Diamonds are a despot's best friend
Former president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe is to face corruption charges before a committee of lawmakers. The committee has questions about the alleged exploitation of the country's Marange diamond fields.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe from 1987 to 2017, when he was kicked out of power and replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa. The new leader has vowed to tackle the rampant corruption that plagues Zimbabwe.
In 2016 Mugabe said in a speech, “We have not received much from the diamond industry at all ... I don’t think we’ve exceeded US$2 billion or so, and yet that area has earned well over US$15 billion or more”. Parliamentarians say they want to ask Mugabe the basis for his $15 bn figure.
He has often been suspected of siphoning off the diamond-field profits. In 2017, an NGO report said billions of diamond dollars had ended up in the pockets of the military, intelligence chiefs, and the president. The NGO, Global Witness, exposes corruption and abuse of the environment.
Jonathan Moyo, a former cabinet minister, said Mugabe’s ruling party even used diamond revenues to pay for political T-shirts and hats. The merchandise, for the 2013 presidential elections, amounted to $70 million, he said.
A former finance minister described diamond companies operating at Marange as a “cabal of rogue elements.” Tendai Biti said the cabal passed $2 billion a year to Zimbabwe's ruling elites.
The country isn't the first in Africa to suffer endemic corruption in mining and natural resources. As we previously reported, a corrupt executive elite mismanaged Zambia’s state-owned mining firm ZCCM-IH.
The evidence for the corruption was in leaked documents we call the Safari Papers. We received them from contacts seeking to expose corrupt semi-state companies in Africa.
What’s the next step with Robert Mugabe? No date has been set for the committee hearing and it's unclear how far lawmakers can press the ailing 94-year-old former dictator.
We predict an underwhelming verdict from Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. Despite its mantra of transparency and justice, we're likely to see neither for the man who stole billions from his people. Zimbabwe has a per capita GDP of $600, the third lowest in the world.
And there's a footnote. The unloved former first lady Grace Mugabe is also under investigation for ivory poaching.