The United Nations Security Council had just voted unanimously to lift a ban on importing rough diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire. The ban had been put in place in 2005, after the UN found that rebels were using diamonds to fund arms purchases during its civil war, which had begun in 2002.
For the first time in nearly a decade, diamond exports, which once supplied jobs for tens of thousands of workers in this West African country, once again became legal. But, after nine years out of the (legal) diamond game, Côte d’Ivoire had to completely rebuild its diamond industry.
In the intervening years before the ban was lifted, diamond buying houses had become defunct, the national mining company left the area, and legitimate financiers packed up and left. Mining had continued, but in secret: artisanal miners had dug in the night, selling at bargain basement prices to illicit buyers, who in turn smuggled the rough diamonds out of the country. Despite the ban, the UN estimates that Côte d’Ivoire extracted a minimum of 50,000 carats per year, and that the diamond industry employed at least 200,000 Ivoirians.
Now, the euphoria of lifting the ban was wearing off, and Ivoirians were grappling with the realities of how to actually re-enter the legal diamond trade.
Fast forward two and a half years, and it appears that progress has been slow, but steady. In 2015 — the year after the ban was lifted — Cote d’Ivoire legally exported 14,000 carats. This year, it has already surpassed 20,000 carats.
“The biggest impact is simply the fact that there are now exports,” said Terah DeJong, Country Director for USAID’s Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development (PRADD) II project, which works with the Government of Cote d’Ivoire, the international community, and the miners themselves to strengthen diamond governance while also improving the livelihoods in mining communities. “We engaged quite strongly with diplomatic partners here to convince the government to approve some of these local actors as legal exporters. And that immediately meant that the legal chain of custody was complete and the diamonds could flow out correctly.”
Over the last two years, PRADD II, which is co-funded by the United States Government and the European Union, worked to train diamond inspectors, tax and customs agents, diamond buying cooperatives, and others along the diamond export chain. The project teamed up with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to train Ivoirians on diamond inspection techniques, and provided electronic weighing scales to mining cooperatives. Miners have been registered, sales slips issued, diamonds evaluated by experts in Abidjan, and Kimberley Process certificates — which indicate that diamonds are free from conflict — obtained by exporters. Diamonds are leaving the country, legally.
“A big question mark was what would happen after the embargo,” DeJong said. “So it’s gratifying to see that at its most basic level the Kimberley Process chain of custody is functioning.”
Still, DeJong explains, while diamonds are eventually entering the legal chain of custody, they are not always originating there. In other words, whereas miners are supposed to sell via licensed diamond buying cooperatives, some are still selling to unlicensed intermediaries, who in turn sell them to buying houses.
One of the reasons miners are side-stepping the legal cooperatives is that these cooperatives charge a 12 percent tax, which is used for community improvements. Miners don’t trust the cooperatives to disburse the money fairly, partly because the opacity of how this 12 percent tax is distributed. PRADD II is working to change these perceptions by improving the transparency of funds disbursement within the cooperatives. It is also working with the cooperatives to provide better tools and training on mining techniques, in order to improve incentives for miners to sell their stones legally.
PRADD II is also working across several fronts to help diversify and improve the livelihoods of diamond mining communities. For example, the project works with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to pilot innovative techniques to model alluvial diamond deposits, and has recently contracted with an Ivoirian start-up to develop an educational app that teaches miners about how diamonds are valued, a knowledge gap that contributes to fraud and poverty. In the coming months, the project will introduce techniques and technologies, like a portable diamond density sorter, aimed at making digging safer and more environmentally friendly.
Critically, PRADD II’s work includes helping women gain access to land so that they can engage in farming, and also helping demarcate village boundaries, so that miners and their families can obtain land certificates and secure the rights to their land. PRADD II works with women’s cooperatives to help them organize and participate more actively in decisions that are usually left to men — for example, with respect to land allocation and the handling of household funds. It also provides them with agricultural assistance, through field demonstrations and access to extension agents.
This effort has not gone unnoticed:
“I was not expecting that the project would so directly help my sisters, so it gives me great pleasure to see that they have not been left out,” Fatima Thes, Director of the Cabinet Adjoint of Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of Mines, Petrol and Energy, remarked at a recent PRADD II event.
The project is empowering women to speak up for their rights as vital members of diamond mining households, and to improve their production techniques. These on-farm advances allow families to diversify their income, and alleviate the pressure on miners.
“We believe that if women have a more active role in the decision-making, the investments will be better for the community,” DeJong explained. “Miners will often quote an African proverb that says, ‘the night brings wisdom’, referring to how men discuss important issues with their wives at home. We tell them that’s good, but that if women participate more openly, the day will bring wisdom as well.”
While progress is slow, PRADD II project staff remain optimistic that Cote d’Ivoire’s legal diamond exports will meet, and even surpass, pre-ban levels, and that this time, artisanal miners will benefit.
By: Yuliya Neyman, Land Governance and Legal Advisor, E3/Land