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DeBeers, Botswana deal under the lens again

Publishing Date : 10 September, 2019

Author : UTLWANANG GASENNELWE

Botswana must revisit its diamond agreement with DeBeers, the Africa report titled “Botswana unravels: unmasking Africa’s democracy poster child” released on Wednesday, 28 August 2019 has revealed.


It states that the current agreement expires in March 2021, and, according to that agreement, negotiations for a new one should be completed before September 2020 – a year from now. According to the report, negotiations started in July and BDP seems keen to renew the agreement perhaps pushing for stronger government power and involvement. 


“Sadly, the agreement does not appear to be a big election issue and the opposition seems unconcerned while the ruling party, on the other hand, continues the renewal negotiations in complete secrecy raising concerns of another secret deal, which may be even worse than the current one,” report points out.


Before that, the Africa report highlights that it must fully disclose to its citizens the detailed nature of this relationship, including the respective past and current financial benefits. For far too long, it explains that the secret deal has provided fertile ground for zero accountability on the part of the ruling elite and DeBeers. It states that the bottom line is Botswana must stop believing the myth and confront corruption, and this, and the non-transparent manner in which diamond revenue is managed and shared.


Even more damning and paradoxical, it says Botswana is technically a rich country but in reality, half of its 2.4-million people live in poverty – essentially the problem of how its diamond wealth is managed and distributed. In Botswana, the report posits that in the underlying, there is a carefully crafted system, aimed at subverting – not advancing – democratic practice, manipulating control of diamond revenue for political advantage, and entrenching and preserving BDP’s political hegemony.


Diamonds contribute 80% of Botswana’s revenue. Based on its diamond wealth measured against its population, Botswana is officially considered a middle-income country. South African diamond mining giant, DeBeers, began prospecting for diamonds in northern Botswana in early 1970 and opened its first mine at Orapa in 1972. In 1982, it opened what became the world richest diamond mine in Jwaneng. In 1969, the government of Botswana entered into an agreement with DeBeers to establish DEBSWANA, in which each party had a 50% stake.


DEBSWANA is a key player in Botswana’s economy, employing over 5,000 public sector workers and making a significant contribution to government revenue. The partnership between the government and DeBeers has been one of the longest-running public-private partnerships in history but also one that is considered to be well managed on the face of it. However, a closer look reveals that this, too, is a myth.

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