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Time To Enable African Civil Society Participation In The KP

The original conflict narrative is no longer an issue

As the Kimberley Process (KP) Chair 2016 and Chair of the Committee on Participation and Chairmanship (CPC) 2017, the UAE has been very actively involved in the well-being of the KP in the last two years. The new year is a good moment to reflect on the status quo and what should be the way forward – especially given the recent departure from the KP of IMPACT (formerly PAC), one of the founding NGOs.

We often operate in an environment of only insiders; probably this is also why the KP is often referred to as a family. Obviously, our work is also followed well beyond the boundaries of our countries. It was therefore interesting to read a Master’s thesis published at Harvard University last year by Aurélie Dussenne under the title To What Extent Can NGOs Still Play a Role in the Kimberley Process? 

Dussenne gives an interesting outside opinion on this topic, “I do not believe that the departure of the Civil Society Coalition would discredit the Kimberley Process for two main reasons. First, the departure of Global Witness, which was key in granting legitimacy to the certification scheme, did not affect the credibility of the Kimberley Process with the public. People continued to buy diamonds and the media did not highly publicise it.”

She went on to say, “Second, the Civil Society Coalition participated in two boycotts, in 2011 and 2016, to show their discontent. However, there is no mention of those boycotts on the official website of the Kimberley Process and there is little information available online. This means that the ability of NGOs to engage with the public to put pressure on governments and the diamond industry has greatly diminished compared to the early 2000s. Consequently, the departure of the Civil Society Coalition is unlikely to significantly discredit the Kimberley Process.”

She elaborates further, “In fact, some members believed that NGOs were preventing the Kimberley Process from functioning effectively and were focussing on issues that had nothing to do with the certification scheme and should be addressed by competent bodies within other structures that are specialised in human rights and labour rights… In 2015 and 2016 the Civil Society Coalition focussed on the issue of undervaluation by the United Arab Emirates. They did not support their claims with facts and detailed explanations. Consequently, their recommendations had little impact and significantly decreased their legitimacy.”

Commenting on the fight between PAC and the UAE, Ian Smillie, one of the pioneers of civil society action in the early days said the following in 2016, “It is yesterday’s news, so while the NGOs can get a bit of press on the issue of the day, it isn’t enough to embarrass anyone into action. They lost the fight against having the United Arab Emirates chair the Kimberley Process this year, but they continue to fight the battle after everyone has left the battlefield, and they seem unable to make a compelling case for their concerns outside a small group of people who know the details — it’s like insider baseball: very complicated and not very interesting except to the cognoscenti.”

Dussenne concludes, “The composition of the Civil Society Coalition has changed considerably since 2003. Global Witness, International Alert, and Fatal Transactions left the initiative to continue their fight against conflict diamonds from outside the Kimberley Process… Sargentini, a senior manager of Fatal Transactions, said, ‘As for the Kimberley Process we said as far as it goes with technical details we back off. It’s impossible to follow. And it’s not for campaigning, it’s not the most interesting…’”

Dussenne then summed up, “I believe that NGOs might fear that being associated with the Kimberley Process, including the diamond industry and some producing countries, could have a negative impact on the donations that they receive.”

Quo vadis Kimberley Process?

KP relies upon the equal interaction of its participants and observers, which includes Industry Groups and Civil Society, in the form of NGOs. As CPC chair of KP in 2017, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has made efforts to promote a more balanced Civil Society representation within the KP. The idea was to outline actions and a roadmap that would lead to the constellation of an alternative Civil Society Coalition (CSC) platform, formed of reputable, independent, Africa-based organisations that are active in the field of natural resource governance and advocacy on KP and broader diamond sector reform.

African civil society groups mirror the African Mining Vision

This work was led by Dr. Ola Bello, Executive Director of Good Governance Africa (GGA) who assisted. Dr. Bello shortlisted 10 African CSOs and finally selected three to apply for the status of ‘Independent’ Observer in the KP. 

