India’s vice president goes to Botswana in search of diamonds

By Devirupa Mitra, IANS,

Lilongwe (Malawi): India is a on a diamond search in the southern African state of Botswana from where it hopes to increase the direct access of Indian companies to rough diamonds, rather than through middlemen.

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This purpose had already been articulated by Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari, who will reach Botswana Saturday afternoon from Malawi on the last leg of his tri-nation tour in Southern Africa that took him first to Zambia.

“Botswana is the world’s first or second largest diamond producer. This is of direct interest to us, as we have a large and prosperous diamond cutting industry in Gujarat,” Ansari had told reporters at the beginning of his journey from Delhi Tuesday.

According to Indian officials, during the three-day visit to Botswana India will be lay the ground work to facilitate more procurement of rough diamonds once “things start to loosen up”.

“We expect things to loosen up since the contract (for distributing mining and rough diamond) will end in two years,” said a senior official.

Officials said Botswana has recognised that it would be wise to diversify the sellers of its famed diamonds, rather than just go through a single company as it has being doing. Botswana government and De Beers, the world’s largest diamond distributor, have a joint venture called Debswana that is the largest diamond mining company in Botswana.

“The global recession had made an impact on the government decision, when they saw that De Beers was unable to take all the diamonds mined due to a decline in global demand. It demonstrated that depending on a single distributor was not wise,” he said.

In fact, De Beers had to lay off workers and stop work in its four mines in Botswana in early 2009 when diamond sales slid dangerously around Christmas and New Year holidays of 2008.

While there have been no visits by an Indian head of state or government to Botswana so far, R Venkatraman had visited the country as the vice president in 1986 to attend its 20th anniversary of independence.

The country is sparsely populated with only a total population of 1.8 million in a land area of 582,000 square kilometres. Botswana is often held up as an example of good governance in Africa, with its relatively unbroken record of multi-party democracy.

India has substantial defence cooperation with Botswana, with an Indian Army and Indian Air Force training team posted in the nation since 1978. The current strength of the training team is 25 officers, with 17 from the Indian Army.

(Devirupa Mitra can be contacted at [email protected])