• Botswana’s Booming Diamond Trade: How the Diamond Industry and Compliance with the Kimberley Process Helped Foster the Growth of a Nation in the Post-Colonial Era.

By: Kylie Cumback

In the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, Botswana’s diamond industry has helped the nation thrive. A handful of sprawling diamond mines controlled by the most famous name in the diamond industry—De Beers—dot the country’s rugged terrain. In Fall 2017, Botswana underwent it’s third KP review—and pledged to remain transparent and follow the KP.

In Botswana the industry is flourishing. In a single year the Jwaneng Mine alone produces over 10.2 Million carats of diamonds.[1] That’s roughly 2,100 kilos. [2] The Jwaneng mine, also known as the “Prince of Mines,” first opened in 1982 and helped Botswana become one of the richest countries in Africa.[3]  Diamond mining in Botswana accounts for “one quarter of GDP, approximately 85% of export earnings, and about one-third of the government’s revenues.”[4]  

Even after over 40 years of operation in the region, Botswana’s mines are still producing awe-inspiring diamonds. The Lesedi La Rona, a massive rough diamond, was pulled from the Karowe Mine in 2015.[5] In September 2017, the gem, the second largest rough diamond ever found and the largest found in the past century—at 1,111 carats it is second only to the infamous 3,106-carat-Cullinan Diamond—sold to a jeweler for a staggering $53 million.[6]

Botswana’s economic and democratic success is the happy product of “good luck.”[7] In 1966, Botswana gained independence from Great Britain.[8] Foreign colonial entities believed that Botswana was resource barren, and as a result, the colonial powers had no motivation to retain control of the nation. Thus, the transition to democracy and independent governance went smoothly.[9] A year later, diamonds were discovered.[10] 

For the next four decades, the diamond industry helped foster a working democracy with a strong economy. In the early days of diamond success, Botswana’s politicians all agreed to use  diamond money to fund a school system, to build better infrastructure, and to fund other necessities that colonial powers had neglected.[11] In the early 1990s, Botswana proved that its young government could handle even the most trying of times. When the HIV/AIDS crisis hit, Botswana invested diamond money into purchasing medicine for all infected citizens.[12]

Today, Botswana is ranked as one of the least corrupt nations in the world and as the least corrupt nation in sub-Saharan Africa.[13] Today, Botswana is ranked as one of the least corrupt nations in the world and as the least corrupt nation in sub-Saharan Africa.[14] Each year Transparency International ranks 176 nations based on the perception of corruption.[15] In 2016, Botswana was ranked as the 35th least corrupt nation worldwide[16]—to give some perspective, the United States ranks number 18 and France ranks number 23.[17] North Korea, South Sudan, and Somalia are ranked 174, 175 and 176 respectively.[18]

Botswana is a unique success story of the diamond industry in Africa. Many other nations have not had the same level of successes that Botswana has endured. In Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the diamond industry became a tool of violent civil war and political turmoil.[19]  These nations were not awarded the same chances of “good luck.” Instead, leaders like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe embezzle diamond profits to “prop up” their dictatorships.[20]

But, these diamonds also have a storied and “bloody” history. Conflict diamonds, also known as “blood diamonds” funded decades of civil war across the continent.[21]  The United Nations defines conflict diamonds as “diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”[22]

In order to combat the use of diamonds in funding the civil wars, the global community united to create the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme [the KP or the KPCS].[23] The KPCS was formally enacted in 2003, and is a partnership between the participant nations, the diamond industry, civil society, and is guided by a UN Mandate.[24] The KP mandates that participants establish minimum standards including import and export regulations, certify each shipment of diamonds, prohibits participants from trading with non-participants, and it requires that each participant agrees to high levels of transparency.[25] De Beers was a strong advocate for changes to the trade after the role diamonds played in civil unrest in some African nations was exposed.[26] In fact, it revamped its “best practices” guide for buying up diamond supplies, and it came to the table in 2000 to help draft the KPCS. The KP has, in many respects, been very successful—it claims to prevent 99.8% of the global trade in conflict diamonds.[27] In other respects, it certainly can be better—for example, sometimes conflict diamonds are smuggled across borders into countries where the KP is not as strictly regulated—and subsequently, the diamonds are given false certificates and then enter into the global trade.[28]

