Conflict Over Conflict-Free Diamonds in Zimbabwe

14 12 2010

Are you a conscious shopper?  When you buy lumber or wood furniture, do you always buy it from a certified sustainable source?  When you buy clothes, do you check to make sure the company doesn’t use sweatshop labor?  Is your chocolate fair-trade?  Are your diamonds conflict-free?

Is there really any way to know?

Despite having the best intentions to use your consumer dollars to lobby for human rights and sustainable practices, and despite the hard work of NGOs with their certification schemes, it can be nearly impossible to know where your money is actually going.

Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds

Zimbabwe’s Chiadzwa region, near the border of Mozambique, is the source of a large percentage of the world’s diamonds.  In the last few years, Mugabe’s soldiers have been strafing independent miners with machine guns and forcing them to work in the mines as virtual slaves before smuggling the gems out of the country for sale.  The diamonds are often smuggled through Mozambique, which is not a party to the Kimberly Process, the primary international certifying scheme for diamonds.  The money from these diamonds has funded much of Mugabe’s brutal regime in Zimbabwe, which is why the diamonds have not been cleared for sale by the Kimberly Process.

It would make your buying decision easier if that was the end of the story.  The diamonds aren’t certified, so they shouldn’t show up on the market, right?  Wrong.  In the last few months, South Africa, Namibia and Angola have all said that they would allow Chiadzwa diamonds to be mixed in with their own certified diamonds for sale to international markets if the Chiadzwa diamonds are not approved.  They believe that the Government of Zimbabwe has met the demands of the Kimberly Process and should now be approved.   According to a news source in Zimbabwe, though, “the military has continued its brutal control of Chiadzwa and there have been continued reports of abuses at the military’s hands. This has included reports of intimidation of local villagers, forced labour and rampant smuggling.”

The Kimberly Process has been going back-and-forth on whether or not to certify the diamonds, feeling the pressure both from African nations that want them certified, and international human rights groups that are fighting the certification.  The United States still has sanctions in place that don’t allow U.S.-based diamond dealers to knowingly purchase diamonds from this region, and this ban is likely to stay in place regardless of the decision by Kimberly.  One way or another, the validity and authority of the Process will be questioned once the final decision is made.

Illegal Products Can Slip Through the Cracks of Any Certification Scheme

While “blood diamonds” have gotten a lot of attention in the media after the movie with DiCaprio came out, not every product has such a heavy-hitting spokesperson.  All certification schemes, be they fair trade coffee, sustainable forestry, non-DRC coltan, or conflict-free diamonds have chinks in their armor and can’t be perfect.  Wherever humans are involved, there are people who can be bought off.  Wherever borders are permeable, as they are in much of Africa, smuggling can take place, confusing the origin of any product.  You can buy illegally-cut mahogany from Uganda and poached Ivory from Zambia, all through legal channels, because of these weaknesses.

Certification schemes are an important part of our increasingly-globalized economy.  We need other people and organizations to watch out for us, because we simply can’t do enough research into every single product we use.  These watchdog groups also put pressure on oppressive regimes or industries and make it a lot harder for them to abuse their employees, their citizens or the environment.  They are a huge improvement over the free-for-all a few decades ago when nobody was watching, and it is much harder to hide anything in this connected world.  Buying products that are certified is, for the most part, much better for people and the planet.

But we can’t just sit back and assume that these certification schemes will do all the work for us, because they can’t.  We still need to do at least some research, and then make our decisions.  If 80% of certified diamonds on the market truly are conflict-free, is that a high enough percentage to make it worth buying that ring and supporting that industry?  Only you can make that decision.


If you are inspired to do so, please put your answers in the comments section so that we can all benefit from your thoughts:

  1. Do you try to buy products that have been certified (ie. Fair Trade, Forest Stewardship Council, etc)?  If so, why?  If not, why not?
  2. Are there specific products that you try to do research on before making a purchase?
  3. What are the best resources you have come across for researching the origins of products?

Read More About Zimbabwe’s Chiadzwa Diamonds:

Africa plans to subvert Zim diamond ban

Conflict & Blood Diamonds: Zimbabwe

US$1 billion Marange diamonds looted

Critics step up call for Kimberley Process Reform

Mines Minister insists full diamonds sales will resume

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala


Okay, NOW I’m a Fan of WikiLeaks…

10 12 2010

Palin the latest target as ‘all-out cyber war’ breaks out over WikiLeaks

Sarah Palin is the latest target of “Operation Payback,” the group of hacktivists who have been launching cyber-attacks against organizations and people working against WikiLeaks.

