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ALL EYES ON BOTSWANA- DE BEER NEGOTIATIONS

Publishing Date : 07 October, 2019

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This week Botswana celebrated her 53 years of independence, a sterling economic marathon and democratic transition that began over 5 decades ago, anchored and pivoted on dedicated civil service and selfless leadership across the political divide.


Much credit goes to stalwarts in nation building, right from the immerse contribution of tribal leaders, politicians to early post-independence civil servants who started building the landlocked country’s economy from absolutely nothing. Fundamental to Botswana‘s rapid economic transformation is the discovery of what would later become one of the world’s key rough diamonds mining operation ,bolstering infrastructural development  and  birthing an upper middle income country widely celebrated across the globe today.


Immediately after independence was declared in 1966,British administration slowly  removed its aid and financial assistance, Botswana now , though still assisted on setting up was left by in large to fend for itself, however sooner than later a complete turnaround would emerge.
Three years post-independence, after over 10 years of immerse geological prospecting, Botswana‘s first diamond mine was found in Boteti District.  A team of De Beers’ geologists discovered what today is the largest diamond mine by area and one of the most important industrial diamonds mining operation in the world, the bold and magnificent Orapa mine, loosely translated to mean a resting place of lions in Sesarwa language.


This birthed what would later become the world’s leading rough diamond producer and a globally celebrated Private-Public Partnership, between Mining giants De Beers Group and Government of Botswana, De Beers Botswana Diamond Mining Company was formed in 1969. In 1971 Orapa Mine was officially commissioned, four years later a small gem pipeline discovered few kilometers from Orapa, Letlhakane Mine popularly known today as DK1 was commissioned. But behold a sparkling upswing came into light in 1972 when a  rare gem pipe was found beneath a 40 metre layer of sand and calcrete in the Naledi River Valley birthing Jwaneng Mine, the prince of mines , what is today believed to be the richest diamond mine by value.


FAST FORWARD TO 2019…

These two partners, Government of Botswana and De Beers Group are meeting to review and renew their vows, circumstances have changed, the global diamond industry has evolved, and various factors are at play.  Key to negotiations which are reported to be ongoing in discrete places at London and in Gaborone is the Sales Agreement. The Botswana-De Beers diamond sales deal was last renewed into a 10 year union in 2010 and it lapses next year September 2020.


Recently reports have been rife that Botswana is being ripped off along the way as the stones leave Debswana operations crossing borders to diamond trading centers across the globe. However De Beers Group has constantly denied these reports. Government is yet to clearly comment on the reports.


To date on the overall, the De Beers-Botswana marriage has birthed Debswana Diamond Mining Company, the partnership’s flagship entity. This year the company celebrated 50 years of existence. Debswana is Botswana‘s largest private sector employer, only government employs more people than Debswana. The company is directly owned by Botswana Government and De Beers on 50-50 shareholding.


Another offspring of the partnership is Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB), also a 50 -50 venture between the two parties .DTCB sorts and values diamond from Debswana mines. If there are to be changes from these multibillion dollar serious negations it’s likely to be from DTCB going up the pipeline.


DTCB avails 85 % of their sorted and valued diamonds to De Beers Global Sight holder Sales (DBGSS) and 15 % to Okavango Diamond Company (ODC) which is wholly owned by Botswana Government .This was birthed by 2011 agreement with ODC established in 2012. Another key change in 2011 was the relocation of DBGSS from London to Gaborone, transferring De Beers’ operations consolidated rough diamond sales into Gaborone, bringing alongside professionals, skills, and the world’s biggest rough diamond transactions to Africa.


ANTICIPATED INCREASE IN ODC UPTAKE

One of the highly earmarked outcomes to possible emerge from the negotiations is increase in percentage volume of ODC‘s uptake from DTCB. The argument has always been that Botswana as one of the largest diamond producers in the world has the capacity and ability to develop its own price book through its own independent window outside De Beers’ channels. Before ODC was establishment in 2012 all diamond recovered from Debswana mines were made available to De Beers for dispatch into the sight holder market.


Currently ODC rakes in sales in the region of $500 Million annually (approximately P5 billion). This according to Minister of Mineral Resources Eric Molale demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Botswana has independent capacity and ability to be a major player in the sight holder space outside De Beers’ bracket.


