(Rapaport…March 15, 2001) The government of Botswana has hired a U.S. public relations firm and dispatched cabinet ministers, the governor of the central bank and the nation’s president in a public relations campaign to spread the word that Botswana’s diamonds are conflict-free.
“We are fearful of a consumer boycott of diamonds, being honest producers and at the same time being more dependent on diamonds than most,” President Festus Mogae said to foreign reporters.
Botswana accounts for one-third of the world diamond trade and the nations’ relative prosperity is dependent on diamond revenues. According to a report in the Associated Press, the average annual income has risen from about $80 three decades ago to $3,600 today, thanks to diamonds. Diamonds account for three-fourths of all export earnings, one half of government revenues and one-third of Botswana’s gross domestic product.
“If you are an American housewife…and you are shown little girls with their arms amputated and you are told that this is because of diamonds, the natural reaction is to have a revulsion against diamonds. And that’s what we are afraid of,” said Louis Nchindo, managing director of Debswana, the joint venture between De Beers and the government of Botswana.
Botswana officials say governments and rebel groups, not the commodity they are exploiting, should be condemned for the violence,. The southern African nation has joined in the international efforts to devise a certification process to help curb the trade in conflict diamonds and has supported UN resolutions condemning them.