Management of natural resources is central to quality of governance in a country. An endowment of mineral resources such as diamond, gold or oil should foster economic development. However, there are areas in Africa where such resources have caused serious conflicts (Levy 36).
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Sierra Leone’s diamond has fueled a long and bloody military campaign ever witnessed in the history of Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone experienced an eleven-year civil war from 1990’s to 2002 between the Government of Sierra Leone and Revolutionary United Front (RUF).The civil war in Sierra Leone was officially declared over in January 2002. However, over 70,000 people had been killed, 10,000 maimed, and more than half of the population fled the country or were internally displaced (Keen 15).
‘Blood diamond’ or ‘conflict diamonds’ are gems mined in war zones and are smuggled into the legitimate industry through illegal means. According to Levy (3), diamonds mined in Sierra are smuggled to other countries through Ivory Coast (Lincoln 36). Civil wars that are a result of resource conflicts have been manifested in a number of Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries where resource endowment has resulted in civil wars.
For example, Angola, South-Sudan, Liberia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Sierra Leone are amongst those countries that are endowed with mineral resources but still have high prevalence of poverty, social inequality, and conflict (Omeje 2008 in Lincoln 39).
From the above examples, it can be deduced that armed conflict is a major manifestation in resource exploitation. Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) countries that are endowed with alluvial deposits of minerals such as diamond, colt, and gold. However, they are faced with the problem of illegal mining and smuggling. The rise in diamond smuggling during the Stevens and Momoh eras is explained by rent seeking instincts of the political elite.
This was furthered by the peculiar organization of the international diamond industry (TRCV in Sierra Leone 17). Illegal exportation of diamond has taken place since the 1950s, with most being channeled through Ivory Coast, endowed with smaller number of diamond deposits (Lincoln 38).
Although most observers have viewed the causes of these conflicts as complex, reflecting a combination of political and socio economic factors have increasingly focused on the connection between contested natural resources and political conflict (Levy 3).
It argued that diamond played a vital role in fuelling the conflict as various parties funded war efforts through mining activities. These diamonds have been labeled ‘blood diamonds’ or ‘conflict diamonds’ (Levy 2) because the resources obtained from their sale is used to fund purchases of arms and military ammunition by rebel forces.
Although blood diamonds contribute the income of countries where they are mined, it also contributed greatly to warlords within Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola (Sean and Rorison 21). The problem involving conflict diamonds is that there are many victims who suffer including diamond miners. Many diamonds are harvested using practices that exploit the workers, children, and communities (Keen 13).
As depicted in the movie Blood Diamond, those that attempt to escape the mining camps or try to steal the mined gem face punishment of having their limbs removed or shot. Many miners find diamonds unwillingly and attempt to hide them (Solomon in the Movie). They are hoping to find large diamond that will transform their lives since a significantly high number of miners are trapped in absolute poverty. Several people have been killed retrieving hidden diamonds.
This number is estimated at 3.7 million people who have directly succumbed to diamond-fuelled wars. More millions have lost their homes and livelihoods (Abdullah 101). In the movie Blood Diamond, Solomon is poor fisherman in a war torn country. His and several other houses are burnt by the rebels led by Captain Poison (RUF Commander).
Smuggling of conflict diamond and illegal diamond trade has brought suffering to neighboring countries since these countries are trading and transit grounds for the illegal gems (Levy 10). For instance, countries such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo suffered from wars within themselves and between warlords who fought over the mined diamonds being smuggled into the industry (Keen 15).
Several rebel forces and commanders also exploited children as child soldiers. In the movie, for example, Captain Poison (RUF Commander) raids Solomon’s village captures children to use as his soldiers including Dia Vandy-Solmon’s son.
Lack of adequate monitoring of the source and origin of diamonds is one of the major problems in the industry as illegitimate mineral exploitation flourishes. The illicit mining has resulted in lower mineral revenues for governments. This has caused serious development implications to Sierra Leone which relies heavily on proceeds from mineral exploitation (Levy 40). This is the case with Sierra Leone, a country whose economy depends essentially on revenues from its mineral resources.
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Reduced mineral revenue for an already heavily indebted country like Sierra Leone is likely to obviate realization of national development projects. Efforts to control illicit extraction and smuggling of diamonds in alluvial mining areas in Sierra Leone are hindered by large influx of miners, presence of foreign mining agents, and porous borders (Lincoln 38).
