By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK The diamond industry is the most important strategic sector of the economy because it contributes 35 percent to the country’s export earnings, 7% to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while Namdeb – Namibia’s diamond producer – is the largest contributor to the country’s fiscus. So said President Hifikepunye Pohamba on Thursday evening during a gala dinner hosted by De Beers in the capital as part of an internal Strategic Leadership Conference, or Omugongo. More than 100 of De Beers’ and partner joint venture leaders from around the world attended the event under the theme Workplace Accountability. Among those present were the chairman of De Beers Nicky Oppenheimer, Gareth Penny, Blackie Marole, MD of Debswana; David Noko, MD of De Beers Consolidated Mines in South Africa and Inge Zaamwani, the MD of Namdeb. “The diamond industry can serve as a catalyst for the realization of the objectives of Vision 2030, Namibia’s long-term development programme. This meeting takes place at a crucial time for Namibia as a country in light of the ongoing negotiations between the Namibian government and De Beers regarding the Namdeb joint-venture arrangement,” Pohamba said. He said his government was committed to finding the best way to enhance the country’s cooperation and ensure the best value for both shareholders. “In line with Vision 2030, Namibia aspires to raise the level of the quality of life of our people to that enjoyed by their counterparts in industrialized societies and to ensure that our people continue to enjoy peace and stability. We can achieve this goal by attracting more investment that can increase economic growth, create employment opportunities and eradicate poverty that afflicts many people in our society,” said the Head of State. Pohamba said higher rates of economic growth are key factors in realizing the country’s objectives in the context of Vision 2030. “I believe that in order to increase economic growth, we need reliable partners, partners who can make tangible contributions and who are committed to walk and work with us on the road ahead. I am proud to note that our partnership of 12 years with De Beers as the world’s leading diamond company has produced tangible results.” According to Pohamba, Namibia is undisputedly the global leader in cutting-edge marine prospecting and mining technology. “This technology has enabled us to focus our attention on offshore mining as our diamond reserves on land gradually decline. I take note of the fact that for the first time last year more diamonds were produced offshore, and I am informed that a record one million carats would be produced there this year,” he said. The President praised the research and development efforts by Namdeb as well as the investment in new mining technology, technology enhancement and new vessels that make it possible to achieve challenging milestones. “I urge you to see to it that skills and knowledge are sufficiently transferred to young Namibians and that they join your management and leadership at all levels, to enable this country also to share in the intellectual property that is generated while exploiting Namibian diamonds,” he said. The President alluded to the so-called ‘blood diamonds’ or ‘conflict diamonds’ in his speech. “Namibia is fortunate in a sense that we are not involved in so-called ‘conflict diamonds’. However, this does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to the danger posed by smuggling, illicit diamond dealings and other related illegal activities. “We must work hard to sensitize and promote consumer confidence about the fact that the diamonds produced and purchased from our countries do more to contribute to development and not to fuel conflicts,” the President said. “Although conflict diamonds represent less than one percent of all diamonds sold on the world market, we must take a firm stand and state categorically that just one diamond used to fuel conflict is one too many. It is incumbent upon all of us to work together to redouble our efforts to eliminate illicit diamond dealings and the usage of diamonds for destructive purposes,” he said. Pohamba mentioned that if Africa is to develop and prosper economically its natural resources must be exploited in a sustainable manner for the benefit of its people, many of whom are living in difficult conditions. “This calls for African governments and business entities to forge strategic win-win partnerships that can lift our continent from the mire of poverty and underdevelopment. I implore you as the current and future leaders of De Beers to take into consideration the plight of our people, who are the owners by birthright of these diamonds, which are produced here and sold on the world market. Cognizant of the legacy issues associated with the history of the exploitation of Namibia’s diamonds, we must all agree that the time is today and not tomorrow for us to change the way we do things,” said Pohamba, who suggested the localization from extraction to cutting and polishing as well as jewelry manufacturing of diamonds. The cutting and polishing of our diamonds has long been the preserve of those beyond our borders. “Thus, the establishment of diamond-cutting factories in our countries will ensure value addition to our natural resources. We are encouraged by the good start made so far with the establishment of polishing factories in Namibia. We firmly believe that value addition to our natural resources must be pursued aggressively and consistently in order to enhance economic growth, create employment opportunities and expand the manufacturing base of our economy,” he said. In his view, this will reposition Namibia to become more competitive in the global economy through the production of quality products locally and it will raise the level of productivity and economic growth. The chairman of De Beers, Nicky Oppenheimer, praised the partnership with the Namibian government. “To do efficiently well, De Beers needs to run a world-class diamond business. “In this we need to be courageous, be brave and take risks in which we have not been so successful,” said Oppenheimer, who is optimistic about the future of the diamond industry in the country.
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