Review of Facets of Power - Modern Africa

Saunders, Richard and Nyamunda, Tinashe (eds.)2016. Facets of Power: Politics, Profits and People in the Making of Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds. Harare and Johannesburg: Weaver Press, Wits University Press,215 pp.

As in many other instances in Africa, the discovery of natural resources in the Marange District in eastern Zimbabwe in 2006 initially ledto high hopes about their possibly redemptive and transformative impact on the Zimbabwean economical sector and the political course of the country. These hopes proved to be short-lived. Shortly after the discovery followed the disappointment of not only fulfilling the expectations but also of worsening the living conditions among communities affected directly or indirectly by the mining and trade activities. Zimbabwe thus represents one more case of countries in which mineral wealth became a devastating curse for both the state and its inhabitants. In this regard, the collection of nine essays, edited by Richard Saunders and Tinashe Nyamunda, brings important insights into the extent of the crises caused by the mismanagement of the country’s natural resources. Yet, the book is limited by omitting some important issues, the descriptive nature of its contributions and the personal, subjective nature of some chapters.

In the first two chapters Richard Saunders describes the background specifics of the Zimbabwean diamonds mining industry and introduces many aspects of the power stemming from the Marange experience.The author describes the crucial role of the minerals sector in Zimbabwean economy during the last decades until the crises in the2000s and the subsequent period after 2006, when the discovery of diamond deposits coincided with worsening economic and political conditions, resulting in a new case of “blood diamonds” in 2007.Saunders singles out the case of Zimbabwe in the context of other cases, Angola and Sierra Leone, as the illicit trade in diamonds in Zimbabwe did not help to fuel armed rebellion, as in the previous instances, but came to pose a threat to the legitimate government from within, challenged by the management of illegal and legal mining,and also influenced the country’s potential of a successful political transition in subsequent years. Saunders’ contributions to the book are rather descriptive, yet necessary for understanding the Zimbabwean case as they are providing readers with thorough insights into another wise chaotic situation and developments in which various actors were involved and competing among themselves to access the mineral wealth and retain or gain power.

Chapter 3, written by Alan Martin, is dedicated to a closer understanding of the spread of corruption fuelled by the discovery of diamonds. The chapter gives a detailed view on the way the political and military elite established and consolidated control over the production and trade in the region; it also endeavours to uncover the linkages to regional and global networks of global legal and illegal trade with diamonds. With the help of several cases Martin illustrates the failure of Zimbabwean officials, and even international authorities such as Kimberly Process (KP), to adequately address the problems persisting in Zimbabwe. The results of such multiple level failures were felt mainly by the biggest losers from Marange: the national treasury and the Zimbabwean economy, and consequently also the social and development programmes of the government.The failure of Kimberley Process is further elaborated in chapter 4,written by Shamiso Mtisi, in which the role of KP in Marange diamond production is introduced as “an enabler of practices that violated its own core principles and practices” (p. 67). Mtisi exposes KP’s Certification Scheme for regulating the trade of rough diamonds, and its main limitations and tensions, in the Marange diamonds context.The author addresses serious shortcomings of KP which became evident in the case of Zimbabwe and consequently contributed to the creation of an environment, in which vast corruption was allowed to go together with abuses of rights and the undermining of the potential development of the country due to the loss of revenues. However, the contribution is concluded in a rather positive tone presenting a lesson learned from the Marange case, that KP has started to consider plans to reform global diamond industry.

