"Blood Diamonds" and Africa's Armed Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era

By Orogun, Paul | World Affairs, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

"Blood Diamonds" and Africa's Armed Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era


Orogun, Paul, World Affairs


The end of the cold war and its bipolar-based international security regime, which was characterized by the ideological and geoterritorial struggles between the United States and the former Soviet Union, has engendered profound changes, challenges, and constraints for many postcolonial African countries. The absence of any major ideological contestation between the East and the West has failed in the short-term to generate the anticipated "peace dividend" for several conflict-ridden and wardevastated African states. The plethora of armed conflicts, civil wars, and brutal struggles for control over the financial revenues and territories of "blood diamonds" have exacerbated Africa's postcolonial socioeconomic and political problems. These military skirmishes and cross-border rebel incursions have unleashed a catastrophic humanitarian tragedy for many citizens and for the neighboring countries of Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The net effects of these armed conflicts--induced, fueled, and funded by mineral resources--have been the proliferation of chronic regional insecurity, the intensification of border states' hostilities, and the acute political instability of many states in southern, central, and western African subregions. In short, the current post-cold war era has presented new challenges and complexities, engendered more paradoxes, and precipitated both political instability and serious regional security dilemmas for several conflict-ridden modern African countries.

The term "blood diamonds" specifically refers to diamonds that are extracted and exported from particular regions in sub-Saharan Africa that are still ravaged by vicious armed conflicts. These civil wars and brutal armed conflicts usually are instigated by intransigent warlords, renegade militias, and rebel groups that depend on the illegal sale of blood diamonds in exchange for military weapons, guns, fuel, and assorted war materials such as land mines. These savage wars perpetuate regional destabilization, cross-border military incursions, and acute internal political instability, and they also have unleashed a major humanitarian refugee catastrophe in parts of postcolonial Africa. "Depending on which estimates are used, blood diamonds represent 4 to 15 percent of the world's $6.8 billion annual diamond production." (1) In this paper, I focus on the relevance and the multidimensional impact of blood diamonds on the persistent socioeconomic, geopolitical, and territorial fragmentation or de facto balkanization of Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In these four sub-Saharan African states, protracted internal and interstate armed conflicts have been triggered, sustained, and funded by the economic imperative of capturing and monopolizing territorial control over the lucrative diamond producing areas. In Angola's protracted civil war, for example,

   [d]iamond money paid for UNITA offensives
   that in the 1990s elevated Angola's civil war to
   a new plateau of savagery. At Andulo, UNITA's
   headquarters in the central highlands of Angola,
   Mr. Savimbi personally haggled with arms
   merchants and diamond traders who flew in
   from Europe. He bargained using small bags of
   diamonds, each of which contained several
   million dollars worth of gems, according to
   Robert Fowler, the Canadian ambassador to the
   United Nations and chairman of a committee
   that investigated violations of the embargo
   against UNITA. (2)

It should be emphasized that at the height of the cold war era, countries such as Angola, Zaire or Democratic Republic of Congo, and Liberia were perceived as major strategic "trophies" or areas of vital interests in the polarized ideological and regional balance of power politics. During the cold war, for example, Angola's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebel movement was branded as "freedom fighters," champions of democratic dispensation, and aspirants of the capitalist, free-market enterprise.

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