Botswana Ups Its Image

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Ambassador Seeks to Shed Conflict Diamond Stigma

Botswana Ambassador Alfred Uyapo Majaye Dube said that his country’s business “was hurt” by the publicity surrounding the African conflict diamond issue. Unlike countries such as Sierra Leone and Angola, Botswana has not been connected to the conflict diamond trade.

Speaking to a group of trade journalists and editors in New York City on November 14, Ambassador Dube, who is also Botswana’s minister for political and economic affairs, said he hoped that his country’s “Diamonds for Development” campaign will help clear up misperceptions that “all of Africa” deals in conflict diamonds. The campaign, he stressed, is also meant to inform the world about the major AIDS calamity facing his country and others in Africa.

“The stereotype of Africa paints a picture that is almost hopeless, with famine and war,” Dube said. “We offer a different picture. We built up our economy from almost nothing.”The mass media, said Dube, “knows about Sierra Leone and its rebels but they don’t know the bigger story about mines such as ours that are protected under strict security conditions. We’re trying to change that. It’s a story of hope and success.”

According to the World Bank, Botswana was the fastest growing country in the world from 1966 through 1997. Prior to the first production of diamonds from its Orapa mine in 1971, Botswana was ranked one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. Today, the country is the world’s largest producer of diamonds by value and has the world’s largest diamond mine. Botswana’s diamonds account for close to half of those marketed by De Beers’ Diamond Trading Company (DTC), which equates to about 35 percent of world production.

Addressing the Conflict Diamond Issue

The Botswana government has communicated with Rep. Tony Hall and the nongovermental organizations (NGOs) regarding the conflict diamond issue. “We have different views,” he said, “but Botswana is completely at one with those trying to fight conflict diamonds. We just differ on how to do it. The industry, however, has a major responsibility to work together in addressing this issue. They can’t be silent.”

Dube said that he believed the participants at the Kimberly Process had made “some good progress” and he endorsed “some sort of a certification process, but the paperwork is not enough to end the flow of conflict diamonds. Governments must have access to the process.”

The HIV/AIDS Pandemic

Dube is also a spokesman for the campaign to fight Botswana’s HIV/AIDS pandemic. The country has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. Official statistics show that the disease has infected 25 percent of those aged 15 to 19 years old, and 53 percent of those aged 25 to 29. “AIDS got to the point it’s at today through ignorance, misinformation and a slow reaction,” Dube said. “Our culture is conservative about such issues and everyone kept quiet. Our silence was a smoking gun that cost us dearly.”

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