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Real architects of Botswana diamond beneficiation

When the true history of Botswana diamond beneficiation is finally written, the names of Israeli diamond billionaire Lev Leviev and Greek gemologist Yianni Melas will feature prominently as the main architects who provided the initial blue print that formed the basis of the current experiment in diamond value add.

Their business case presented to the Botswana media at Hotel Mondeo on that auspicious day in 2004, enabled Botswana to gain confidence to proceed to negotiate better – but not the best – terms with De Beers which resulted, among others,  in the relocation of the Diamond Trading Company from London to Gaborone.

From that day onwards Botswana’s diamond beneficiation debate gained momentum and intensity despite much negative publicity and opposition from both government and De Beers. De Beers and Botswana Government finally somersaulted in their opposition in a rather strange turn of events due to intense public debate and concerted media onslaught in support of diamond value addition.

The change of heart was clearly opportunistic, self serving and mere face saving in the light of mounting public condemnation and debate. The real reason seemed to have been De Beers’ paranoia and the need to block its strongest and most feared and effective international rival billionaire, Lev Leviev from entering Botswana’s diamond beneficiation market.

This was after Leviev had made a compelling business case in support of beneficiation which in turn exposed De Beers and some of its harmful business practices against Botswana. De Beers apparently had not been acting in good faith in its opposition to diamond value add.

Indications are Botswana's diamond beneficiation is a poor and half hearted  plagiarism of billionaire Lev Leviev's original business model presented in 2004 at various media briefings in Gaborone through his gemologist consultant, Yianni Melas at a time when Botswana government and De Beers dismissed the idea as nonsense and unworkable. De Beers sought to keep Botswana out of diamond beneficiation for its own benefit.

Leviev was able to demonstrate how Botswana was probably being cheated and not realizing the true value of its rough diamonds because there was no independent way of grading and determining the price at the time. De Beers over decades was conflicted for having had a hand in the appointment of a sole diamond valuer to grade and price Botswana diamonds, which in turn were all sold to its wholly owned marketing arm in London- the Central Selling Organization.

It was a national shock to learn that Botswana’s leadership and the public for long did not know the true price and value of their diamonds in the absence of an independent and competent grading and valuing system as De Beers alone was a player and referee at the same time.

Leviev and his Greek consultant, Yianni Melas recommended for the first time that Botswana should engage the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to provide an independent and credible grading, valuing and pricing for her diamonds as well as provide training in all aspects of diamond beneficiation as a basis for building a strong foundation for the emerging beneficiation industry. 



Unable to find a coherent, cogent and convincing reason against Leviev’s proposal, the Botswana government, De Beers and their supporters in the media resorted to mudslinging, conspiracy theories and a smear campaign against Leviev and his supporters.

As a test case for those in doubt, Melas and Leviev had proposed for the first time, that Botswana set aside only ten per cent of her rough diamond production, a basis for a local diamond cutting and polishing segment to support an emerging jewelry manufacturing and retail industry.

Unlike local supporters of beneficiation who tended to appeal to nationalistic sentiments and rhetoric of patriotism, Leviev argued from an informed position as a practitioner with deep gemological knowledge, experience and understanding of the entire diamond value chain.



According to Melas, cutting and polishing segments were not meant to be stand alone but to be fully integrated through backward and forward linkages in the entire diamond value to move Botswana diamond industry a step further as a new and emerging diamond jewelry manufacturing and retail center in order to derive maximum returns from rough diamond production.

Melas and Leviev were advocating for branding Botswana internationally as a major diamond producer, by producing locally, "made in Botswana" an assortment of diamond jewelry, in turn creating new synergies and supporting new enterprises and other sectors of the economy such as air transport and tourism.

Leviev’s business case envisaged a scenario where international jewelry buyers would be persuaded through marketing and advertising to travel to Botswana to buy "made in Botswana" branded diamond jewelry at shops set up at major tourism and urban centers in Botswana like Kasane, Maun and Gaborone, at the same time, promoting the country as a premier retail, tourist, wedding and honeymoon destination.

For instance, for sentimental reasons, newlyweds were to be more pursued through advertising and marketing to prefer to travel to buy their piece of diamond jewelry where it is produced and probably wed and honeymoon at one of Botswana's world renowned and unique ecosystems such as various game reserves and the Okavango.


Other spinoffs of his business model was support for the development of hotel accommodation and bringing the huge investment and budget  in marketing, advertising and promotions of diamonds and their transactions to Botswana which is currently done overseas.



