Rough diamonds enabled Abdoul Raouf to marry three women and put his nine children through school. Now that his town in western Central African Republic can legally export the gems to world markets again, his neighbors are expecting similar fortunes.
“Diamonds are my life,” said Raouf, who trades the stones bought from artisanal miners in the town of Gamboula, near the border with Cameroon and a 10-hour drive to the capital, Bangui. “It’s because of diamonds that I can take care of my family.”
Gamboula is one of five areas in the west that can freely trade in diamonds again after the gradual easing of an export ban imposed three years ago. While fighting has flared in the southeast, forcing tens of thousands to flee, the western Mambere-Kadei prefecture has embraced a tentative peace, enabling residents to return to the diamond sites.
The government estimates that at least 20 percent of the population in the west, or about 60,000 people, earn an income from diamond mining. It’s not unusual to see children skip school to accompany their parents and help them sift gravel to search for the gems.
“The partial lifting of the embargo has been very important for the government, enabling us to collect taxes and strengthen the state coffers,” Mining Minister Leopold Mboli-Fatrane said in an interview in Bangui.
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