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Botswana Diamonds - A blueprint for ethical mining in Africa

Botswana gained its independence from the British Empire in 1966 and in a little over 50 years has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world into a model for economic development in Africa. 

Their relationship with diamonds sits at the heart of this success, but is anything from typical. 

So what's made Botswana a diamond success story instead of falling victim to them like so many other African nations? 

Today we'll explore this remarkable story and Botswana's relationship with ethical diamond mining

 

Botswana Diamonds - A blueprint for ethical mining in Africa

Discovering diamonds

Largely thought to be a resourceless territory by the British Empire, two years after Bostwana became independent a massive kimberlite pipe was discovered by De Beers.

A kimberlite pipe is a highly pressurised volcanic pipe which pushes rocks from deep within the earth's mantle to the crust. The massive pressure is perfect for diamond formation and transports gems to mineable locations.

The kimberlite pipe discovered in Botswana is the second largest of its kind in the world and was the site for the Orapa mine, now one of the largest in the world.

The formation of Debswana

Debswana logo

The Orapa mine was originally ran by the De Beers Botswana Mining Company, with Botswana owning a 50% stake in the company alongside De Beers.

The Letlhakane mine then opened in 1975, followed by Jwaweng mine in 1982 and Damtshaa mine in 2003.

During this massive growth the company was renamed Debswana and as of 2018, the company produced 24% of the world's diamonds by value.

Their mines are one of the world's primary sources of ethical diamonds and one of the few that meets Nightingale's ethical sourcing standards.

Botswana's exceptional growth explained

The typical, sad story of diamond mining in impoverished countries is well known. It's a story embroiled in violence, exploitation and abuse. 

But as we mentioned earlier, Botswana's relationship with diamonds isn't a typical story.

At the dawn of independence the country had a GDP of $51 million, an extremely destitute nation. In 2019 it had grew GDP to $18.3 billion, with a quarter of that coming from the diamond trade.

That level of change is truly outstanding, and the majority can be traced back to its successes in diamond mining. 

The country is now classed as an upper-middle income nation, with ambitions to grow to a high income nation by 2036.

Living standards in Botswana are significantly higher than surrounding regions

 

And if you were ever in doubt about the importance of diamonds in Botswana economics, you only have to look at their 20 pula bill, which features the Oropa mine.

Why Botswana thrived where others stagnated

The key difference with Botswana compared to other countries is how much influence they have over mining operations because of their 50/50 partnership with De Beers.

This combined with a unified and stable government since independence has allowed the country to extract maximum value from their diamond reserves and reinvest it back into the country.

From the very first discovery of diamonds government investment was focused on improving infrastructure such as water supply and roads. Soon after came schools, hospitals and community projects.

Education is free for the vast majority of the population, all the way to PHD level. Unicef have reported that 84% of the population is within 5km of a health centre, which is great considering the country is bigger than France, but has a population smaller than Chicago.

botswana-diamond
President Mokgweetsi of Botswana inspecting a 1000+ carat diamond found at the Jwaneng mine

There's a very real understanding within government (fully democratic) that one day the diamond mines will dry up and the country needs to be able to transition into a more diversified economy in the long term.

Ethical initiatives from Botswana diamond mining

Estimates state that Botswana enjoys up to 80% of the profits from Debswana through company dividends, royalties and taxation, in turn this has funded many ethical initiatives.

HIV treatments

During the AIDS outbreak in Africa Botswana used the income from its mining operations to fund HIV/AIDS treatment for all infected citizens.

Debswana also offers free screening and anti-retroviral therapy to employees, their spouses and their children. 

Their efforts in this area has led to the HIV death rate amongst employees to hit record lows of 1%, down from 30% at the start of the program.

Their hospitals located at the Orapa and Jwangeng mine are ran in partnership with the government's Ministry of Health, opening them up to the general public in addition to employees.

Skilled job relocation programmes

As part of the partnership deal, De Beers also relocated the sales and operations of its Diamond Trading Company International (DCTI) to the country bringing thousands of high skilled jobs to the capital, again ran in partnership with the government.

This cutting, inspection and processing operation means the supply chain for Botswana diamonds is much shorter than other sources giving less opportunity for corruption.

Conservation

For every hectare of mining land ran by Debswana, another 6 are utilised for conservation projects. They currently fund 2 game parks at Orapa and Jwana, totalling over 40,000 hectares of land.

Botswana diamonds and Nightingale

As we said earlier, Botswana is only one of two countries whose mined diamonds end up in our ethical engagement rings (the other being Canada).

We made this decision because the benefits to its workers, general population and country are plain to see. There are few diamond producers on earth which can make that same claim. 

One of Nightingale's fundamental ethical standards is that each diamond must come with an origin report which lists the specific mine the diamond was extracted from and all Botswana diamonds fulfil this criteria.

You can read more about our ethical standards here, or if you'd like help sourcing a diamond from Botswana then get in touch and we'll get started!

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