However instead of seriously considering Leviev’s proposal and according him the opportunity to spearhead the new beneficiation industry because he was more competent than most, Botswana missed the boat by making the wrong policy choices by succumbing to the hostility and rivalry from De Beers.

There was no cogent reason for Botswana to have turned down Leviev’s business case since he was more competent and world renowned to deliver because he was already active and successful at participating in all levels of the diamond chain worldwide.

Botswana’s beneficiation model has been overtaken by events, because the trend now is for greater consolidation and integration through backward and forward linkages of the entire segments of the diamond value chain. In fact other African countries and Industry players are no longer content with specializing in mining and selling diamonds raw at low prices but to add value to them and invest in the entire value chain.



Because of lack of transparency in the valuation /and pricing of diamonds generally, Leviev also recommended use of other independent authorities to improve transparency and create an electronic trading platforms for diamonds such as IDEX, Guaranteed Diamond Transactions (GDT system, Rapport Net and DIAMDAX, which collects and supplies polished diamonds price data to a number of firms and utilizes online exchange that offers online trading platforms for polished diamonds using real time spot prices.

Leviev has a track record of being De Beers' most feared competitor after pulling the rug under the  feet of De Beers on many occasions for lucrative diamond deals in Russia and successfully putting an end to De Beers' pervasive spell, dominance and gridlock hold on Southern Africa's diamond resources in Namibia and Angola. 

Leviev called De Beers' bluff by demonstrating that indeed beneficiation was indeed not only desirable and overdue but also feasible as demonstrated by his impeccable track record internationally at all levels of the diamond value chain. Leviev’s proposal to Botswana diamond value add was unprecedented, more detailed, ambitious and innovative than what Botswana and De Beers ultimately settled for.

Unlike Levier's well thought out proposal, a reluctant De Beers gave Botswana a rope to herself by choosing to concentrate not only on cutting and polishing, but in venturing into the equally risky area aggregation and selling of selling rough stones. This is so because every diamond valuation is subjective.

Two appraisers can differ in their valuations of the same diamond by as much as 30%. A key consideration in diamond pricing is a stone's grade – not a monetary value – which is by no means an exact science but a subjective consideration, so that the same diamond often receive markedly different grades from different laboratories, resulting in large variations in the prices of comparable stones.



Tracing the diamond value chain is not the only way of measuring how African diamond producers lose on revenue and miss vast opportunities to diamond processing countries overseas.

By way of illustration, Botswana produces an estimated 33% of global diamond production and 75% by value of all the global diamond production and profit enjoyed by De Beers. Jwaneng mine in Botswana is the largest diamond mine in the world by value and third largest by carat volume.

In 2015, industry sources reveal that it is estimated to produce 11.0 million carats valued at $2.4 billion. The second largest diamond producer by value and volume, Orapa also in Botswana is estimated to produce 12.0 million carats in 2015 or $1.2 billion worth of diamonds up from 12.1 million in 2013.

Rio Tinto owned Argyle mine in Australia is the world’s largest in terms of production volume and is estimated to produce 17.5 million carats in 2015 up from 9.2 million in 2014 and expected to reach 20 million carats per annum in 2016. But Arygle diamonds, like those in Zimbabwe’s Marange, are of relatively low quality and colour are expected to fetch much less revenue than both Jwaneng and Orapa.

Yet the so called world diamond hubs have no significant diamond mines but where most of the diamonds from diamond producing countries like Botswana are sold and fully beneficiated makes such diamonds producers a laughing stock of the world and a shame to present future generations.

For example there are six major diamond hubs which aggregate a variety of industry activities in a single venue, including diamond trading centers, dealers and sales offices of cutting and polishing companies.

Spot trading of rough and polished diamonds between a buyer and a seller takes place in the sales offices. By contrast, Botswana generates revenues roughly of between US$1-2 billion on average per annum from its massive diamond production, and yet the traditional hub of New York, produces $35 – 40 billion turnover per year, hosts about 2600 diamond businesses.

Dubai with no single diamond mine, makes $40 -45 billion per year, and provides services to more than 500 regional and international diamond companies and is the fastest growing hub in recent years, according to the Bain report and INDEX.

Antwerp generates $50-56 billion per year, hosts four major diamond exchanges and 1500 diamond companies and is the largest diamond hub in the world. Mumbai attracts between $25-30 billion in turnover, is home to 2500 diamond offices and handles 60% of diamond exports from India.

