One expects to see a lot of things on a trip to the Central African Republic (CAR): incredible views of the jungle, crushing scenes of poverty and underdevelopment, inspiring glimpses of hope at what the future could hold. One expects to come across sweet and innocent children who remind any visitor of children everywhere and of his or her own privileged place on the planet. If one looks closely enough, one might even expect to understand more about how a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program in CAR since 2007 has brought a bit more hope to this country’s children.
But there are also surprises that are completely unexpected. What visitor, even one representing the U.S. government, expects to come to Bossui, a village participating in such a program, and be met by a group of women singing and dancing in his honor — and receive a live goat as a gift?
More importantly, what visitor expects to see the true impact and power of a USAID program — and the larger Kimberley Process (KP), the international scheme designed to prevent rebel groups and their allies from selling diamonds to fund their conflicts — in the form of a “for sale” sign?
In the eight years since the KP’s implementation, the world has been told many things about what the KP can, and cannot, do. Anyone who reads the headlines will be told that the KP cannot “deal with” Zimbabwe. And they will also hear that the KP cannot yet stop smuggling or “absolutely, positively” guarantee that the diamond they buy in a jewelry store is entirely “clean.”
But what is happening in the CAR because of the KP and the U.S.-funded USAID program — formally entitled Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development and informally known as PRADD — shows that the program’s impact could eventually be even greater than its aspirations. The best way to understand PRADD undoubtedly is to watch a 30-minute documentary available on the USAID Land Tenure Unit’s website (www.usaidlandtenure.net), “More than a Piece of Paper.” The film itself is award-winning and guaranteed not to bore viewers who might otherwise resist documentaries.
Basically, the core goal of PRADD is to clarify and secure the property rights of individual miners. This is seen as the first and essential step in normalizing and formalizing artisanal mining as a meaningful economic activity that is not dependent on pernicious relationships with traders further up the supply chain. As a result, more diamonds are brought into the legal chain of custody, and miners’ livelihoods are secured and strengthened.
To date, more than 2,000 mining claims in CAR have been mapped and publicly validated, and had property rights certificates delivered, through the PRADD program — meaning the CAR government recognizes the miners’ property rights where none existed before. The impact of this recognition is enormous, particularly in the power it gives back to the miners and their local communities. As such, it demonstrates the potential for the impact of the mission of the KP — to ensure that the entire rough diamond supply chain is formalized and “ring-fenced” so that conflict diamonds cannot penetrate the system. In recognition of this success and its potential, the CAR government recently announced it would adopt and manage the property rights certification aspects of the PRADD program on its own. For more about the PRADD program, see “The Road to Progress,” page 36.
Sign of Success
Now to the “for sale” sign. While driving through Bossui on a recent visit, Sébastien Pennes, the indefatigable and dynamic chief of party for PRADD in CAR, noted a sign posted by a local miner looking to sell or rent his mining site. The sign may seem banal to visitors from other countries and other mining sites, but it is almost revolutionary in an artisanal diamond mining area in CAR. Such a sign is possible only because the rights to the site have been formally negotiated and boundaries demarcated with local community and government stakeholders.
These are areas where miners and diggers previously were working in hopes that no one would remove them the next day — either by force or because the government simply decided to allocate the land to someone else. They were motivated to use whatever means they could to exploit a site as quickly as possible, regardless of the impact on the environment or local population. Short-term decision-making also left miners vulnerable to a variety of rent-seeking and predatory traders, with detrimental effects on their livelihoods. Thanks to PRADD and to the newly recognized legitimacy of their land claims,miners now have a greater degree of land tenure security and property value.
In addition to active mining sites being advertised for sale, Pennes says that some former mining sites are being sold so they can be used for alternative livelihood efforts that PRADD is facilitating, including fishponds and fruit tree orchards. Interestingly enough, in some cases, fishponds can bring in more money to a community over time than diamonds. Again, whereas these sites would simply have rotted away in the past as environmentally degraded areas with no economic potential — the ultimate symbol of the broken dreams and broken backs that artisanal diamond mining so often represents — real value is now being created that goes directly to the individuals and their communities.
Way to an End
To anyone witnessing the impact this program is having in CAR, this is the essence of empowerment. And it is the essence of what the KP and PRADD are all about. The KP’s primary requirement is that a country has “internal controls” that track diamonds from production to export. In too many places, however, this is not happening in artisanal areas because the socioeconomic factors are not present to allow a miner to sell into the formal system. But with more time and assistance from governments helping to strengthen internal controls — through development programs like PRADD (and others, like those of the Diamond Development Initiative) that can then be adopted and implemented by governments — the KP can make a significant step toward eventually ending the trade in conflict diamonds.
It will not do so by stopping conflicts directly, but by empowering the vulnerable communities that mine diamonds — empowering them to such an extent that they are secure enough to buy and sell their rights, and to benefit from doing things through proper legal channels. However unexpected, it is an achievement of which everyone can be proud. F
Brad Brooks-Rubin is special advisor for conflict diamonds at the U.S. State Department.