The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme professes to safeguard the African diamond mining industry by ensuring ethical diamonds reach the market. Established in 2003, it is a joint governments, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds – i.e. diamonds sold to fund rebel militias. However, these so-called conflict free diamonds aren’t nearly as ethical as they may appear to the West. 

Mining Conditions with the Kimberley Process

In the Central African Republic, diggers at the mine at Banegbele “toil like ants with shovels and spades for the equivalent of three dollars a day.” These men perform back-breaking labour in terrible heat, and “all share the same desperate hope — that one day they will find a diamond that will change their miserable lives forever.” As is, their situation is grim. Some sleep in a tiny makeshift shelter made of sticks, plastic sheeting and a mosquito net. Once the day is over, many turn to cannabis and palm wine to numb themselves. 

“We work hard. I ache all over,” said Jean Bruno Sembia.

Mining without Kimberley Process

“If you are armed you can have diamonds,” said former prime minister Martin Ziguele. “And with those diamonds you can buy more arms and fund your rebellion.”

It’s true that while mining conditions are still deplorable under the Kimberley Process, at least those miners get paid. Just north of the Banegbele mine, “the country’s richest mines are still in the hands of armed groups, they are forced to hand over what they find at gunpoint.” Peacekeeping troops from France and the UN have tried to wrestle those mines back from  insurgents so that their diamonds can be sold legally, but with no luck so far. These diamonds are crucial to put the delicate Central African Republic economy back on track.

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