Has Biti fallen into a Zanu-pf trap on sanctions?

Zanu-pf must be celebrating on the news that Finance Minister Tendai Biti has “blasted” the decision by the United States to ban Mbada and Marange diamond companies.


Hardliners in the former ruling party should be counting themselves extremely lucky to find one of their rivals doing the dirty work for them, while they sip caviar to mark the 88th birthday of the Head of State and Government.

Sadly, Biti has put his foot in his mouth again. In December 2009, he accused western countries of “sulking” for rebuffing Zimbabwe’s overtures to lift targeted sanctions and normalise trade relations.

In his latest gaffe, the finance minister, unfortunately penned a very undiplomatic letter to the U.S. Assistant Treasury Secretary Charles Collyns, which he may need to withdraw to save face.

Biti reportedly described the U.S. government’s decision to ban Mbada and Marange diamond mining companies as "self-defeating", especially after the US backed the lifting of the Kimberly Process ban on Marange diamonds.

"It would be curious to find out the motive of your decision against the two companies. Your decision will not stop the mining that is a sovereign issue covered by international law,” Biti bravely said in his letter. The rest is history.

Understandably, Biti may be worried about a possible shortfall in his ambitious budget in which he expected US$600m to come from what others still believe are tainted diamonds, even though there was no logical basis for such optimism.

But he is the one who crafted that budget and probably momentarily forgot his motto of “tinodya yatabata” (We eat what we have caught) – a very sound analogy from hunting.

There was no reason to be upbeat about diamond revenues given that Treasury received only US$122m of the more than US$334m worth of diamonds produced in 2011 amid reports of smuggling of gems.

Biti was least expected to burn bridges with the West which is supporting humanitarian efforts in Zimbabwe while China is building what is believed to be a US$98m Zanu-pf spy centre.

Up to now, of the 3 500 families evicted from Chiadzwa, only 300 have had new homes built at Arda Transau, while the mine companies don’t seem eager to compensate them for more than US$1,000 per family. With a shy coalition government, why should they worry?

Furthermore, despite all the hype, one firm which is not even on the targeted sanctions list – Anjin Investments raised only US$20-30m from its auction of 500 000 carats of diamonds in December last year according to the government-owned Sunday Mail.

Based on that first sale and subsequent sales in 2012, Anjin is expected to raise about US$144m-US$216m from its stockpile of 3.6 million carats of gems as estimated by a diamond expert in 2011 (3.6m carats x US$40m = US$144m).

What is even more depressing is that proceeds from Anjin’s diamond stockpile are believed to be earmarked for paying the Chinese US$98m loan for a white elephant rather than health, education, dams, roads, bridges and fair salaries.

Sanctions cannot be blamed for the aborted diamonds cash audit which triggered a Zanu-pf outcry that it became clearer, that could be the smoking gun as one professor cried louder than the bereaved.

Furthermore, sanctions are not to blame for the stalled Beitbridge Border Post Project where bottlenecks are costing the country’s tourism and trade.

But, it is curious that Biti wants targeted sanctions to be lifted before the reasons for their imposition are fully addressed. For instance, the perpetrators of violence remain on the loose showing no contrition for their crimes, while Mugabe back-pedals on the GPA.

Ironically, Tendai Biti has reportedly written to Jomic enlisting their assistance to have perpetrators of the 2008 politically-inspired murders prosecuted.

But Attorney-General (AG) Johannes Tomana, who is supposed to prosecute the alleged killers, is said to be dithering and sitting on the cases, accusing the MDC of cheap electioneering.

Memories of Operation Hakudzokwi (Operation No Return) and Operation Chikorokoza Chapera (No Illegal Panning), 2008 election violence, not forgetting the displacement of millions of people into exile cannot be erased by the dollarisation of the economy but justice.

Many are wondering if Biti has not fallen into a Zanu-pf trap on sanctions in an effort to salvage his ambitious budget.

But, hze would have more votes at the next election if he resists Zanu-pf blackmail like he once said: “We cannot allow Zanu-pf to continue urinating on us.”

Clifford Chitupa Mashiri, Political Analyst, London [email protected]

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