Mogae changes tact
by Sunday Standard Reporter
IT'S DECEMBER 3, 2002, a pivotal moment in the Survival International campaign to malign Botswana diamonds as “conflict diamonds.” It's the first day of the Diamond Conference in Gaborone and temperatures are rising.
President Festus Mogae, caught in the middle of the row, has run into a buzz saw of negative publicity about the relocation of Basarwa from CKGR. He blames it all on Survival International's “deliberate and malicious” campaign against Botswana.
"Survival International has decided to deliberately and maliciously misinterpret our policies and plans regarding the voluntary relocation of Basarwa from the CKGR.”
The fight between Mogae and SI kept the CKGR relocation controversy high in the headlines. For example, an Internet “Google” search engine entry for “Mogae criticizes Survival International” turns up 164 news headlines.
Four years later, Mogae is preparing for another round in the running fight to defend Botswana diamonds against the “conflict diamonds” campaign. This Christmas sees the launch of a “conflict diamond” movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which is expected to reignite the whole debate around “conflict diamonds” the issue that in 2000, gave rise to the Kimberly Process, and to its subsequent diamond certification scheme.
Survival International is already hitching its campaign onto the coattails of the DiCaprio movie fever. Faced with a slew of bad publicity stemming from the planned Christmas release of the movie, Mogae has launched a low-key campaign to present Botswana's side of the story.
He will be in America this week pitching the Botswana “diamond for development” campaign in boardrooms to a select audience of influential figures, far from the hustle and bustle of screaming newspaper headlines.
His briefing notes, however, say nothing about either Survival International or the DiCaprio movie. This is all part of a carefully choreographed strategy. If Mogae keeps to the script, he will range through the campaign like a moving target, steering clear of saying anything about either the DiCaprio movie or Survival International.
So, what's changed since 2002?
“We do not want to feed into the hype about the movie”, says Presidential spokesperson, Dr Jeff Ramsay. This marks a major shift in Mogae's strategy against the “conflict diamonds” campaign. The initial big bang strategy went sour from almost the moment Mogae started going toe to toe with Survival International Director Stephen Corry. The strategy was seriously undermined when major partners, De beers and the local media started criticizing it for keeping the Survival International campaign on the headlines and propping up Corry's profile.
With the current American trip, Mogae is still getting his sea legs on the new strategy and will keep most of his campaign below the radar. In the next stage of the strategy, the proceedings and recommendations of the Kimberly Process meeting slated for Gaborone next month will be presented to the United Nations. So far, it is not clear who will lead this campaign and how far it will go up the echelons of the UN. Much will depend on how the hype around the movie pans up.
Indications, however, are that there will be a lot of tears before the popping of champagne corks. The film makes no attempt at differentiation with reference to diamonds (conflict, conflict-free, blood diamonds, good diamonds, ethical diamonds, rough, polished, rounds, fancies, etc.) and individual companies, family businesses, corporations, trading centers, dealers, traders, diamond exchanges, producers, mines, countries, cutting centers, etc. It treats them all in the same way as part and parcel of the same subject.
The movie tells the story of a diamond trader involved in Sierra Leone's horrific civil war in the late 1990s. But industry executives worry it could tarnish the industry in the minds of consumers who think the war is still going on.
“The story that is going to be told is a true story, and we all applaud that it is going to be told,” said World Diamond Council chairman, Eli Izhakoff, at a meeting devoted to the issue at New York's Roosevelt Hotel. “What we need to ensure is that we tell the truth too, and that consumers know what the trade has done to stop this problem.”
Richard Lennox, director in charge of the Diamond Trading Company account at JWT, says the movie “presents a very real danger to our industry,” as the film could leave viewers thinking “a diamond purchase makes you morally responsible for murder and mayhem in Africa.”
He noted that its survey showed that 90 percent of consumers would be less willing to buy a product if it was shown to be involved with terrorism or a “blood diamond.”
Lennox noted the problem isn't just the film itself, but the publicity surrounding it. “It's a big-budget film with a $40 million marketing budget,” he noted. “As we are seeing with The Da Vinci Code, it's possible that the media may pick up the story and we may be facing a broad front of media attention.”
He also noted that the director, Edward Zwick, has serious credentials in Hollywood and could be nominated for an Oscar. “If that happens, this film will be with us to the end of the Academy Awards,” he said.
Botswana is hoping to get its side without wrestling with either SI or the movie producers but by simply hawking the diamond for development campaign and resolutions of next months Kimberly process meeting.