Diamonds in the Central African Republic
The CAR’s gold and diamond mining sector involves mainly small alluvial deposits – in rivers and riparian areas – which are especially fit for artisanal mining.
The southwest of the country is the area most densely populated by artisanal miners. It involves the prefectures of Nana-Mambéré, Mambéré-Kadéï Sangha-Mbaéré and Lobaye.
The deposits are spread along the Mambéré, Lobaye, Sangha and Kadeï rivers.
Important mining zones include Berbérati, Carnot, Nola, Boda, Salo, Bouar and Bozoum.
A number of other key mining sites can be found in the centre-east prefectures Ouaka and Haute- Kotto, along the Kotto river. Mining areas are centred around Bria, Ippy, Dimbi, Bambari, Bangassou, Ndélé and Sam-Ouandja.
Gold and diamonds are generally found in the same areas. However there are slight variations over the Central African territory; gold, for example, is more often produced near Bouar, in the border area with Cameroon.
The southwestern zone produces more diamonds than the east – an estimated 80% of total production – but they are smaller in size. Historically, the upper-Sangha region has accounted for about 60% of the CAR’s diamond production.
At the upstream end of the mineral supply chain an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 artisanal miners are extracting the CAR’s diamonds and gold ores. The diggers, or “ouvriers miniers”, are those who provide the manpower not only to extract the minerals, but also to transport and wash the ores. With a card from the Mining Brigade they are officially registered.
The diggers are known to use very rudimentary tools. A survey carried out by CIFOR in 2009 showed that 97% of Central African miners stated that extraction methods have not changed over the years. Most miners, for example, still empty their pits manually when they are ooded with water.
Next to the ‘digger’, the ‘diver’ is another kind of miner. They shovel sand from the bottom of the rivers to the surface. Most gold miners are diggers in CAR, but diamond mining includes digging as well as diving.
The exploitants artisans are obliged to acquire a licence.
In 2011, 1945 offcially registered, of whom 1046 in the southwest, 265 in the northwest, 358 in the northeast and 47 in the southeast.
Registered miners are authorised to hold, transport and sell diamonds and gold ores. They are however only permitted to trade their own production, meaning that they cannot collect from other mining sites and are not allowed to export minerals. Hence they can sell their production to registered mineral traders, jewellers, agents representing mineral buying offices, mining companies and diamond-cutting establishments.
All mineral sales have to be noted down in the exploitant artisan’s production book, or “cahier de production”, including the place of the sale, the quantity, and the name of the buyer.
Revenues of the mineral sales are often divided as follows, 50% for the mine owner and 50% for the team of diggers.
Mineral traders or collectors, positioned further up the mineral supply chain. They are often based in local trading towns and buy minerals from the miners. Subsequently, they sell the minerals that they have gathered to other collectors, mineral buying offices, mining companies, jewellers or diamond-cutters. Under no circumstances are they allowed to export gold or diamonds themselves.
Registered collectors need to posses a collector’s licence, or “carnet de collecteur”. In 2011, 352 collectors o cially registered; 362 had registered in the rst six months of 2012. Furthermore, collectors are obliged to make a receipt, or “bordereau”, in quadruplicate for every diamond or gold purchase made.
Most traders use part of their budget to buy minerals and another part to pre- finance mining activities. In return, the miners at a given site are obliged to sell at lower prices to the trader that pre- financed their activities.
Mineral Buying Offices
Mineral buying offices, or “bureaux d’achat”, constitute the final link in the country’s mineral supply chain. They are authorised to buy gold and diamonds from artisanal miners, cooperatives, collectors and mining companies in order to export them.
Under the Mining Code it is stipulated that a buying office can purchase minerals in their local branches through the employment of agents, or “agents acheteur”.
Quite often, however, buying offices also pre- finance collectors, to buy minerals for them.
The Mining Code and accompanying regulations impose several obligations on buying o ces, including:
• The establishment of at least five local branches, or “centres secondaires d’achat”, in trading towns in the country, within one year;
• The payment of a CFA 50 million deposit to the national treasury;
• The investment, within three years, of CFA 350 million in real estate in favour of the Central African State or a local community;
• The construction of a head office, worth at least CFA 150 million, within five years;
• The export of gold and/or diamonds at least once a month.
Diamonds and gold were discovered for the first time in the Central African Republic in the early twentieth century, when the country was still under French colonial rule. The colonial administration exerted strong control over access to the natural resources and granted concessions to private companies to exploit rubber, co ee, cotton and mineral resources. Diamonds soon became the CAR’s second export product, after cotton.
International mining companies experienced their heyday in the CAR in the 1950s, with diamond production gures amounting to 147,104 carats in 1954. As these gures declined and exploration results agged towards the end of the 1950s and early 1960s, mining companies confined their operations to the commercialisation of minerals extracted from their concessions by artisanal miners.
During the colonial period, exploration exercises were carried out for gold and diamonds. After independence, however, international mining companies retreated from the country and investments in exploration disappeared.
Diamond production, on the other hand, increased considerably after the end of colonial rule in 1960.
The new Central African government liberalised the diamond sector, opening the mines to all citizens, which resulted in a rush to mining zones. Annual diamond exports consequently rose from 70,000 carats in 1960 to almost 537,000 in 1965.
1979 the production fluctuated at around 290,000 carats per year.
During the next decade export statistics were revived once again with the introduction of a certification system developed by the World Bank, the creation of the Bureau d’évaluation et de contrôle de diamant et d’or (BECDOR), the lowering of export taxes and the tapping of deposits that are less easily exploitable.
The mining sector in total accounted for 7% of GDP in 2007,15 and scal revenues from the sector came to 9% and 11% of the State’s total fiscal revenues in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Export values demonstrate that diamonds are by far the country’s principle mineral. In 2011, the CAR officially exported 323,575.30 carats, worth CFA17 29.7 billion, or $61.4 million. Official gold exports were only 72.8 kg, which equated to an export value of CFA 1.25 billion.
However, the CAR’s diamond production volume is still far below that of the Central African region’s other top producers, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Angola. The DRC and Angola produced 27.7 and 13.8 million carats respectively in 2010. The regions’ other diamond producers are Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Gabon, however the precise production outputs for these countries are unknown.
In terms of quantity, the CAR is therefore a relatively minor diamond producer compared to Angola and the DRC. The quality of diamonds is however quite a different matter. While the DRC mainly produces industrial diamonds, 80% of the CAR’s diamonds are gem quality.
The difference in quality is reflected in the average prices per carat. In 2008 the average price per carat was $30 in the DRC, $150 in Angola, and $180 in the CAR.
The quality of the CAR’s diamonds ranks fth in the world.