Our future is not just about “diversifying the economy” – getting our diamond sector right has potential to unleash fortunes for our nation.
The decision by Debeers to venture into the synthetic diamonds market is a major strategic decision for the group, and for the larger diamond sector. This adventure by Debeers into “light-box jewelry” is the group’s prerogative, and they should not be begrudged for taking informed strategic decisions. In fact, this approach is possibly a reflection of Debeer’s tenacious and forward-leaning scenario planning culture. They are always able to plan twenty to fifty years ahead, as they did ahead of the liberation of South Africa, and this is how they were able to navigate their survival at the hands of the new South African Government. In the language of strategy, what Debeers is doing is moving ahead of the times, to “disrupt the disrupters”.
So, the Government and people of Botswana need to recognize that Debeers’ decision to venture into the synthetic diamond sector constitutes a major shift, without saying so, in our terms of agreement and relationship with them. The impact on the future of our economy, every aspect of it, is likely to be staggering, especially if we do not make the right decisions in respect to Debeers and whether we also, as an economy, wish to make a bet in favour of the sysnthetic diamond sector.
The first decision we need to make is whether Debeers should be the only major diamond powerhouse with whom to partner for our major diamond finds or even tailings at Orapa and Jwaneng. The answer is simply, “NO”, as least for any Government in which the Alliance of Progressives (AP) is a lead or meaningful stakeholder. The time has come for us to both diversify our risk and optimize our benefit in diamonds (both as a Government and as individual stakeholders), including extending local participation throughout the diamond value chain.
The second decision we need to make is how to structure our relationships with major diamond players: Debeers cannot and should not be the Government’s technical partners for ever (at the mines with the richest mineral deposits), and having one technical partner at a time is not the only way to manage our diamond sector.
Another major decision Botswana needs to make is whether we should also venture into the synthetic diamond sector. We need to make a “strategic bet” on this one. If we are serious about taking a leadership position as nation in all things diamond, then we should always be ahead of everyone and every market that deals in diamonds. That means we should also “disrupt the disrupters” by also entering the synthetic diamond sector as Debeers is doing. This takes guile, monetary resources, strategic management, immense research and development as well as the right mindset. If we make that bet to enter into synthetics, then with whom should we do we do so? With Debeers?
These are the major decisions we need to make. If we still wish to lead in diamonds, then the risk is worth it, but the decisions on how we choose to do it require much further objective discussion. One thing for sure, many analysts make reference to “diversifying the economy”, which is fair, but much of our future as a people also rests with getting our diamond sector right: It makes a big difference on our national income and capacity to generate new sectors and vast opportunities for job creation.