Sunday, February 28, 2021

Dubai puts Botswana’s diamond industry to shame

Last week, the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources announced that minister Kitso Mokaila had gone to the Middle East, specifically the city state of Dubai.

The minister had gone there, among other things, to learn from Dubai how the diamond industry had developed in that country.

Dubai, it must be pointed out, has no known diamond reserves.

What the city state did was to harness the downstream activities of diamond mining and develop a considerable niche for itself, which include knowledge base, diamond marketing, cutting, polishing and luxury jewellery sales.

In less than two decades, the Dubai diamond industry has become a multi-billion dollar industry, employing multitudes, but more importantly, becoming a formidable international hub that cannot be disregarded, not even by much bigger international diamond centres like New York, London, Israel, and Antwerp.

We go out of our way to narrate the story of Dubai because it better tells in more explicit and graphic detail the extent to which Botswana, as the world’s leading diamond producer, has itself missed out.

The fact that it was only a few years ago that Dubai put into place processes to become an international diamond hub, when Botswana was already by far the world’s greatest producer by value is telling.

Even more telling is the fact that a few years down the line we have a minister of state responsible for diamonds, going to Dubai, not to parley and compare notes, but rather to learn the basics.
A reminder of the fact that Dubai does not itself produce any diamonds seals the whole episode.
There is no doubt that Dubai’s achievements in the diamond industry frontier put us all to shame.
This happens while we were busy debating the potential benefits to be accrued.

For many years that debate was held hostage by powerful interests in Government.

These are the same people who today own stakes given to them as tokens in the foreign dominated cutting and polishing firms that have since settled in Botswana.

No wonder many of our ministers and other politicians are today known by derogative pseudonyms of “Mr. and Mrs. 10 percent” because that is about all they are ever able to extract as political gifts from their guests, the so-called foreign investors.

There was a lot of excitement when it was announced a few years ago that Botswana will become a world diamond hub as a result of beneficiation and the relocation of the Diamond Trading Company from London to Gaborone.

That excitement is slowly giving way to despondency because of realization that the same people who held back beneficiation for that long are now the same people who are benefitting from the belated exercise.

Beneficiation and relocation of DTC was supposed to entail much more than creating menial jobs. It was supposed to transform the economy in many ways beyond just diamonds.

That is not what we see happening. Instead we see our top politicians putting themselves through the paces to become ultimate beneficiaries of a scheme that was meant to benefit the entire country.
That is the tragedy of Botswana’s diamond industry.

By the time diamonds get depleted, as they sure will, Botswana would, owing on account of greed, ignorance and outright theft on the part of leadership, have nothing to show for it except big wholes from where diamonds used to be dug from the belly of the earth.

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