Traders speak openly about the illegal trade in rough diamonds through border towns of Gbitti, Kentzou and Garoua-Boulai in eastern Cameroon.
By Christian Locka
The illegal trade in rough diamonds in eastern Cameroon provides a steady source of income for rebel groups on both sides of the Central African Republic’s bloody conflict.
A year-long investigation by 100 reporters found serious cracks in Cameroon’s system. Dealers openly of Kimberley Process officials, who will certify – at the right price – that gems from across the border are conflict free, whatever their origin.
In 2014, the KP national secretariat in Cameroon launched a publicity campaign to raise awareness among artisanal miners, diamond purchasing officers and collectors, as well as among Kimberley Process officials about the dangers of commercialising blood diamonds.
The efforts have done little to curb profiteering.
Cameroon was admitted as a member of the Kimberley Process in 2012 and reported the next year annual production of 2 721 carats in rough diamonds and about 3 400 carats in 2014. And yet the number of falsified rough diamond certificates seized so far outpaces its annual production, according to International Peace Information Service (IPIS), an Antwerp based research institute that specialises in natural resources.
“Forged Cameroonian Kimberley Process certificates presented abroad indicate the volume of illegal exports is significant. In 2013, the Kimberley Process Secretariat in Cameroon confirmed that a total of 6 722 carats worth of would-be Cameroonian KP certificates presented abroad were counterfeit. With a potential Cameroonian diamond production of only 5 000 carats, these almost certainly include Central African diamonds,” IPIS said in its report, Diamonds in the Central African Republic.
Most of the fake certificates and untaxed diamonds pass through the Douala International Airport, Cameroon’s economic hub. Three years after Cameroon signed the accord pledging to export diamonds that were conflict free, its airport lacked a Kimberley Process control office, despite promises from the Cameroon government and a track record of the airport’s use as a smuggling centre.
In one extreme example of fraudulent export, a parcel of 281 869 carats with a certificate of origin from Cameroon as well as a fake KP certificate left through Douala Airport at the end of 2009, according to the IPIS report.
Diamond operators interviewed for this investigation said Central African blood diamonds transported through Cameroon land in India, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates – global hubs for the international diamond trade.
Diamonds are small, have high value and it is difficult to tell where they originate. Add to this the impulse toward corruption, laissez-faire governance and the ease with which the Kimberley Process can be circumvented – and the result is a constant stream of blood diamonds entering the international market.