Magazine article The Spectator

'Blood Diamond' Should Help the Sierra Leone I Love

Magazine article The Spectator

'Blood Diamond' Should Help the Sierra Leone I Love

Article excerpt

Diamonds are a guerrilla's best friend. You may have heard that it's 'girls' who share a special relationship with the little sparklers, but don't be fooled; females have simply had a rather more sophisticated advertising campaign working for them over the years. Drug-addled soldiers, morally lobotomised mercenaries and bloodthirsty terrorists are more appreciative of the potential contained in those chalkywhite carbon stones than any dewy-eyed fiancée could ever hope to be.

Since the late 1990s, thanks to relentless lobbying by organisations such as Global Witness and Amnesty International, Western fiancées have become more conscious that these expensive symbols of eternal love may not have had the most loving of journeys to their left hand. The term 'blood diamonds', or 'conflict diamonds', entered the public consciousness at the height of the devastating war in Sierra Leone, when it became increasingly apparent that diamonds were fuelling and facilitating some of Africa's most brutal conflicts, including those in Liberia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. During these wars, diamonds -- the most compact form of wealth known to man -- were smuggled effortlessly across borders and traded for arms, cocaine, medicines, food, and anything else needed to supply a lethal bush army such as Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Moving undetected, untaxed and unrecorded, millions of dollars worth of rough stones were absorbed into world diamond markets, bought up by cartels and 'reputable' companies, processed in diamond centres in New York, London or Antwerp, and delivered into the windows of jewellery shops.

Meanwhile, almost four million people died and millions more were displaced.

To describe this process in the past tense is to accept the diamond industry's line that, since the signing of peace agreements in West Africa, blood diamonds are a problem of the past. An aggressive PR campaign has been fought to convince consumers that the 2003 Kimberley Process -- a self-regulating agreement between diamond-trading governments that employs a 'system of warranties' to prove that rough stones are conflict-free -- has seen the end of the trade in illicit diamonds.

But this is patently not the case. Less than 12 weeks ago, at the annual Kimberley Process plenary meeting in Botswana, it was admitted that $23 million worth of conflict diamonds from the Ivory Coast had recently entered international markets. Although the UN Security Council renewed sanctions on Ivorian diamond exports in December 2005, such are the weaknesses in Kimberley Process government controls -- and the general laxity on rough diamond data analysis -- that many stones continue to pass undetected over its borders into Ghana. Once there, they are proudly certified 'conflict-free', and may now be adorning the fingers, necks and ears of ethically switched-on consumers who were assured they were buying 'clean' gems.

Pressure on retailers to produce certificates is therefore not enough: industry and governmental pressure to tap the leaks in the Kimberley Process must be stepped up too.

Because so long as diamonds are not better controlled from mine to market, countries rich in this resource but desperately poor in every other respect will remain vulnerable to future diamond-driven conflict. Right now, in the Eastern Congo, diamond fields are still rebel-held, and violent fighting and human rights abuses continue apace; elsewhere in West Africa, diamond areas remain rife with instability and susceptible to capture by rebel groups and terrorists. …

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