Chapter 5, written by Farai Maguwu, provides insight into the violation of human rights by the Zimbabwean authorities connected to the diamond mining in Marange and describes the obstacles a civil society organisation had to face, obstacles posed by the government as well as by international donors and even other CSOs when highlighting such an issue. Given the author’s role as a civil society activist addressing the violent activities of the state in the area, Maguwu’s contribution is deeply affected by his involvement in the crisis and the subsequent repression he faced while endeavouring to bring the collected data and reports to the international community. This contribution can be seen as the most troublesome in the book, as it is driven by Maguwu’s personal involvement felt on every page of the chapter. This inevitably leads to the question if the contribution of NGOs in the Marange crisis should be rather written and analysed by an independent scholar? The information provided and the author’s personal experience could then remain the subject of an independent analysis, not a single source of it. Because of the personal nature of the contribution, the chapter does not fit well into the book as it appears to be the account of an individual highly influenced by the events in Zimbabwe, professionally as well as personally. Simply put, this contribution might be a good source of information for independent analysis; however, it represents a highly personal confession and because of its personal tone it may appear that the author victimises himself and consequently its content lacks credibility, whether justly or unjustly.

The following two contributions are the strongest of the book, as the well-conducted analyses are based on multiple interviews. Chapter6, written by Tinashe Nyamunda, addresses the thriving informal economy behind artisanal mining in Marange between 2006 and 2008,the “free-for-all” period, before the commercialisation of the mining by the government took off. By interviewing a number of individuals involved in mining activities in various ways, the author presents the significance of mining for individuals involved in the activity at the lowest level, who were most severely affected by the discovery of diamonds and the subsequent changeable government attitude towards their activities, during and after this phase. The following contributor, Mathew Ruguwa, focuses on the disruptive social impact of diamond mining on schooling institutions in Marange. Ruguwa’s study is based on interviews with students and teachers from two schools located in the mining area. Regarding the previous chapter, Ruguwa complements the picture of the impact of the sudden and easy access to wealth at the lowest level of society in a negative dimension disrupting the daily life in the community. In the words of one of interviewees, “In certain cases, some children would instead of paying fees for the current term, pay for the whole year – yet never turn up to attend school!” (p. 140). In other words, the chapter provides the reader with analyses of the mineral curse while pointing to a tragic irony that emerged: “some of Zimbabwe’s richest mineralised land became home to schools with some of the poorest educational results”(p. 155).

Chapter 8, written by Crescentia and Victor Madebwe, addresses the forced resettlement in the diamond-rich region during the mechanised mining period. Based on interviews with dozens of families, the authors on a few pages rather briefly underline the maltreatment of communities during the process of resettlement by the authorities, as well as the disruptive impact of relocation on the various traditional ties within the communities. The final chapter, written by Melanie Chiponda and Richard Saunders, again focuses on the community level. The authors address the issues of power and the interests of the government and the mining companies interacting with the interest of the communities living in diamond-rich Maranga. The authors again discuss several topics already analysed in the previous chapters: the role of NGOs, the violation of human rights, the relocation of the communities, and the possibilities of resistance. The contribution of this study can mainly be seen in its section addressing the situation during and after the 2013 election and the significance of these political shifts for the Marange communities. After all, this period is not addressed sufficiently in the book and it is one of the weaknesses of the collection that more space and contributions were not devoted to this issue, which would have complemented the picture of the very short diamond rush in Zimbabwe and its long-lasting impact on the regime of the country.

In general, the book under review endeavours to offer a complex picture of the complicated and chaotic Zimbabwean case of blood diamonds, yet, such an effort is limited by the nature of some contributions, which remained mostly descriptive. Moreover, some of the authors, because of their personal involvement in the Marange crisis, contributed a troublesome study lacking objectivity and thus undermining the quality of the collection. In addition, some topics were not addressed in the collection, such as a contribution dealing with a comparison of the Zimbabwean case with other blood diamond instances; although the issue is briefly mentioned in the first two chapters, more space could have been devoted to the analyses in order to underline the significance of the case in Zimbabwe. Also, the period after 2013 and the impact of the diamond rush are, surprisingly, mostly lacking in the book, despite the fact that the introduction points out the impact of the diamond mining activities and the government’s mismanagement on the regime transition. Despite these weaknesses,the book represents a good starting point for those readers unfamiliar with the Marange case. Several high-quality contributions and data gathered will hopefully be a valuable source for further analyses.

Iva Sojková