RAPAPORT… The Israel Diamond Institute (IDI) and the government of Liberia have agreed to promote cooperation in the diamond trade, aimed at helping the African country take better advantage of its mineral resources.
The agreement comes as part of an effort by Liberia’s government to rid itself of the “blood diamond” tag after the country’s economy was crippled by two civil wars in as many decades.
“Liberia’s high mineral wealth has played a role not in helping people but rather to incite violence,” Liberia President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf told diamantaires in Tel Aviv on Tuesday during her first visit to Israel since taking office in 2005. “In particular, revenues from diamond were diverted to fund conflict and away from development.”
Johnson-Sirleaf said the government is seeking to boost foreign investment in its agriculture and minerals sectors to stimulate economic growth.
To help promote this goal, the country’s Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Eugene Shannon, and IDI chairman, Moti Ganz, signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate in diamonds on Tuesday.
Earlier this year, Johnson-Sirleaf lifted a self imposed moratorium on Liberia’s diamond exports after UN sanctions on its stones ended, and the country was accepted to the Kimberley Process. The first parcel of Liberian rough, valued at $200,000, was later shipped out in September.
IDI managing director, Eli Avidar, told reporters that the agreement represented the first phase of cooperation, adding that the most important factor was that a stable government was in place and that the country was working to improve its infrastructure which could facilitate diamond exploration.
Among the mining companies currently active in diamond exploration projects in Liberia include Mano River, Trans Hex, and Diamond Fields International.
In an effort to expand on those, Johnson-Sirleaf said the government had introduced favorable regulations and taxation policies to encourage foreign investment.
The country’s diamond resources, however, remain relatively unexplored with the last major exploration activity having taken place in the 1960s and early 1970s, with little success.
Today, the main mining activity in Liberia is artisanal, producing an estimated 150,000 carats per year. A government official earlier this year told RapaportNews that studies have shown Liberia’s diamond export potential to reach up to 500,000 carats per year.
The official added that since being accepted back into the international diamond fold, the government expects between 12,000 and 18,000 industry-related jobs to be created.
For Israel, the agreement comes as it adopts a strategy to focus on strengthening ties with Africa as a whole, and as it embarks on a more “aggressive approach” to penetrating new markets from which to obtain rough.
As a diamond manufacturing center, Israel is offering its expertise and human resources to help Liberia develop its systems and industry.
“Liberia’s future is filled with diamonds. This agreement will enable us to create significant ties with Liberia’s emerging diamond industry,” said Ganz. “At the same time, we can contribute our experience to the Liberian government in helping to develop the infrastructure for a healthy diamond industry.”