Activists Target Gold and Diamonds

September 29, 2005

Activists Target Gold and Diamonds

Campaigns against gold mining practices and an effort to link diamonds with the eviction of bushmen in Botswana are heating up again this fall. This time, activists are enlisting the aid of celebrities to join their causes.

Oxfam America's "No Dirty Gold" campaign, which questions the gold industry's human rights and environmental record in Africa, is urging Alicia Keys to stop promoting gold sourced from Africa. The R&B star is an active campaigner for human rights and appeared at the LIVE 8 concert in Philadelphia in July. She appeared in advertisements for the World Gold Council this summer.

The campaign has sent a 2,500-signature petition to the singer and a spokesperson said: "Keys has publicly stated she shies away from diamonds that are linked to conflict in Africa, and we applaud this. Here's a chance for her to take a stand on dirty gold mining."

An escalating land-rights conflict in Botswana also threatens to tarnish the reputation of one of Africa's best-governed countries and its diamonds, according to the Financial Times of London. Police arrested 21 people the weekend of Sept. 24 as they tried to enter the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The group included Roy Sesana, an activist member of Botswana's Basarwa minority (commonly known as Bushmen) leading a court case against Botswana's government to seek the right to live in the reserve.

The government claims the group, which faces criminal charges, rioted and attacked police "with an assortment of weapons" on Saturday. Survival International, a British pressure group that supports the activists, said the group was seeking only to "enter their ancestral homeland."

The events present a ratcheting up of an obscure and long-running conflict that has infuriated Botswana's government and ensnared De Beers, its partner in mining the world's richest diamond deposits. Survival has claimed Botswana wants to clear the game reserve of human residents to make way for diamond production.

Stephen Corry, Survival's director, told the Financial Times his group plans to step up calls for a boycott of De Beers and Botswana's high-end tourism industry in the U.S., the world's largest diamond market. "We will certainly intensify the calls for a boycott and try to get celebrities involved," he said.

Botswana's government has called Survival "racist" and accused it of distorting facts to raise funds. "Money is really the driving force behind this," said Clifford Maribe, a spokesman for Botswana's foreign ministry.

De Beers rejects the diamonds link as "a deliberate deception" and has described Survival, which campaigns on behalf of indigenous groups worldwide, as "patronizing and deluded."

An investigation earlier this year by the ombudsman of the World Bank's International Finance Corp., conducted after a complaint by Survival, concluded it was "unable to establish a causal connection" between current diamond prospecting and Botswana's relocation of the Basarwa.

By its own account, Botswana's government began moving residents from the reserve, which is larger than Switzerland, as part of a policy of consolidating remote communities in areas where they could receive public services.

The government also claims wildlife preservation was incompatible with the presence of the Bushmen, who long ago abandoned classic hunter-gatherer ways and were using dogs and guns to hunt.

Survival has agitated on behalf of the Bushmen through a modestly funded but well organized campaign that has succeeded in putting Botswana and De Beers on the defensive. In July, actress Julie Christie spoke at a London rally organized by Survival outside an exhibition sponsored by De Beers. Gloria Steinem appeared at a similar rally at the opening of De Beers Fifth Ave., New York City, store this summer.

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