By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK African ministers and senior government officials from six African diamond-producing countries met in Windhoek yesterday to discuss issues pertaining to consumer confidence, among other topics. As consumers become more discerning and are better informed about the products they buy, maintaining their confidence in diamonds becomes a great challenge. The Minister of Mines and Energy, Erkki Nghimtina, says the diamond industry is unquestionably the lifeblood of most African economies, and the importance of this sector cannot be downplayed. He reminded delegates that consumers in this industry have become socially conscious with ethical considerations becoming important in their purchasing choices. Because of this, he stressed the need for African diamond-producers to work together to articulate the benefits of this product to the rest of the world, ensuring that trade is a key part of Africa’s development and future. “Consumer confidence in our product is therefore a matter of absolute strategic importance to the economy of Africa”, Nghimtina said. Apart from the sentimental attachment that most people have for these precious stones, diamonds have been used to achieve developmental objectives. Further, 65 percent of the world’s diamonds are produced in Africa, and revenue collected from this sector has helped fund different developmental programmes such as the construction of health facilities. In southern Africa, the industry employs about 28ÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒ…ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â 000 people. In Namibia, diamonds account for 42 percent of the country’s export revenue, five percent (5%) of government’s revenue and 10 percent (10%) of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “Every diamond not purchased is a missed chance for Africa – missed opportunity to send more children to school, to build more clinics and hospitals and to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS,” he said. Currently, the cumulative value for diamonds to the African economy is in excess of US$8.4 billion per year and, according to Nghimtina, the continent cannot afford to compromise the current state of affairs. “Now, it is time for Africa to stand up and make giant strides forward towards development of our countries and people so that we are no longer looked at as the so-called “third-world”. We should be masters of our destiny,” he said. While the issue of maintaining trade and consumer confidence in diamonds remains central to the industry’s long-term sustainability, the minister also expressed concern on the issue of “blood diamonds” that has become topical again. Nghimtina warned that drastic measures have to be taken to stem the negative impact emanating from the current campaign or else repercussions on the continents’ economies will become hard to bear. So far, the Kimberly Process, a global initiative aimed at rooting out the evil of trading in diamonds to fund conflict, has been introduced. This initiative ensures that a certificate accompanies diamonds exported and imported between countries and, in return, consumers are confident that their diamonds are from conflict-free countries. Countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo were previously embroiled in conflict but, with peace attained, diamonds will make a crucial contribution to these countries’ reconstruction and development. Nghimtina called on diamond-producing countries on the continent to strive to expand the industry and generate enough revenue that will instill a sense of hope in Africa and her people. Participants at this one-day workshop represented countries such as Angola, Botswana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Namibia. De Beers facilitated the workshop.