Brave Africans stand up for the cause at diamond trade summit
At the end of the opening day of the Kimberley Process (KP) plenary meeting in Dubai, I sat around a table with five African delegates to the annual summit of the diamond industry.
Nothing unusual about that. The nations of Africa are home to the biggest global concentration of diamond mining operations, so you’d expect the continent to be well represented at the event, as indeed it was at the formal sessions.
But these five were different. Each of them had risked possible sanction – from their governments and the diamond industry in their own countries, and from the international coalition that acts as the self-proclaimed conscience of the diamond trade – by attending the Dubai plenary.
The Civil Society Coalition (CSC), an alliance of non-governmental organisations that is supposed to represent the interests of ordinary Africans working in the diamond industry, proclaimed a boycott of the KP under the year-long chairmanship of the UAE.
It has not attended any KP events in the course of 2016. When some Africans have indicated their desire to attend, the CSC has brought pressure on them and their organisations to stay away.
So the ones who did turn up in Dubai obviously cared deeply about the industry, and the effect it has on their lives and livelihoods, and their environment.
People like Ruth Laoubai, who is the head of projects for the Association of Central African Women for Sustainable Development, based in the Central African Republic (CAR), who spoke eloquently of her concerns for the wives and families of artisanal miners in the country, where diamond exports have recently resumed after a deal finessed through by the UAE.
Or Regina Toguera, president of the Central African Mines and Resources, an NGO based in CAR’s capital Bangui, who was concerned about the illicit trade in stones from conflict areas.
There was also Placide Ngombe, president of the Central African Organisation for Sustainable Development, who described CAR’s deteriorating economic situation, exacerbated by the long ban on diamond exports.
Ola Bello, an accomplished advocate for NGOs in his native Nigeria and most recently at the Governance of Africa’s Resources programme in Cape Town, South Africa, spoke of the need to get more permanent support for non-governmental organisations.
The fifth African was Albert Kabuya, who has already incurred the wrath of his NGO, the National Support Centre for Development and Popular Participation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was suspended by his organisation after announcing his intention to travel to Dubai, but felt strongly enough about the issue to attend anyway.
The plenary will be more meaningful for their participation, but the essential point is this: if they had obeyed the policy diktats of CSC, under the influence of the Partnership Canada-Africa (PAC), they would not have been at the KP plenary at all. The meeting would have been deprived of the authentic voice of civil society amid all the noise from government and big business.
The principled stand of the five who defied the CSC to attend the meeting should be recognised and applauded.
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