Botswana explores a future without sparklers – by Alex Vines (Business Day Live – November 23, 2015)

BOTSWANA is world-renowned for two things: awe-inspiring game parks and diamonds. But unlike its timeless natural beauty, the diamonds are not forever. Botswana needs to prepare for an economic future without them.

For years, the government has talked about economic diversification, but in practice little has been done. That’s not to say Botswana has mismanaged its diamond inheritance. It is rightly held up as an example of what can be achieved when natural resources are harnessed responsibly.

I feel this keenly because I spent much of the past decade working as a United Nations (UN) sanctions inspector in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Angola, trying to stop rebel-controlled “blood diamonds” from contaminating global supply chains.

I have seen the human rights abuses and corruption, and the arms and ammunition bought by conflict diamonds. I have also seen governments fail to harness diamond mining effectively, losing precious tax revenues for the state.

Conversely, Botswana has managed its diamonds wisely since it discovered them in 1967, and has even used its experience of diamonds as a force for good elsewhere. In 2006, when I chaired the UN Group of Experts on Côte d’Ivoire, I worked closely with the presidency of Botswana on the Kimberley Process — an international programme to end links between diamonds and conflict — to help stop Ivorian and Liberian conflict diamonds passing through Ghana’s supply chains.

Botswana is fortunate. It has enjoyed protracted peace and responsible government, underpinned by robust functioning institutions. Its kimberlite diamonds are easily extracted through large-scale industrial mining, avoiding the political and bureaucratic headaches created by smaller-scale artisanal mining that have blighted Zimbabwe’s and Angola’s diamond industries.

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