Last Updated
Thursday 20 November 2014, 11:45 am.
Implications of the Brussels diamond heist to Botswana

After the biggest diamond heist in the history of mankind took place in Belgium this week, it is healthy to worry that similarly daring criminals might be attracted to our shores once beneficiation is in full swing, writes LAWRENCE OOKEDITSE
By Staff Writer Fri 21 Nov 2014, 22:10 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Implications of the Brussels diamond heist to Botswana








Except for the absence of flowing Martinis and trophy bimbos, it all seemed like a scene from a James Bond movie.On Tuesday, robbers dressed as police and armed with machineguns raided a Swiss bound aircraft at Brussels Airport and stole 120 parcels of diamonds reported by various international media as worth up to US $50 million (P394m).

While it was a nice cameo to read about, it should also be a case for us here in Botswana to come to terms with the reality that with the coming to life of diamond beneficiation will come security challenges of great proportions. While it has been difficult to defend money that keeps going to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), the expenditure may just prove justified and so will more resources for the unit created specifically to serve the diamond sector at the Botswana Police Service.

This is an issue that has been raised previously. The sophistication of this particularly daring heist simply points out the need for security to be as high as possible. These guys are said to have cut a hole in the airport security fence earlier in the day and laid in waiting. According to various reports citing airport authorities, two vehicles carrying eight men drove up to a van belonging to security firm Brinks, which had just finished loading the diamonds onto a Swiss passenger plane. The men, who were masked but also wore police uniforms, did not fire a single shot and the entire heist took less than five minutes.

Mission accomplished, they got away burning one of the vehicles they had used. There were passengers on the plane but they saw nothing of what was going on. All the authorities could say of the men who carried out this plot was that "they were well prepared. In any case, it's one of the biggest robberies we've seen".Not that Belgium, Antwerp in particular, is some emerging diamond city. Antwerp has been a leading diamond centre for centuries and reportedly eight in every 10 rough diamonds and five in every 10 polished diamonds pass through it.

Similar challenges have been had with the Indian diamond sector whose size, a 2011 Reserve Bank of India report says, accounts for 72 percent of the world's processed diamonds. No doubt a good part of these diamonds were from Botswana. And now consider that this equation could change significantly with our intentions at intensifying beneficiation and plans for Botswana to become a true diamond hub. With the volumes of diamonds from all over the world coming through Botswana, criminals like the Brussels Eight will be attracted to Botswana.

The heist in Brussels may have been record breaking but it is just one of many attacks on the sector. The story of India, Mumbai in particular, is not much different as the diamond hub has seen bombs planted to destabilise it. Surat is a global hub of the diamond polishing industry and has seen numerous security challenges, prompting Surat Diamond Association (SDA) president, Dinesh Navadia, to urge government to create security cover on the lines of Central Industrial Security Force in 2011.

This was after a blast at Opera House in Mumbai where diamond units are located, thought to be intended to terrorise people and disturb the high-revenue generating sector. In addition, the Indian diamond industry was targeted by terrorists in July 2008 where eight to nine bombs were found at a number of diamond hubs in Surat from where polished diamonds are supplied to domestic and overseas markets. Rather fortunately in this instance, the bombs did not detonate due to what experts say were faults with the detonation systems.

This is the nature of the hazards that come with the sparkle of these gems. If the response this sector is to get in Botswana will be anything similar to what citizens routinely experience whenever they need police assistance, then we are headed for disaster. It is at the same time a very sensitive sector, more so in an African state, given the ease with which people in the West shout "blood diamonds" whenever diamond activity may be linked to human rights issues. With Gaborone becoming a diamond centre of note, security will be imperative. A security officer armed with a baton and a pair of handcuffs will be nothing close to what is needed. The current makeup of our police force is also far from what is needed if the sophistication of the thieves and terrorists will continue to be at the levels witnessed at both Brussels and Mumbai.

Now, this will definitely take expenditure from the part of government as well. Already we have issues with military expenditure that is pegged at about 2.2 percent of the GDP on average every year, and DIS expenditure constantly exceeding budgeted for projections, thus requiring injection of funds from other sources, the national disaster fund at some point. These have been heavily criticised by the media and politicians. Citizens are also becoming critical, but the reality we face is that we will need to up our game at providing security.

It is a necessary evil, one that those who do allocations must do a better job at selling and justifying to the public. If they would just open up on why we need more expenditure in the security services sector, a lot of criticism would ebb away. Government must just come out in the open and declare the need for more expenditure in the security services sector with us becoming a diamond hub. The threats are many and varied: From mere thieves to terrorists. While you may say but the terrorists have no business here, you may need to realise that the movement of operations here and the heavy presence of citizens of countries usually targeted for terrorist attacks will also shift their gaze to us. The availability of large volumes of diamonds within the diamond value chain in a not so heavily fortified developing country will surely attract thieves.

Some of those will be heavily armed. Judging from the light weaponry that our police service carries, the boys with the bigger toys will easily get away with stuff. We wait to see what the special unit that has been created will do. But for goodness sake, I hope it has nothing of the slow response and dismal crime prevention rates as our police force currently does. I do not hate the police. Afterall, just this week, Commissioner Keabetswe Makgophe lamented their failure to prevent crime.

One also hopes the legislature will move quickly to enhance security within what no doubt is a highly sensitive sector.
As for the public and politicians, there is a need to understand that security services will need more money in order to help us create more money. It is a classical case of economic theory: You have to forego something in order to have another.



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