 “The Marcus Te Haar led company was a great accomplishment for us a country, it ended a perception that we cannot sell our diamonds, and its sound performance since establishment will have direct impact in the current negotiation with a view to   potentially increase its uptake form 15 % to a larger percentage” he said last year at a mining conference in Gaborone


DTCB TO SORT AND VALUE DIAMONDS FROM NON DE BEERS OPERATIONS

In 2006 the then sales agreement before the 2011 deal, saw the setting up of the world largest and most sophisticated sorting and valuing operation in Gaborone, the Diamond Trading Company Botswana. DTC Botswana was birthed from Botswana Diamond Sorting & Valuing Company, an entity that operated for many years at the famous Orapa house. DTCB is now located in a magnificent high rise cube in the Diamond Hub along the Gaborone airport road, a state of the art infrastructure clinched between Debswana Corporate Centre & DBGSS Buildings .


In 2017 DTCB commissioned a new facility of unparallel global standards, a laboratory of sophisticated chemical processes of quantum physics operations and complex scientific techniques for cleansing and sorting the diamonds. In February last year then Managing Director of DTCB Tobake Kobedi said DTCB with this set up intends to be the world‘s number 1 by 2020. He said by 2020 when a new sales agreement is penned down, DTCB intends to have improved its efficiencies and effectiveness as a rough diamond sorting and valuing operation and thus desires not to only be limited to receiving Debswana rough diamonds.


“Currently our shareholder agreement dictates that we sort diamonds from De Beers mines in Botswana only, but we want to say let more from elsewhere come because we have the capacity” said Tobake when addressing members of the media last year. The DTCB plant has sorting and valuing full capacity of over 45 million carats of per annum but currently only receives around 22 million carats from Debswana mines annually.


“Why can’t we take rough diamonds from other mines locally and in the region?” Kobedi posed these questions explaining the intention of DTCB strategy 2020 and its vision towards ensuring that Botswana remains a Diamond Hub beyond depletion of the stones. Later in 2018 during Zimbabwean President, Emmerson Mnangagwa’s state visit to Botswana it was noted that talks would begin for Zimbabwe to process, sorts and value its diamonds in Botswana.


GOVERNMENT WANTS DEBSWANA TO RIGOROUSLY INVEST IN OTHER SECTORS

Sources close to the echelons of power have revealed to this publication that one of the issues to be posed at the negotiation table by Botswana is that Debswana; the country’s largest company should start investing in other sectors outside its core business of mining diamonds.
The argument suggested by this information is that Debswana has the necessary capital, technical capacity and shrewd corporate governance to do that “There are discussions that Debswana should lead economic diversification by investing in solar energy, plant and equipment assembly and machinery equipment amongst others” shared a source from the highest corridors of government enclave.


Debswana has over the years of its existence invested in other establishments outside diamond mining. Morupule Coal Mine was a wholly owned Debswana operation before it was disposed to government owned Mineral Development Company in 2017. 
Botswana Accountancy College, the country’s premier business academic institution was established as a joint venture between Debswana, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Botswana Institute of Accountants in 1996.Within its fold Debswana also wholly owns Sesiro Insurance Company, a bespoke insurance services outfit for its employees.


“ This is  clear evidence that Debswana should do more , it has done it before , so Government wants the shareholders being itself and De Beers to permit  Debswana to rigorously invest in more commercial viable sectors that this country desperately needs for employment creation and economic diversification like ICT , modern and innovative Agriculture amongst others” shared a source.


INFLUENCING FACTORS: BOTSWANA GENERAL ELECTIONS OUTCOME, GLOBAL ROUGH DIAMOND MARKET DOWNTURN, DE BEERS SYNTHETIC DIAMONDS

The negotiations usually comprise a team of 5 from the two parties. From Botswana side common picks are Attorney General, Bank of Botswana Governor, and Minister of Minerals amongst others. These highly anticipated negotiations will however have more influencing factors, experts observe that the global rough diamond market downturn will have an impact, in the main, it is said that the recent De Beers lab grown diamonds announcement will have a play. The Mining giant invested $100 million (Over a billion pula) in a manmade diamonds facility in the United States early this year.


After assuming power in April this year President Masisi noted that he would be eyeing more participation of Botswana in the diamond business, sentiment constantly reiterated his Minister of Minerals Eric Molale.  “We have had a wonderful relationship with De Beers and we expect that relationship to be even more cemented, there is a way of actually achieving a win-win for both, we want to participate more on cutting, polishing and retail,” Masisi said when talking to Bloomberg in May 2018.


In the bottom line government has reiterated that De Beers will remain its partner “As partners in this industry, it would shock the world if we were to part; the diamond industry would never be the same again,” Masisi said. Botswana is however going into one of the closely contested general elections in history of its democracy.  Since independence one party has ruled the country, It remains unclear what would happen to this partnership should government change. Government of Botswana is a direct Shareholder in De Beers Group, owning 15 % with the larger balance owned by Mining conglomerate Anglo American.

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