Washed clean: In Cameroon, Kimberley officials launder conflict diamonds onto world markets

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September 7 2016

The illegal trade in rough diamonds through border towns of Gbitti, Kentzou and Garoua-Boulai in eastern Cameroon provides a steady source of income for rebel groups on both sides of the Central African Republic’s bloody conflict. According to the United Nations, the war has claimed more than 5,000 lives and displaced roughly one million since Muslim Seleka rebels seized power three years ago.

The violence has robbed the Central African Republic’s government of an important source of income from the diamond trade, which had accounted for as much as 20 percent of its budget. But when war broke out, the small nation at the heart of Africa was suspended from the Kimberley Process (KP), a 2003 accord signed by 81 countries to certify the origin of diamonds and prevent them from funding rebel groups. Without KP certification, the Central African Republic was completely locked out of the international gemstone market. (It won a partial reprieve last June.)

As the doors to legal trade swung shut, neighboring Cameroon became an outlet for laundering CAR diamonds into the global marketplace. Cameroon had only joined the Kimberley Process in 2012, and the government launched campaigns in the border towns to educate KP officials about spotting conflict diamonds.