The large influx of miners in extensive mining areas supervised by few mines monitoring officials has hampered Sierra Leone government’s effort to prevent illegal extraction of diamond. Moreover, some foreign mining representatives take advantage of this weakness by sponsoring illegal mining, buying, and smuggling of diamonds (Lincoln 37).
The problem of illegal exploitation of alluvial deposits is largely attributed to activities of artisanal miners and their association with social actors in the mining industry. Despite the fact that the government of Sierra Leone has made progress in formalizing artisanal mining, illegal exploitation is still a key issue of concern.
Though artisanal mining is still widely used in the outskirts of Koidu Town in Kono District, most of it is illegal mining and involves deplorable working conditions (Levy 36). According to Lincoln (38), the government officials in Sierra Leone complained that it was difficult to control and manage the diamond industry and as a result the smuggling of illegal diamonds continued as late as 2009.
Diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone have undoubtedly contributed to large scale corruption in the Sierra government, and denied the country millions of dollars in foreign exchange income. Unfortunately, it has promoted political instability within and without the boarders of the West African sub-country (Gberie 2005 cited in Lincoln 39).
The pressing concern however is debate on the role played by illegal diamond exploitation and sale to the country’s future political and development path. Quite a number of observers have warned that diamond trade in Sierra Leone presents a considerable threat to security in the post-conflict time.
Great numbers of ex-combatants who continue to return to diamond mining regions in the Eastern Province has exacerbated the situation. Similarly, there remain widespread concerns about socio-economic consequences of this scenario to wider state interests. Therefore, without major efforts to provide better alternative socio-economic opportunities for socially excluded rural youths, there is a substantial risk that fighting might resume in future (TRCV in Sierra Leone 19).
On the other hand, in spite of extreme levels of poverty in modern-day Sierra Leone, particularly in the diamond mining regions themselves, there was an era when diamonds played vital role in the country’s national economic development agenda and were a significant aspect of the local economy.
Specifically, before the start of this war in 1991, mining played a central role in economic development of Sierra Leone, as it was the major foreign exchange earner for the country, accounting for over 80 per cent of export earnings and 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) (Keen 26).
The history of great effort against blood diamonds has involved a number of stakeholders. In the beginning, NGO’s with an interest in peace and development in the Sub Saharan country acknowledged the role of diamonds in conflict. On the other hand, social scientists and researchers were doing research and modeling the role of natural endowments in long-standing violent conflicts witnessed in many Sub Saharan Africa countries.
The United Nation, governments, NGOs, civil society groups, and the diamond industry recognized need for a global system to prevent blood diamonds from entering lawful global diamond supply chain to fund conflict. In 2003, the diamond industry, together with governments and civil society, launched the Kimberly Process, a diamond certification scheme that aimed to get rid of blood diamonds from global markets.
The process attempted to curb trade in illegal diamonds that has helped to fund rebels and conflicts aimed at overthrowing governments as it did in Sierra Leone (Lincoln 38).
While the Kimberley Process embodies a significant step in an attempt to control and eradicate trade in blood diamonds, strengthening of the control apparatus is unquestionably required (Lincoln 39). Awareness of the illegal trade in precious gems has increased significantly since the onset of the Kimberly process. “Blood diamond”, the movie addresses the concerns behind glittering diamonds which are not as pleasant as the diamond looks. It shows the conflict in Sierra Leone and its devastating consequences.
In conclusion, the trade in diamond and other gem or precious stones has played significant role in civil conflicts witnessed in many Sub Saharan African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. Smuggling and illegal mining of these gems denies these countries revenue. Besides, it has exacerbated poverty levels that are already soaring high. Changing these conditions require joint efforts from the government and industry players.
Abdullah, Ibrahim. (Ed). Between Democarcy and Terror. Dakar, Senegal: African Books Collective; Codesria, 2004. Print.
Keen, David. Conflict & Collusion in Sierra Leone. New York, NY:James Currey Publishers, 2005. Print.
Levy, Arthur, V. Diamonds and Conflict: Problems and Solutions. New York: Nova Publishers, 2003. Print.
Lincoln, Jessica. Transitional Justice, Peace and Accountability: Outreach and the Role of International Courts after Conflict. USA: Taylor & Francis, 2011. Print.