Earlier this month, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president of nearly 30 years, announced his intention to nationalize diamond mining. He explained the decision by blaming corruption in the industry for “robbing [the Zimbabwean people] of our wealth,” estimating the government’s loss in the past seven years as upwards of $13 billion. For a country with an annual budget of $4 billion, 30% of which comes from the money that does make its way from the diamond mines to the government’s coffers through taxes and other fees, this move has enormous economic significance. Factor in Zimbabwe’s recent attempts to convince international donors and investors that its basket case economic days are behind it, and the ripple effects of Mugabe’s decision are likely to be even more important.
Undoubtedly, Mugabe is right about one thing: there’s been plenty of corruption surrounding the diamonds of Marange, a district in eastern Zimbabwe, since the 2006 realization that the pebble-like objects “so common that children were using them in their catapults to shoot birds” actually represented “the richest diamond field ever seen by several orders of magnitude.” The trouble is that Mugabe is the one mostly responsible for that corruption. In fact, this nationalization plan is best understood as the next step in Mugabe’s utilization of corruption at the mines for his own benefit.