The quest for the legendary blood diamonds begins in the remote African country of Cote d’Ivoire. From there, you’ll travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe. Once you reach Zimbabwe, you’ll discover the dark history of the country’s diamond industry. As you make your way through these countries, you’ll learn how these diamonds were mined and how the conflict in these places spawned the need for the diamonds.
In 2007, a majority-Muslim rebel group launched an attack on the capital, Bangui, in order to overthrow the government and seize the country’s precious diamond fields. In response, Christian militias launched a counterattack, killing thousands of Muslim fighters. The conflict was fueled by the demand for diamonds, which is why it has become such a popular commodity worldwide.
The international community has been concerned about investing in pink diamonds for 15 years, since “blood diamonds” underpinned the grisly civil wars in Africa. However, after the United Nations’s Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was established in 2003, the situation has improved. In fact, most of the conflicts that were funded by diamonds in the 1990s are now over, although the diamond trade remains in the country, where New Forces has controlled the northern half since 2002.
Conflict diamonds are also known as blood diamonds, because they are often produced under forced labor and looted by rebels. Consequently, blood diamonds often fund the activities of insurgents, warlords, or invading armies. Conflict diamonds are often produced through forced labor, and stolen during shipment. Sometimes, the diamonds are seized by rebels, either by attacking legitimate producers or smuggling them to foreign countries.
The United Nations Security Council has extended sanctions on Liberia’s diamonds for six months. The extension will give the Liberian government time to establish a transparent and internationally verifiable Certificate of Origin regime. Once the certification process is implemented, the United Nations will review the situation. In the meantime, the UN is giving the Liberian government a chance to comply with the Kimberley Process and end the conflict with diamonds.
The United Nations has banned the export of diamonds from Sierra Leone, which the RUF channeled through Liberia. The UN also embargoed the guns-for-diamonds trade. However, despite the sanctions, the illicit trade in both arms and diamonds continued in Liberia. In 2006, the UN prosecutor announced that the diamond trade in Liberia was directly tied to the Al Qaeda terrorist group.
The IMF’s control of the country’s economy further weakened the already weak Sierra Leonean economy. The IMF mandated the devaluation of the currency in an attempt to encourage domestic business, while reducing the cost of Sierra Leone’s mineral resources for other nations. The devaluation incentivized diamond mining, which decreased government revenue from selling the gems. But what is really at stake is the human cost of this development policy.
Although European colonialism has largely disappeared in many African nations, neocolonialism continues. Today, a handful of nations lead the IMF with over 50% voting power. These nations can help alleviate the suffering of Sierra Leoneans by lobbying elected officials to prevent further increases in voting power. Additionally, NGOs can boycott the IMF when their policies are unjust. All of these actions can strengthen the government of Sierra Leone, as well as the local communities in which they live.
The Kimberley Process aims to stop the trafficking of blood diamonds. Founded in 1997, the Kimberley Process helps stop illegal trade in gems. But it has proven unsuccessful in Zimbabwe. The country’s government has used the sale of blood diamonds to fund its corrupt and abusive regime. Witnesses say the military’s mining operations have resulted in the mass murder of hundreds of miners by helicopter gunships. The Kimberley Process has since introduced a set of guidelines that will help prevent blood diamonds from entering the market.
The lack of transparency surrounding Zimbabwe’s diamond revenue is a critical matter of public interest and adds to concerns about the parallel government. In Zimbabwe, loyal Mugabe supporters have been known to buy luxury cars and build private mansions. Analysts are concerned that Mugabe’s newfound wealth could provide a huge war chest ahead of the election next year and give him an unfair advantage over rivals. However, they caution that the escalating diamond prices in Zimbabwe could fuel violence against the population.