Another Sierra Leone in the making.
Conflict diamonds from the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to enter world diamond markets via Cameroon in direct contravention of the Kimberley Process and international law. This is according to a report released by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) last Friday (December 2).
The proceeds of the diamond sales are probably arming the Seleka rebels which are the same group that overthrew the government in 2013 and in the process killed fifteen members of the South African National Defence Force.
Conflict diamonds are defined as “rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments”. CAR is the only source of traditionally defined conflict diamonds in the world today.
The Kimberley Process, established in 2003, “is a regulatory body designed to halt the phenomenon of conflict diamonds,” so the situation in CAR is exactly why the KP was established in the first place.
The PAC report suggests that efforts by the UN and KP have focused on CAR’s diamond supply chain, with very little scrutiny of the “long unpatrolled border with CAR”.
The Central African Republic and illicit diamond trafficking – the story thus far:
March 2013: A coup d’etat by Seleka rebels sparks widespread civil unrest. The rebels capture the capital city, Bangui, and overthrow the government. They also capture the strategic diamond-mining town of Bria.
15 South African soldiers lose their lives in the so-called “Battle of Bangui”.
May 2013: Exports of its diamonds are placed under international embargo by the United Nations and the Kimberley Process (KP).
August 2014: Belgian authorities confiscate diamonds thought to have been smuggled from CAR via the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Dubai. This comprised 140 000 carats worth $24 million.
October 2014: UN Group of Experts raises concerns about the illicit traffic of CAR diamonds.
June 2016: Partial lifting of embargo of diamonds from regions in CAR deemed to be KP compliant. Berbérati confirmed as a compliant zone.
September 2016: Areas of Boda, Carnot and Nola are also deemed compliant, and the embargo lifted.
According to the report, illicit diamonds mined by artisanal miners in areas of CAR controlled by rebels, which are non-compliant with the KP process, are smuggled across the roughly 900 kilometre border with Cameroon, usually by CAR refugees living in the country.
They then enter international markets via two ways. In the first instance, they are “legitimised” into the international trade using complicit and corrupt Cameroonian government officials who issue authentic KP certificates. This allows the diamonds to trade under the veneer of being ethically sourced.
In the second instance, Cameroon is the transit centre for “large-scale” flows of entirely undeclared and uncertified CAR diamonds. Cameroon’s relatively high export tax of 24.5%, a figure much higher than its neighbours (3%), encourages traders to move the diamonds on to other countries before being exported. This muddies the water, making it more difficult to ascertain where the diamonds originally came from.
One of the traders the authors of the report interviewed freely admitted he would travel from Cameroon to CAR’s capital, Bangui, to buy diamonds – under the pretense he was visiting family – and upon his return, sell the diamonds to a diamond buying house that “does not require proof of origin other than the one provided by the seller on the purchase receipt”.
Listen to the interview with Partnership Africa Canada director Joanne Lebert and Mineweb Editor Warren Dick
Getting a handle on the scale of the problem
CAR’s diamond production dwarfs that of Cameroon. Cameroon produces about 3 000 carats per year, all of which come from a handful of towns on the eastern side of the country, next to the border it shares with CAR (see map).
Multiple sources told researchers, which was supported by the Final Report on the UN Panel of Experts on CAR, that conflict diamonds smuggled into Cameroon move almost exclusively by land through porous borders in Kentzou, then to Bertoua and eventually to Douala and Yaoundé airports from where they are flown to the international market – PAC report.
One fake KP certificate issued this year for a single shipment was for 4 523 carats. In 2012, the last official production statistics published for CAR show the country produced 365 917 carats – the world’s 10th largest producer by value.
The KP appears to be dramatically under-resourced in Cameroon. KP Focal Points are regional teams staffed with locals that are tasked with implementing regulations including things like spot checks on mine sites to ensure artisanal miners are licensed. In one area of the country, Kadey, there were four KP Focal Points for an area of 15 884 square kilometres.
The PAC report asserts “As one of the newest members of the KP, Cameroon does not have the capacity to uphold KP minimum standards or authoritatively eliminate the presence of conflict diamonds from its territory”.
Corruption is a factor too. Traders bribe airport security officials at Douala airport in order to get them to turn a blind eye, while in the east region city of Bertoua, the KP Focal Point keeps diamond production out of official channels owing to bribes from traders. In the town of Kentzou, a trader alluded to having a relationship with the regional head of the KP Focal Point that could issue all the valid documentation needed to export the diamonds.
Individuals identified by the UN continue to engage in the trade without any fear of being caught.
“Traceability of diamonds between Cameroon and the Central African Republic is a joke. If the Americans with drones and advanced technologies have not been able to control the flow of illicit drugs between Mexico and the USA, what makes you think the Kimberley Process can control the illicit trade of diamonds between Cameroon and the Central African Republic?” – Sachab Hayssam, diamond buyer for GEMS Africa, Batouri, Cameroon.
Recommendations of the report:
- Place Cameroon under Special Measures and require it to tighten its internal controls within a three month period, under which the country would be under a diamond embargo. Revoke the trading licenses and immigration status of individuals or companies involved in the illicit trade of diamonds.
- Create and enforce a blacklist of individuals and companies who are part of the illicit trade.
- Pursue a regional approach to KP Compliance, including Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Carry out detailed geological surveys of potential and actual production capacities in mining areas and put in place a functioning cadastre system to maintain accurate and up-to-date information on production areas and mining licenses granted.
Moneyweb made attempts to get in touch with the Kimberley Process but had not been successful at the time of writing.
To read the full report, please go here.