Driving Value Addition in Botswana’s Diamond Industry

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The narrative of Botswana’s economic development through diamond mining although not without its downturns is one of strategic management, sound governance, and profitable partnerships. At the time of its independence from Britain in 1966, Botswana was an impoverished nation with limited infrastructure, high levels of poverty, and an economy largely dependent on subsistence agriculture.


The discovery of diamond deposits in the Orapa region in 1967 marked the beginning of a new era. The government, in partnership with De Beers, formed Debswana, a joint venture that has been instrumental in managing the country’s diamond resources. Botswana’s active diamond mines include Jwaneng, Orapa, and Letlhakane, all operated by Debswana, and the Karowe mine, owned and operated by Lucara Diamond Corp. In 2023, these four mines collectively produced 25.1 million carats of diamonds, with the Debswana mines contributing 77 percent to De Beers’ total annual production.


Botswana contributes 21% to global diamond production, ranking alongside major producers such as Russia, Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Africa. Botswana led Africa in diamond production in 2022, with its output of natural gemstones and industrial diamonds totaling 24.5 million carats. In the same year, the country’s diamond exports saw a 4% rise from the previous year.


The diamond industry has been contributing approximately 50% to the government’s revenue and about one-third to the GDP. The revenues generated from diamond mining have been prudently managed and invested in various sectors, fostering sustained economic growth. Several other African countries including South Africa, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Ethiopia are making significant contributions to the continent’s success in the global mining industry.


This influx of revenue has enabled Botswana to maintain one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa. The diamond industry has created numerous employment opportunities, directly and indirectly. Debswana alone employs thousands of Botswana citizens in mining operations, and the industry has spurred the growth of ancillary services and businesses. This employment has not only reduced poverty levels but has also facilitated skill development and knowledge transfer, equipping the local workforce with specialized skills in mining and related fields.


In terms of strategies for value addition, Botswana is prioritizing the development of local cutting and polishing industries; encouraging global diamond companies to set up manufacturing operations within the country, Botswana aims to create jobs and retain a greater share of the value derived from its diamonds. The Diamond Hub in Gaborone, established in 2008, serves as a pivotal point for these activities, hosting several cutting and polishing companies.


During a conference in Gaborone, President Mokgweetsi Masisi urged diamond-producing nations to invest in technology to sustain the industry. Masisi emphasized the importance of incorporating innovations like drone-assisted surveying, advanced water management systems, and blockchain technology for diamond sourcing. He also pointed out the potential of nanotechnology in diamond processing.


Revenue from diamonds has been channeled into extensive infrastructure development. Botswana boasts one of the best road networks in Africa, alongside significant improvements in healthcare, education, and utilities. These advancements have not only improved the quality of life for citizens but also created a conducive environment for further economic activities.


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In addition to diamonds, Botswana mines several other minerals, including copper, nickel, silver, coal, manganese, soda ash, gold, semi-precious stones, and granite. The country also possesses untapped reserves of uranium, lead, and zinc.


The government’s prudent fiscal management of diamond revenues has enabled significant investments in social programs. Botswana has made strides in improving health indicators, reducing the prevalence of diseases like HIV/AIDS, and increasing life expectancy. Education has also been a major focus, with the government providing free primary and secondary education and substantial subsidies for tertiary education.


Recognizing that the industry is susceptible to global market fluctuations, Botswana has embarked on diversification efforts to reduce overdependence on diamonds with initiatives including developing the tourism sector, boosting agriculture, and investing in other minerals.

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