The Central African Republic (CAR)—one of the poorest countries in the world—has been embroiled in intense religious conflict since Dec. 2012. Fighting between the predominantly Muslim rebels (known as the Séléka) and Christian/animist anti-balaka militia broke out when the former accused Christian president François Bozizé of violating peace agreements laid down in 2007 and 2011.
The Séléka supplanted Bozizé with their own president, Michel Djotodia, from Mar. 2013 to Jan. 2014; though he has since been replaced by two acting presidents—currently, former mayor of Bangui, Catherine Samba-Panza.
Conflict has continued into 2015, marred by reports of massacres committed by the anti-balakas against Muslims (which constitute roughly 15% of the national population).
In the midst of one of the bloodiest conflicts the region has seen in recent years, with the death toll of more than 5,000, according to Amnesty International, Western companies have quietly carried out business as usual. Such is the hypnotic draw of Central Africa’s diamond industry.
Prior to the Séléka’s gaining the presidency, diamonds represented about half of the CAR’s total exports, and 20% of its budget receipts. Two months after the power shift, the Kimberley Process, a joint-government anti-conflict-diamond regulatory initiative, imposed a ban on diamond exports coming out of the CAR.
But the ban did not cover the trade of diamonds within the CAR. Subsequently, throughout the civil war, scores of small-scale miners have continued to extract diamonds and sell them to in-country traders, who in turn sell them to buying houses in Bangui, where they are being warehoused until the official end of conflict, and subsequent lift of ban.
This, human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International admit, was unavoidable. “The continuation of the diamond trade within CAR was inevitable in a country where many tens of thousands of people rely on diamonds for their livelihood,” a report released Sep. 30 admits.
The problem is that both the Séléka and anti-balaka profit greatly from the ongoing internal diamond trade. The Amnesty reports relays instances of militia groups demanding taxes or protection fees from miners and traders, and, in some cases, fully taking over mine sites. Additionally, there are reports of child and otherwise forced labor at said mines.
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