Illicit diamonds: Africa's curse.

Author:Warah, Rasna
Position:Perspective
 
FREE EXCERPT

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.

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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".

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...

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