The diamond hubs of Dubai and Hong Kong are luring trade with zero taxes on imports and exports and by exploiting their proximity to the cutting and polishing industry in China and India, while the traditional hubs on Antwerp, New York and Tel Aviv have opted to specialize by focusing on high value stones, well developed infrastructure and favorable tax revenues.


Botswana's potential to grow into a major cutting and polishing center is therefore limited on the basis of the opinion of Bains and Company report.  It argues among others that the country's labour costs are high compared to those of China and India and its cutters lack expertise comparable to that of the craftsmen in Europe, Israel and the US.

The growth of Botswana's cutting industry may well be limited until it is better able to compete on cost with the industry in India and China. Cutting and polishing costs average range from approximately $100 per carat in Antwerp, New York and Tel Aviv, to $20 to $56 in China and Thailand and $10 to $30 in India.

However, Botswana still enjoys much competitive advantages to excel in diamond beneficiation across the entire value chain because unlike other cutting and polishing centers, she has access to secure supplies of rough diamonds and ability to resell.

But cost competition amongst cutters and polishers has intensified, making new investments in efficiency necessary while financing for working capital is growing harder and harder to obtain. Competition for access to key customers in jewelry manufacturing is heating up, while there is a never ending challenge of securing stones at prices that make economic sense. 

At the upstream end of the value chain, the key challenges for retailers are to secure a supply of diamonds jewelry appropriate to their customer base and ensure that the diamonds in their jewelry are ethically secured, forcing many firms into more consolidation and integration of the entire value chain, according to the Bains and Company report.


Moreover, Botswana beneficiation model in aggregation and the sale of rough diamonds has severe limitations because there is no spot market for rough or polished diamonds, which are primarily sold through private contracts, with no public disclosure of negotiated prices.

Diamond producers have a compelling motivation to realize the highest possible price as prices directly affect their profitability. This desire may negatively affect the profitability of cutters and polishers who are in need of secure access to supplies of rough diamonds and ability to resell at competitive prices.

Cost competition among cutters and polishers has intensified naming new investments in efficiency necessary at a time when financing for working capital growing harder and harder to obtain. Competition for access to key customers in jewelry manufacturing is heating up.

There is also a never ending challenge of securing access to stones that make economic sense on the evidence of the Bains and Company report.

Unlike Leviev's well thought out proposal, a reluctant De Beers has been calculative and seems to have given Botswana a rope to herself by choosing to concentrate not only on cutting and polishing, but in venturing into the equally risky area aggregation and selling of selling rough stones. This is so because every diamond valuation is subjective.

Two appraisers can differ in their valuations of the same diamond by as much as 30%. A key consideration in diamond pricing is a stone's grade – not a monetary value – which is by no means an exact science but a subjective consideration, so that the same diamond receives markedly different grades from different laboratories, resulting in large variation in the prices of comparable stones.

Although a substantial mark- up occurs at the cutting and polishing stages, it is only the countries and firms that are able to find the most cost effective, quality assured and increasingly safest means of doing so that will be globally competitive in the future.

Moreover, says Bains and Company, there is no spot market for rough or polished diamonds, which are primarily sold through private contracts, with no public disclosure of negotiated prices. Diamond producers have a compelling motivation to realize the highest possible price as prices directly affect their profitability.

This desire may negatively affect the profitability of cutters and polishers who are in need of secure access to supplies of rough diamonds and ability to resell at competitive prices. Cost competition among cutters and polishers has intensified naming new investments in efficiency necessary at a time when financing for working capital is growing harder and harder to obtain. Competition for access to key customers in jewelry manufacturing is heating up.

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Botswana on high red alert as AML joins Covid-19 to plague mankind

21st September 2020
Botswana-on-high-alert-as-AML-joins-Covid-19-to-plague-mankind-

This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.

The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.

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Finance Committee cautions Gov’t against imprudent raising of debt levels

21st September 2020
Finance Committe Chairman: Thapelo Letsholo

Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.

He was speaking in  Parliament on Tuesday delivering  Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a  motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.

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Gov’t Investment Account drying up fast!  

21st September 2020
Dr Matsheka

Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.

The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.

The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.

The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.

This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.

Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.

Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.

However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.

Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.

When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.

This  as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.

Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.

The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.

Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.

In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.

Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.

Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.

Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.

Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance   Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”

He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”

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