Friday, June 5, 2020

De Beers has to show some generosity at the negotiating table

Botswana Government and the global diamond mining company De Beers are about to enter into their latest round of negotiations.

For the two sides it should neither be an overwhelming or insurmountable task given that many such similar rounds of negotiations have been completed previously.

But there is one element worth noting, which is that the current negotiations come on the backdrop of very powerful global realities.

And the two sides are advised to pay particular attention to these new sweeping realities that are both political and economic in nature.

A populist global wind of change is sweeping across the world.

Botswana’s approach to partner with De Beers has worked mainly because the country’s leadership was from early on prepared to accept that there were things that were better left to experts.

And for centuries, De Beers and its old time axis, Anglo American were the world experts when it came to mining, especially diamonds mining.

In many parts of Africa, resources like diamonds, gold, cobalt and others have brought not the kind of wealth that Botswana has seen, but rather misery, poverty, wards and squalor.

They are often threatened by disease and violence.

While people who mine diamonds in Botswana live descent and healthy lives, in other countries miners in similar position live miserable and even short lives.

This is because in Botswana, the De Beers-run operations pay particularly high attention to the livelihood of these workers.

That of course is a result of a framework crafted and agreed to by Botswana Government.

Having said that it is important for De Beers to bear in mind that a groundswell of Botswana citizens are of the strong view that the country has been dealt a raw deal by the partnership.

There are growing voices arguing that the country is earning too little from its diamonds.Of course a part of that caveat is that the country could be getting more if the country was able to produce good quality negotiators who can stand up to the De Beers experts, and also who could faithfully represent the country at the table without running to get a few crumbs for themselves from the other side.

As is the case with other negotiations involving African government against western powers and western interests as is De Beers today, a growing number of Batswana are beginning to believe that part of the reasons why the country often gets less than what is due to it is the fact that over and above the negotiators genuine incompetence they often are on the take, thus deliberately shying away from being aggressive even when that is called for.

Botswana and De Beers are about to enter into a new round of negotiations that if successful would usher a new Agreement.

The details of negotiations between Government and de Beers as well as the final Agreement are as always shrouded in secrecy.

Not much difference is expected with the regards to the about to start negotiations, and of course the resultant Agreement.

There is however one thing that is markedly different this time around which both De Beers and Botswana Government are best advised to take care of.

Across the world populist politicians are tapping into public anger against the political elite and also against global corporate giants like De Beers.

There is a simmering anger at public perceptions that big business is colluding with the elite to undermine the ordinary man.

As we say above while relationship between De beers and Botswana Government has by and large, it does not preclude a populist to come forward and say the reason why Batswana find themselves in the current economic difficulties is a result of collusion between De Beers and a few elite government officials that will be sitting at the table to hammer yet another Agreement.

Ordinary Batswana, like the rest of the world are increasingly demanding bigger cuts of their country’s patrimony. And De Beers should be sensitive to this.

If Botswana Government and De Beers are oblivious to this new reality, they both risk being chaffed off by popular rebellion.

De Beers especially should be both generous and magnanimous in its approach. Only when they are flexible and less dogmatic will they be able to save what they are to achieve.

Batswana believe that over the years the Agreements between De Beers and the Government have been outcomes of imbalanced power between the two sides, with De Beers always tipping the scale.

This outcome of perceived imbalances of power between Botswana Government and De Beers needs to be corrected or else the relationship will one day end up in tears.


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