of advice for officials who expect NGOs to speak only good of their country.
“They normally do not want to listen to the voice of the civil society, which is the voice which resonates well with the community," said Shamiso Mtisi. "It is quite important because we are raising issues around transparency and accountability. ”
Delegates to the Victoria Falls conference were expected to discuss ways of ensuring Zimbabwe's diamonds benefit the economy as a whole, not just a few individuals. But it seems delegates left the two-day conference Tuesday without any solution to the problem.