In a surprising turn of events the Zimbabwe government announced on Sunday that it will withdraw all of its soldiers from the Marange diamond fields. This announcement comes amid recent criticism by Human Rights Watch over the ongoing human rights abuses being committed by the Army in the diamond fields, but seems, mostly, to have been prompted by a visit of representatives from the Kimberley Process.
As I reported earlier, the Kimberley Process team is in Zimbabwe investigating the allegations of human rights abuse and determining if the country still meets the group’s high standards. This weekend, following visits to Marange, the Kimberley delegation stated that “There cannot be effective security where diamonds are concerned with the involvement of the (Zimbabwean) government.” The group called for the immediate demilitarization of the area and tighter controls to counter the rampant diamond smuggling. Shockingly, the Zimbabwean government agreed. Such agreement is all the more surprising since the government has been loudly denouncing and denying the allegations made by Human Rights Watch.
However, saying and doing are two completely different things. In his statement, the Deputy Mines Minister made sure to emphasize that the removal would be gradual. “We agreed to remove soldiers but it will be done in phases while proper security settings would be put in place.” His statement raises questions. What exactly are ‘proper security settings?’ Furthermore, will the army and ZANU-PF allow themselves to be ‘removed’ from the diamond mines, currently one of their biggest sources of income? And who will remove them? Time will tell if the government’s announcement was only to prevent Zimbabwe’s diamonds from earning the damaging label ‘blood diamonds’ or a true commitment to improve the situation in Marange. If the latter proves true, it would be nothing short of a miracle, given the ZANU-PF’s track record.