Palin drew attention last week when she said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.”

ABC News reports:

The website and personal credit card information of former Gov. Sarah Palin were cyber-attacked today by Wikileaks supporters, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate tells ABC News in an email.

Hackers in London apparently affiliated with “Operation Payback” – a group of supporters of Julian Assange and Wikileaks – have tried to shut down SarahPac and have disrupted Sarah and Todd Palin’s personal credit card accounts.

According to ABC’s Jake Tapper, the website associated with Operation Payback — — had listed Palin’s website as a potential target.

“This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts,” Palin said in an email.

As the old proverb goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Not that I give enough thought to Sarah Palin to consider her an enemy, but that could change if she becomes our next president.  (Have you heard the one that I just made up? – When they said you need character to run for office, Palin thought they said they needed a caricature to run, so she entered politics.  Ugh.  Sorry.). For now, though, despite my sentiments in my earlier post WikiLeaks Hurts the Good Guys, Too, I am less than proud of the way our country is dealing with the leak of all this information.  Sarah Palin’s rantings, as usual, show just how juvenile we have become.

Wouldn’t it be great if the world still had real leaders?  Leaders who were willing to stand up and say “ok – now that all of this information is out on the table, what can we do to mend these relationships?”

Even though I wish the leak hadn’t happened, it seems to me that WikiLeaks hasn’t done anything illegal (although I’m not a lawyer).  If it is true that Assange is a pervert and committed sex crimes, then please do lock him up.  But, it seems like the U.S. is wasting a lot of time, money and goodwill to lock the cage after the lion escaped as far as these documents are concerned.

One of my favorite quotes in the dialogue around this is from Phil Ebersole’s blog:

“The purpose of a classified information system is to deny information to enemies of the United States, even at the price of keeping ourselves ignorant.  The Obama administration turns this on its head.  Its policy is to keep Americans ignorant of things our enemies already know.”

Now that’s just dumb.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

WikiLeaks Hurts the Good Guys, Too

6 12 2010

Let me paint you a picture.

You are a dissident in a country with a violently oppressive regime.  For years you have been fighting for your own rights and those of your people, but you have been doing it secretly since otherwise, you know you and your family would be killed.

Wanting advice, protection, or support, you take the risk of reaching out for help.  Despite its faults, the United States is still the country that you are likely to go to, believing that at the very least, you will not be turned over to your own government, and that they might even help you in your democracy-building efforts.  You have a secret conversation with a U.S. diplomat, who promises to check with the home office to find out what they can do for you.  You return home and breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t seem to have been followed after the meeting.

The next morning you get on your computer to check the news.  In the first link, you see your name on a cable sent from the embassy in your country to the State Department in the U.S. – the follow-up to your meeting.  Then you hear a knock on your door…

WikiLeaks Benefits Oppressive Regimes

This sounds like something out of a bad Tom Clancy novel, but there are people all over the world who are alone and vulnerable and who take great risks to try to make change happen in their own countries.  These secret meetings really do take place, and the only reason the individuals are willing to take the risks to ask for help is that they believe they will be protected.  Governments that terrorize their own citizens will now have access to whole lists of names of people that will suddenly “disappear” in the middle of the night.

WikiLeaks is not “Freedom of Information”

I am a big fan of the Freedom of Information Act.  When you have a specific wrong you are trying to right, I believe you should be able (and required) to make a case for why you need access to specific confidential information, just as our government should be required to show a specific need for gathering information about us.

WikiLeaks is a sledgehammer.  It comes from the idea that nothing the government does should ever be confidential.  But what about the scenario I created above?  What about information relating to covert operations against al-Quaida that could put people’s lives at risk and could prevent agents from stopping the next attack?

Some people believe that since the government works for us, we should have access to all of their communications.  How would you feel if that applied to your workplace?  Haven’t you ever written an e-mail at work that you would really rather your boss didn’t see?  Something that was harmless but a little embarrassing?  Or something related to you trying to make real, positive change happen in your company?

You Don’t Have to Support WikiLeaks to be a Liberal

I am sure I am losing some of my lefty street-cred with this post.  I still believe our government does a lot of bad things (although not as many as we did under the last administration).  I am virulently opposed to the Patriot Act or anything that gives the government access to information about citizens without just cause, and I believe that concerned citizens should be able to gain access to government records IF they have a good reason for it, or if there is an investigation of government officials happening.

