Diamonds are forever… a problem
“Naturescattered diamonds liberally over the CAR, but since colonial times foreign entrepreneurs and grasping regimes have benefited from the precious stone more than the Central African people,” writes the International Crisis Group (ICG) in a 2010 report, adding that “The French ransacked their colony of its natural resources, and successive rulers have treated power as licence to loot.”
Indeed, over the years before the current CAR crisis, illegal exploitation of natural resources fuelled corruption and deprived the state of much-needed resources. In 1983 for example, notes the ICG, “records showed that importing countries had received from the CAR 495,000 carats more than the total official exports.” In 1993, the official diamond exports from the CAR stood at some 494,000 carats.
Some 100,000 people are active in the mining sector but the most involved have always been the country’s presidents themselves, starting with Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the former selfanointed emperor. President Ange-Felix Patasse even ran his own diamond mining company from the presidential palace, while François Bozizé, deposed in March 2013, kept a tight personal control over the sector.
“In our country,” laments Julien Bela, the editor of Centrafrique Matin, a daily newspaper, “our leaders have their minds only on the business of diamonds and nothing else. No one has a plan on how to develop agriculture or what to do with our youth.” Jean-Paul Ngoupande, a former prime minister, concurred: “In the Central African Republic, heads of state are first and foremost diamond merchants.”