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Moving from charity to African empowerment: Diamonds provide sustainable economic development in Botswana and South Africa

Open Letter About Diamonds In Africa
Thursday - December 14, 2006 — by Russell Simmons & Dr. Ben Chavis

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Simmons Jewelry Company Co-Owner Russell Simmons and Hip-Hop Summit Action Network Co-Chairman Dr. Benjamin Chavis issued an open letter published in Thursday's (December 14) New York Post calling for public support for the empowerment of African people and communities where diamonds are a natural resource. Simmons and Chavis were part of a Simmons Jewelry Company delegation, which just returned from a fact-finding mission to South Africa and Botswana last week.

It takes a child to raise a continent

When you look into the face of a young child in Africa, you should be able to see the future of a better world. Some may affirm it takes a village to raise a child. Yet for many reasons today in Africa, it takes a child with a good education, nutrition, health care and development opportunities to raise a village, a nation and a continent out of poverty and disease.

Respected African leaders like former South Africa President Nelson Mandela, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and President Festus Mogae of Botswana and many others have expressed concern about the current wave of misinformation in public discourse with respect to the issues of diamonds from Africa. In a letter to Warner Brothers and to "Blood Diamond" movie director Ed Zwick, Nelson Mandela cautioned, "It would be deeply regrettable if the making of the film inadvertently obscured the truth, and, as a result, led the world to believe that an appropriate response might be to cease buying mined diamonds from Africa." He added, "We hope that the desire to tell a gripping and important real life historical story will not result in the destabilization of African diamond producing countries, and, ultimately their peoples." We concur with Mr. Mandela.

africa diamonds, an art for a continent

It is unfortunate that old stereotypical images of an underdeveloped, self-destructive, savage Africa have been re-conjured up in the mindset of too many people by those who may be well intentioned but who, through their unmitigated zeal to make and market movies, documentaries, and other forms of media, inadvertently display a hurtful, counterproductive, irresponsible and less than accurate portrayal of the current reality of Africa. Despite this inaccurate interpretation, we welcome and are thankful for the opportunity for dialogue with all who are focused on this issue, especially human rights organizations, like Amnesty International.

Even in Sierra Leone today, the issue of diamonds and the stability of that economy is quite different and far more productive than what is displayed in the movie. Since Sierra Leone became a part of the Kimberley Process in 2003, revenues from diamonds in that country have increased 100%, helping to repair its tragic past. Our job is to help strengthen the Kimberley Process.

We are very strong defenders of freedom of speech and freedom of artistic expression. And, we know with freedom comes responsibility. The objective of this open letter is to clarify the facts and be responsive and responsible in helping African people empower themselves. We all must be willing to support efforts and initiatives that can make a real difference toward ending poverty and disease in Africa. More than a handout, the people of Africa need a helping hand toward empowerment, trade and investment.

While completing a nine-day Simmons Jewelry Company fact-finding mission to southern Africa to see firsthand how diamonds are empowering Africans in Botswana and South Africa, we witnessed concrete examples of how the diamond industry directly enhances sustainable economic development and contributes to the overall self-empowerment of African people and communities. We first chose those places in Africa where there are stable democratic governments and the kind of government-private sector joint ventures that have a factual and transparent track record of improving the quality of life.

We were in search of a success model not only for the diamond industry but, eventually, for other extractive industries in Africa. We found that Botswana is the undisputed world model of African empowerment when it comes to the extraction, processing and production of diamonds. We visited thriving commercial training and production centers, as well as well-equipped public schools, hospitals, family care facilities, orphanages, and HIV/AIDS clinics, all financially supported throughout Botswana from diamond beneficiation. We were heartened by the positive developments we saw and we believe these effective measures can be the model for other countries in Africa that possess vast resources.

When we arrived back in the United States one week ago, we reported our findings of fact and announced the establishment of the Diamond Empowerment
Fund (D.E.F.(TM)). As a nonprofit international organization, the mission of the D.E.F.(TM) is to raise money for the development and empowerment of people and communities in Africa where diamonds are a natural resource. We are in the jewelry and diamond business. We believe in corporate social responsibility. Out of this, The Simmons Jewelry Company launched the Green Initiative. The purpose of the Green Initiative is to raise funds for the D.E.F.(TM) Twenty-five percent of the net proceeds from the sale of Simmons Jewelry Company Green Initiative items go directly to the D.E.F.(TM)

During this holiday season of giving, we urge others in the diamond industry and all people of goodwill to give back more and work harder to help make a productive difference in Africa. Let's refrain from paternalistic arrogance and misinformed judgments about an entire continent that has been so blessed by God with an abundance of natural resources and great potential. Let's help them realize that potential. Our love for Africa is unconditional. Will you join us?

Russell Simmons and
Dr. Benjamin Chavis
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