Dangerous Little Stones: Diamonds in the Central African Republic

Extreme poverty and armed conflict in the diamond-rich areas of the Central African Republic (CAR) put thousands of lives in danger and demand urgent reform of the mining sector.

Dangerous Little Stones: Diamonds in the Central African Republic, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines how poor governance, poverty and crime in the diamond business feed conflict in mining zones. After decades of misrule and state fragility, the government has neither the will nor means to ensure the country’s precious stones benefit its people. Political motivations undermine good governance of the sector and leave artisanal miners and their families struggling for their livelihoods. High export taxes encourage smuggling that weak mining authorities are powerless to stop.

“Miners enduring poverty and a parasitic state are quick to join rebel groups”, says Ned Dalby, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Analyst. “Meanwhile unchecked criminal networks enable fighters to profit from mining and selling diamonds illegally and continue to prey on civilians”.

Since President François Bozizé came to power in 2003, industrial diamond mining companies have almost all left, leaving only a huge informal sector. The regime seeks to reap profits by means of a strict legal and fiscal framework and centralised, opaque management, but expensive licences and corrupt mining police make it harder for miners to escape the poverty trap. The government’s closure in 2008 of most diamond exporting companies severely cut investment in the production chain, costing many miners their jobs and thus helping cause a spike in infant malnutrition.

Rampant smuggling fosters illicit trading networks that deprive the state of much needed revenue, while the government’s refusal to distribute national wealth fairly has led jealous factions to launch rebellions. Profits from mining and selling diamonds illegally enable armed groups to collect new recruits and create a strong incentive not to disarm.

Reform of the diamond sector is imperative to improve the living conditions of miners and their families, boost the state’s revenues and help break the cycle of armed conflict. The government needs to institute more democratic control of the sector, a matter mainly of political will, and enhance transparency. International partners should help build the capacity of mining authorities in the capital and mining zones – but only once the government has demonstrated genuine commitment. The reform strategy should prioritise artisanal above industrial mining, which has less direct impact on mining communities, aim to reduce incentives for smuggling and tighten controls to stop armed groups profiting from diamonds.

“It is high time the government and international partners commit to genuine reform of the mining sector”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director. “If not, peacebuilding will always be an unfinished business in the CAR”.

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