Non Conflict Diamonds
A Brief on Blood Diamonds
Just as the history of Arab States is intimately tied to the discovery of oil in the region, the discovery of diamonds in Africa has not only impacted the continent's history, but has been one of the leading causes of conflict.
The link between diamonds and conflict in Africa and the role of international players in the illicit diamond trade were recently discussed at a seminar in Nairobi, Kenya, on resource-based conflicts organized by the Society for International Development's East Africa Chapter. It is interesting to note that Africa's most conflict-ridden countries--Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo--are also the most diamond-rich countries on the continent, as well as the most poor and under developed. Conflict or "blood" diamonds have fuelled wars and led to the massive displacement of civilian populations in many African nations. While conflict diamonds represent a small proportion of the overall diamond trade, illicit diamonds constitute as much as 20 per cent of the annual world production. The level of illegality gives an opportunity and a space for conflict diamonds.
Diamonds and their Impact
The link between diamonds, poverty and conflict is evident in countries such as Sierra Leone, where the rich alluvial diamond fields of the Kono District and Tongo Field were among the most prized targets of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). In 2000, Partnership Africa. Canada (PAC) published a report entitled "The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security", which placed much of the blame for the civil war in the country on diamonds, describing them as "small bits of carbon that have no intrinsic value in themselves, and no value whatsoever to the average Sierra Leonean beyond their attraction to foreigners".
Conflict Free Diamonds or Blood Diamonds
The report recounts the corrupting of Sierra Leone's diamond industry, from peak exports of 2 million carats a year in the 1960s to less than 50,000 carats by 1998. The country's despotic President during much of this time, Siaka Stevens, had tacitly encouraged illicit mining by becoming involved in criminal or near-criminal activities himself. When the RUF began waging a war in 1991, Liberian leader Charles Taylor acted as mentor, trainer, banker and weapons supplier for the movement. The RUF also took on the role of diamond supplier to the illicit international trade. "It is ironic", says the report, "that enormous profits have been made from diamonds throughout the conflict, but the only effect on the citizens of the country where they were mined has been terror, murder, dismemberment and poverty".
The PAC report supports the idea that there was virtually no oversight of the international movement of diamonds. In the 1990s, for instance, billions of dollars worth of diamonds was imported into Belgium from Liberia, even though the latter produces very few diamonds. This can only be explained by the fact that big and small companies were colluding in the laundering of diamonds in West Africa, using Liberia as the conduit country. Much of the laundering was done by local Lebanese traders who have been living in West Africa for over a century.
Lebanese immigrants began arriving in West Africa as refugees fleeing the hardship caused by the silk-worm crisis which struck Lebanon in the mid-nineteenth century. Among the earliest recipients of those immigrants were Senegal and Sierra Leone, then under European colonial rule. According to Lansana Gberie, a researcher who has written about the Lebanese connection in Sierra Leone's diamond trade, since the 1950s, "diamonds have been the linchpin of Lebanese business and a range of subterranean political activities".
In her paper, "War and Peace in Sierra Leone: Diamonds, Corruption and the Lebanese Connection", published by the Diamonds and Human Security Project in 2002, Gberie describes the beginnings of the Lebanese trade in diamonds: "Diamonds were discovered in Kono District, in eastern Sierra Leone in 1930, and that same year, as word of the discovery spread, the first Lebanese trader arrived in Kono and set up shop, ahead of colonial officials who did not want to establish a district office there until two years later. They were also ahead of the British-owned Sierra Leone Selection Trust, which was granted exclusive diamond mining and prospecting rights for the entire country in 1935. From that time until 1956, when an alluvial diamond mining scheme was enacted, it was illegal for anyone not working for the Trust to deal in any way with diamonds. However, illicit mining activities were rampant, with many Lebanese subsequently settling in Kono and funding Africans to mine and sell their finds to them."
How the Diamond industry has changed
In the 1950s, the illicit diamond mining and smuggling increased dramatically, and it was estimated that 20 per cent of all diamonds reaching the world's diamond markets were smuggled from Sierra Leone, largely through Liberia and mainly by Lebanese and Mandingo traders. In later years, civil war often revolved around the control of this illicit trade. In 2002, a UN Expert Panel reported that the then "interim" leader of the RUF, Issa Sesay, had flown to Abidjan late in 2001 with 8,000 carats of diamonds that he had sold to two traders of undisclosed identity, who were apparently using a Lebanese businessman to run errands for them between Abidjan and the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Some reports suggest that the UN peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone may have also become involved in the RUF illicit diamond trading.
Diamonds and Terror
In 2001, shortly after the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., the Washington Post found another link in this most secretive and highly lucrative trade--that of international terrorists. In an article published on 2 November 2001, war correspondent Douglas Farah stated that the Al Qaeda network "reaped millions of dollars in the past three years from the illicit sale of diamonds mined by rebels in Sierra Leone" and that three senior Al Qaeda operatives had visited Sierra Leone at different times in 1998 and later. He further claimed that the West African Shi'ite Lebanese community was sympathetic to Hezbollah and often served as a link between the RUF rebels and Al Qaeda. However, according to Gberie, much of the evidence linking West Africa's Lebanese community to global terror networks is largely "anecdotal and circumstantial".
In the last few years, however, the illicit diamond trade has come under scrutiny from many quarters, which makes it much more difficult for middlemen and smugglers to operate. Since 1999, PAC has undertaken a programme of policy research, education and advocacy to ensure that the international diamond industry operates legally, openly and for the primary benefit of the countries where the diamonds originate. It has also extensively published reports that have uncovered the secret dealings and James Bond-style manoeuvres of the middlemen and smugglers in the industry who operate often with the full knowledge and approval of Governments (or rebel movements), and act as conduits for diamonds smuggled from neighbouring countries.
The Kimberley Process
After much media attention and public outcry, the Kimberley Process was created in 2003 to address the problem of conflict diamonds. Member countries of the Kimberley Process pledge not to import or export rough diamonds tainted by conflict.