In fall of 2017, Botswana underwent its third KP review, the first and second occurred in 2004 and 2011, respectively. Botswana pledged to follow the core tenants of the KP, a delegate stated, “[o]ver the years we have benefited from this process and we will continue to demonstrate our commitment to it. . . We will do what we need to do to ensure that we are compliant all the time and improve where necessary. We will avail any information that the visiting peer review team may require.” [29]

Conflict diamonds may not be as prevalent these days, but the with global awareness focused on the illicit trade in the tainted gems, the KP has served an important role in eradicating the diamonds from the trade. In Botswana, the KP has provided a certain level of legitimacy to the trade;[30] whereas in other nations, the KP has served as a highly effective ‘police force’ within the industry—and contributed to the cessation of armed conflicts in Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, and Liberia.[31]



[1] Peter Guest, Inside the World’s Richest Diamond Mine, CNNWorld (Dec. 3, 2015, 8:51AM), http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/03/africa/botswana-diamonds-jwaneng/index.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] CIA World Factbook, Botswana, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bc.html (last visited Nov. 7, 2017).

[5] Nurith Aizenman, When Botswana Sells Its Big Diamond, Who Will Benefit?, NPR (June 29, 2016, 5:03AM), http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/06/29/483695466/botswana-s-economy-needs-more-than-diamonds-to-shine.

[6] Diamond Lesedi La Rona sold for $53 Million to London Jeweller, BBCNews (Sept. 26, 2017), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-41398871.

[7] Aizenman, supra note 5.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.; Jason Beaubien, Botswana’s ‘Stunning Achievement’ Against Aids, NPR (July 9, 2012, 6:00AM), http://www.npr.org/2012/07/09/156375781/botswanas-stunning-achievement-against-aids (Transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their fetuses and newborn babies has been brought down to just 4 percent. A decade ago, Botswana was facing a national crisis as AIDS appeared on the verge of decimating the country's adult population. Now, Botswana provides free, life-saving AIDS drugs to almost all of its citizens who need them.”).

[13] Corruption Perception Index 2016, Transparency Int’l (Jan. 25, 2017), https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id. (For comparison, Sierra Leone, another sub-Saharan African diamond powerhouse, ranks 123 out of 176 nations. Id.).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Tim Hughes, Conflict Diamonds and the Kimberley Process: Mission Accomplished—or Mission Impossible?, 13 S. African J. Int’l Affairs 115, 115 (Jan. 26, 2010).

[20] Jacey Fortin, De Beers Moves to Botswana, Africa’s Conflict-Free Diamond in the Rough, IBTimes (Aug. 16, 2012, 6:23AM), http://www.ibtimes.com/de-beers-moves-botswana-africas-conflict-free-diamond-rough-747494.

[21] Hughes, supra note 19, at 116.

[22] Diamondfacts.org, Conflict Diamonds, http://www.diamondfacts.org/index.php%3Foption%3Dcom_content%26view%3Darticle%26id%3D128%26Itemid%3D134%26lang%3Den (last visited Nov. 6, 2017).

[23] Id.

[24] What is the KP?, https://www.kimberleyprocess.com/en/what-kp (last visited Nov. 7, 2017).

[25] Id.

[26] Hughes, supra note 19, at 120.

[27] Id.

[28] Aryn Baker, Blood Diamonds, TIME, http://time.com/blood-diamonds/(last visited Nov. 6, 2017).

[29] Botswana Pledges to Comply With KP Regulations on Diamond Trade, APA News (Oct. 25, 2017), https://www.journalducameroun.com/en/botswana-pledges-to-comply-with-kp-regulations-on-diamond-trade/.

[30] Bots Undergoes Third Diamond Trade Compliance Review, The Southern Times (Nov. 3, 2017), https://southernafrican.news/2017/11/03/bots-undergoes-third-diamond-trade-compliance-review/.

[31] Hughes, supra note 19, at 123.