Southern Africa’s Global Trade Centres

Forget Dubai or Brussels – free from Islamic restrictions and global legal limitation and fueled by illicit diamond trade, global trading Meccas are springing up out of nowhere in Southern Africa.

Manica, for example, a dusty border town in Mozambique has become a major hub for trading rough diamonds. The diamonds come from neighbouring Zimbabwe, smuggled illegally along a pipeline that Mozambican officials say they are powerless to stop (Mozambique isn’t a signatory of the The Kimberley Process).

The first point of sale for rough Zimbabwean diamonds is Manica, according to interviews with the Mozambican government, police and border officials, as well as some diamond buyers.

Diamond traders from Lebanon, Dubai, Israel, Belgium and other European countries, Somalia and West African nations like Nigeria and Guinea have flocked to the town, dotted with traditional mud-and-stick homes. Driving shiny new cars, they rent elaborate, freshly constructed houses, painted in pastels.

The town sports an array of hotel and entertainment centres, bars, restaurants and night clubs – all of which double as diamond trade centres. The Flamingo Restaurante and Bar, marked by a giant white flamingo signboard along one of Manica’s main streets, it is one the town’s best-known spots for meeting black-market diamond dealers. Around midnight at Coquiero, a popular nightclub outside town, diamond buyers fill the VIP lounge, pouring vodka tonics from a bottle of Smirnoff on the mirrored tabletop. The Manica Lodge, with its sprawling lawns and outdoor tables is another fixture of the smuggling route.

Deals range from a paltry $1 a carat to $3,000 or $4,000 a carat for a good stone. One buyer said that they can make as much as $100,000 a month in the trade here.

We explore the emergence of these new global economic hubs, the trade routes they spawn, the elicit businesses and entertainment centres that spring up around them and the role the play in the local and global economy.

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