Central African Republic: An inside look into the social media world of diamond smuggling
A new undercover investigation by Global Witness shows how diamond smugglers are making use of social media platforms as they seek to get diamonds linked to the ongoing violent conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) out of the country and into international markets.
“A Game of Stones” reveals how the tools of the digital economy—from Facebook to WhatsApp—are being used by CAR’s traders to find international partners and evade the already limited scrutiny of international diamond markets.
Posing as a diamond trader, Global Witness went undercover, entering the murky world of CAR’s traders, smugglers, and middlemen. This year-long investigation showed first-hand how deals are done and agreements forged amidst continued violence and displacement in the diamond-rich country.
“In a poor and fragile country where diamond wealth should be flowing to the civilian population, too much profit is instead finding its way into the hands of those who are helping drive the conflict,” said Aliaume Leroy of Global Witness. “It is critical that the trade in CAR’s natural resources is given as prominent role in efforts to find peace, as they have played in fuelling the conflict itself,” he added.
Global Witness has been able to gain unprecedented access to those involved in smuggling diamonds out of CAR. Sellers and middlemen work by tagging prospective buyers in Facebook posts before using private messaging services to build relationships and negotiate deals.
The Kimberley Process—the international body set up to disrupt the trade in conflict diamonds—is currently trialling a new and innovative response to the trade in conflict diamonds from CAR. After suspending the entirety of CAR’s diamond trade for several years, it recently announced a “partial lifting” of the suspension, aiming to permit trade from certain zones deemed “compliant” by observers.
“CAR is precisely the kind of case the Kimberley Process was established to confront,” said Michael Gibb of Global Witness. “It illustrates perfectly that it cannot tackle the continued trade in conflict diamonds alone. Diamond companies must take greater responsibility for building an industry that stops ill-gotten gains reaching international markets,” he added.
Global Witness’ conversations with diamond smugglers during the investigation expose the potential perils and risks of this ambitious plan. Diamonds continue to be moved with ease within the country, as well as across its international borders. At the same time, large stocks of diamonds purchased during the conflict are sitting in company offices awaiting an opportunity to leave their troubled past behind them and join international markets.
“CAR undoubtedly needs a diamond trade, but it needs a responsible trade more,” said Leroy. “For too long, CAR’s resources have been looted by those in power, or those wishing to seize it. The current instability is an occasion for caution, not a business opportunity,” he added.
A game is playing out over the future of CAR’s diamonds. While armed groups and unscrupulous international traders eye a quick profit or the means to buy guns and the loyalty of desperate young men, governments and the diamond industry are looking to enlist CAR’s diamonds in the process of building peace.