In 2017, new applications for the status of Independent Observer were reviewed by the Committee on Participation and Chairmanship. The CPC Chair presented the three selected applicants for the status of new Independent Observers. 

It was in this regard both enlightening and discouraging to see how the current Civil Society Coalition and in particular, Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), countered against the inclusion of PARIL (Policy Analysis and Research Institute of Lesotho) to their application as an Independent Observer of KP.

At the Intersessional in Perth, PAC even went so far as to threaten PARIL that they would never be allowed into KP, and their representative was accused of serious misdemeanours by PAC’s Alan Martin. After a meeting in the presence of the Australian KP Chair, the air was cleared but the damage was done and PARIL declined to further apply.

At the last KP Plenary in Brisbane, the CPC heard the other applications of the two remaining Civil Society organisations, AYME (African Youth on Mining and Environment, Sierra Leone), and ZNRDF (Zimbabwe Natural Resources Dialogue Forum, Zimbabwe). Both are very exciting institutions with an agenda that coincides with the African Mining Vision as being implemented by the African Union. Both stand at the forefront of advocacy to increase transparency and accountability in the diamond sector. Both are deeply connected at the grass roots and are known for their contribution to their country’s well-being from the ground level up. Both would add a distinct and complementary dimension to KP. 

Again, it was both enlightening and discouraging to see that the applications of both organisations were blocked in the CPC without proper argumentation. Until today it remains unclear why these young two organisations were refused the status of Independent Observer.

Is this really the approach that KP wants to take with serious, reputable and exciting Civil Society Organisations?

Fake News?

IMPACT’s Executive Director Joanne Lebert, said, “We have come to the conclusion that the Kimberley Process has lost its will to be an effective mechanism for responsible diamond governance.”

I want to end this contribution with some positive and constructive remarks. In the real world — not in the world of staying relevant in the media to secure future funding — conflict diamonds are almost completely eradicated. This is an indisputable fact. According to a study of the USGS (United States Geological Survey) in the Central African Republic, the annual production of diamonds coming from the Eastern part of the country is currently assessed at 78,000 carats per year. In 2018, the Eastern part of the Central African Republic is the only source of conflict diamonds.

This essentially brings us to a production figure of about $5 million on a total annual production worldwide of diamonds of $15.6 billion. The part of the so-called ‘blood diamonds’ in the entire value chain has now been reduced to 0.033 percent. 

This is the result of the great work of the KP family. At the same time, it should encourage KP to take a step further. Rather than standing on the sideline and criticising the entire diamond community for a problem that is almost non-existent, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), mainly from the African continent, should now contribute towards a constructive dialogue on how diamonds can benefit the African people. I therefore believe that IMPACT’s departure from the Kimberley Process opens the door for a ‘new normal’, serving to:

  • Rejuvenate the CSO arrangement currently in place, with an infusion of new ideas, faces and new blood, including some of the applicants currently under unfair scrutiny.
  • Influence the shape of the CSO autonomous funding arrangement. Providing authentic CSOs with the means to do their work in support of KP will not only maintain the necessary continuity but also allow them to enter the discussions with the requisite level of balance, independence and neutrality. The UAE’s proposal as welcomed in the UN Resolution of 20.01.2017 is more important than ever.
  • Come to a more horizontal engagement within the CSO setup. As IMPACT became increasingly focused on pressuring donors for funds, they lost sight of their objectives and less receptive to hearing feedback. Over time, IMPACT’s position with KP became a one-voice, single topic monopoly, simply shutting down the opportunity for other actors within the coalition to influence their internal debates, positioning and perspective on key issues. Departing from KP, IMPACT is now finally giving the African Civil Society the opportunity to restore genuine African agency to the CSO Coalition. 

That is my New Year’s perspective for the international diamond community. I wish to thank Robert Owen Jones and Australia for the KP Chairmanship of 2017 and hosting us. I would also like to wish all the very best to Mrs. Hilde Hardeman, the EU KP Chair 2018, as well as KP at large.

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