However, WikiLeaks hits too broadly at freedom of information.  It hurts too many good people in its efforts to attack the government.  It also allows anybody with a decent scanner to fake “leaked documents” and target anybody they don’t like.

I really couldn’t care less about the documents that highlight insults between one government leader and another.  The people running countries are all grown-ups with thick skin, and they know how the game is played.  Hearing that Hillary Clinton thinks you are a weenie isn’t going to change the global dynamic much.  There are a lot of people that really could get hurt or even killed by this, though.  Even here in Uganda, which is a fairly open society, people do “go missing,” unexplained “accidents” happen, and a few car trunks have been graced by people who oppose the government.

WikiLeaks will make these people – little people who need help – afraid to seek out that help.  When I was growing up during the tail end of the Cold War, there was a whole slate of movies dedicated to the Americans helping Russians to defect.  I believe that is still one of the higher aspects of who we try to be, or who we wish we were – the country that oppressed people can go to for help.

WikiLeaks sends a strong message that those people are on their own.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

120 Girls Circumcised in Uganda Last Week

5 12 2010

It is horrifically ironic that this took place in the middle of the 16 Days of Activism against Violence Towards Women.  Read this article in the New Vision:

Link: 120 Sabiny girls circumcised

SOME cried. Some were confused. Others still traumatised, while many were left speechless.They looked on in disbelief as a local female surgeon tried in vain thrice, probably using a very blunt knife, to cut off a girl’s clitoris.

She then asked for another, similarly blunt knife and to make it work, applied extra force, going back and forth, the way a saw cuts into timber. The girl struggled not to show fear and to contain her trembling, which is culturally unacceptable and would have attracted scorn and ridicule from the attentive crowd.

As blood gushed from her private parts, the crowd urged the girls: “Be strong! You are almost done! Remain calm!”

You can find more information and ways to take action in my earlier post, “Female Genital Mutilation Continues in Eastern Uganda.”

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Was it Really Churchill who Called Uganda “The Pearl of Africa?”

22 11 2010

I have always bought into the idea that Winston Churchill should be credited with dubbing Uganda the “Pearl of Africa.”  That’s what everybody says, and knowing that he came here and was enamored with the country, I never had a reason to doubt it.

Then this morning I read an article on Musere’s Live Journal called “Uganda the “Pearl of Africa,” Henry Morton Stanley, and Winston Spencer-Churchill.”

This article makes a pretty convincing argument that it was actually Henry Morton Stanley, that incredibly brutal explorer and scourge of Congo, who first called Uganda the “Pearl.”

I must admit that if this is true, I am a little disappointed.  However, disappointing or not, the truth must be told.

Has anyone else out there come across references that connect this phrase to Stanley rather than Churchill?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Happy Eid al-Adha

16 11 2010

Kibuli Mosque

Kibuli Mosque

Happy Eid al-Adha!

WE get the day off here in Kampala.  How about you?

Find out more about Eid al-Adha, the ending of the period of the Hajj, and one of the most important days for Muslims around the world by clicking here.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Female Genital Mutilation Continues in Eastern Uganda

12 11 2010

Female circumcision and Ugandan politics
Thursday 11 November 2010 / by Geof Magga

Although Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM) has been condemned by international bodies as an abuse of human rights, a vast majority of people from the Sebei tribe in Uganda still practice the dangerous tradition.

via Female circumcision and Ugandan politics – : Africa news, Maghreb news – The african daily newspaper.

Female Genital Mutilation is still Widespread

While the practice is limited in Uganda, according to the Stop FGM Now campaign, “over three million girls a year are still being victims of genital mutilation today, not only in Africa and Asia, but also in Europe, the USA and Australia.”

The World Health Organization estimates that between 100 and 140 million women worldwide are currently living with the results of female genital mutilation.


How do you resist when your cultural identity requires that you subject yourself to an agonizing act that can have lifelong medical complications?

Is it right for outsiders, like Uganda’s federal government or international rights organizations, to tell an ethnic group that they can no longer practice their traditions?

How can a mother want her daughters to be subjected to this? (sorry, I know my own bias is coming through here)

Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Resources and How to Take Action:

World Health Organization Fact Sheet on FGM

Stop FGM Now

End FGM European Campaign

Buy “Stop FGM” Products

This is a practice that needs to stop.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala