Blood Diamonds

african mining rough diamond

Just the term blood diamonds brings up horrendous images of people who have been subjected to unthinkable acts forced upon them by their own countrymen. I will use the term, blood diamonds, to refer to diamonds brought to market during the bloody civil war that occurred in Sierra Leone throughout the 90’s and that finally came to an end in 2002.

The amount of rough diamonds added onto the market during this period was a relatively small amount in comparison to total world production, somewhere only around one percent. It was however enough to be a significant source funding for the rebels in Sierra Leone along with Charles Taylor in Liberia.

A bit of background….

I will simplify the story a bit in order to give some backdrop to what led up to this dark period of the human race. Sierra Leone was a British colony that gained independence in the early 60’s. Sierra Leone started off on its independence pretty well, because it had a relatively good infrastructure and it had already been mining diamonds since the 1930’s.

In the late 60’s, a Prime Minister by the name of Siaka Stevens came into office. He proceeded to run the country into the ground until he and his successor were finally out of office by 1992. It was in the late 80’s and early 90’s that the anti-government group, the RUF, was formed. For the next 4 years, there was an ineffectual string of corrupt military people running the country. It was during this period that the RUF moved into the diamond producing area of Eastern Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone’s diamonds are alluvial in nature…. alluvial diamonds are deposits of diamonds found in lowland areas, in the beds of streams and shallow rivers, but mostly in ancient river beds. alluvial diamonds Diamonds are formed deep in the earth and come to the surface by way of volcanic eruptions and the resulting mountain of cooled lava ends up being eroded away by rain. The diamond rough is washed away and ends up in alluvial deposits.

Most alluvial diamonds are usually found between a few feet to 20 feet below the surface. Relatively little capital and only basic technology (shovels, sieves, and muscles) are required to mine alluvial diamonds. These alluvial diamond mining areas are easily controlled by armed thugs.

In 1995, a group of “gunslingers” from South Africa, called Executive Outcomes, were hired and they cleaned up the problem of the RUF being in the diamond fields. Elections were held in 1996 and a former UN official, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, was elected the new President. Executive Outcomes was asked to leave and in short order, the diamond producing area of Kono was again taken over by the RUF.

A horrible period in history!

It was at this point that the RUF began the horrendous act of cutting off people’s hands!!!! WHY?…. because they had voted during the recent election! Amputations were designed to terrorize the population and it was very effective. It wasn’t however an action directly related to the diamond mining operations. It is the image of this brutal act that has been forever linked to “blood diamonds”.

During the following 6 year period, the RUF teamed up with another thug, Charles Taylor, who was pillaging Sierra Leone’s next door neighbor, Liberia. Together the 2 groups were interested in power and would kill or terrorize anyone who got in their way, blood diamonds was part of their terror campaign. It finally came to a head, after the RUF had come into Freetown and went on a nightmarish killing spree. The British then sent commandos into Sierra Leone to settle the situation in 2002.

The people of Sierra Leone are trying to move on but….

People became aware of the blood diamond situation, they took action, the civil war ended in 2002 and the people of Sierra Leone have moved on and are trying to rebuild their country. An important funding source of their rebuilding efforts come from the money brought in from diamond mining.

There are people in the jewelry business, most notably Martin Rapaport, who are trying to make the situation better for everyone. These diggers do need a better return on their efforts. The people of Africa do need to get a better return on the natural resources that come from their countries… most of all, they do need to have their own governments stop harming them.