The African Conflict
A Diamond is Forever
Diamonds; timeless, beautiful, symbols of love, they are the world's
most precious and sought after gems. But in Africa, during the 1990s,
these beautiful stones became blood diamonds, named. not for their
colour but, for their cost in human conflict and suffering. Children
were kidnapped and turned into killers. When the story broke, a global
industry would come under fire fearing that diamonds would become the
new fur, that people would boycott diamonds which would become the most
politically incorrect gemstones.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations on Earth. The average
income of its people is little more than £100 per year. Yet, beneath
its soil lies a treasure trove of diamonds.
Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential says "Sierra Leone
diamonds are legendary for their value and their beauty. Its the size, the
colour, the refractive nature of the stone". Diamonds should have
made Sierra Leone a paradise, instead it made it a hell.
From 1991 to 2001 a brutal war has raged between the government and
the rebel group called the RUF, the Revolutionary United Front. A war
funded in part by diamonds. The country and its people still bear the
scar of diamond fuelled warfare. During the war, Ibrahim Fofana worked
in one of the many mines in Eastern Sierra Leone pulling rough diamonds
from the ground.>
In April 1998 the RUF attacked his village. Rebels
confronted his neighbour demanding diamonds, when he said he had none he
was shot and killed. A different fate awaited Ibrahim, they chopped his
hands off. In Sierra Leone, over 10,000 people suffered a similar fate.
Amputation became the trade-mark atrocity of the RUF.
Greg Campbell, author of Blood Diamond tells us "They committed
every war crime under the Geneva Convention and then invented on of
their own in intentional mutilation of non-combatant civilians. The
whole purpose of it was to serve a military strategy, to induce
population flow away from the areas the RUF wanted under its
As the people of Sierra Leone suffered the horrors of civil war, diamonds
mined illegally by the rebels flowed freely into the world diamond
market. The estimate is that, maybe, 15% of the world diamond market was
made up by blood diamonds. Blood diamonds mined in the 1990s still grace
the hands and necks of unsuspecting customers all over the world.
Diamonds also funded two other brutal civil wars in Africa during the
1990s. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Angola, and it was
in Angola that the horrors of blood diamonds first came to world
Matthew Hart, author of Diamond, comments "Angola has
everything, off-shore oil reserves, diamonds and other resources. It is
a sad tale of human greed and the most revolting conditions of
From the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s a bitter civil war had raged
between government troops and rebel forces known as Unita. While the
government relied on oil reserves, the rebels turned to diamonds. By
1992, the rebels controlled nearly 70% of Angola's diamond mines.
Hart tells us "The war was funded, in one part, by the sale of
diamonds extracted by people, often, in conditions of enslavement".
They had little trouble in finding buyers for their illicit stones.
Dealers from the diamond dealing world would come to Unita, those
diamonds went straight into the market in Antwerp and they got an
enormous amount of money for them. 3.7 billion dollars worth of diamonds
from Angola went through Unita's hands in the 1990s.
Just some of the many victims of conflict diamonds
Often, deals were done without cash changing hands. Arms dealers
would fly in and directly negotiate arms for diamonds. Illegal diamond
revenue sustained Unita's vicious war machine. For the people of Angola
the horror seemed to have no end. Close to a million people lost their
lives in the conflict in Angola.
The war sparked an investigation by Global Witness, a small
London-based pressure group focusing on human rights abuses and
environmental issues. In 1998, Global Witness published an expose on
conflict diamonds entitle A Rough Trade. The reaction was explosive,
basically consumers were funding the war in Angola. The report's
greatest criticism was levelled at De Beers. De Beers have dominated the
market in African diamonds for a hundred years. Their philosophy was
simple, control diamond supply and you control diamond prices.
Ian Smillie a research coordinator with Partnership Africa-Canada
explains "We have an idea that diamonds are rare; they're not. What
created the value of diamonds was withholding the supply to ensure it
was regulated. Which is what De Beers did right from the
With supply under their control De Beers, under the inspired
leadership of their chairman Ernest Oppenheimer, launched a brilliant ad
campaign in 1948 designed to increase demand. But, the blood diamond
scandal that Global Witness had unleashed, threatened the De Beers
business as never before. De Beers was very prominent in buying diamonds
that came from Angola and Unita.
De Beers defends its purchase of Angolan diamonds, stating that they
have never bought conflict diamonds. They dispute that conflict diamonds
even existed before 1998. Only when the UN imposed sanctions did De
Beers recognise the problem.
In October 1999, De Beers took decisive action and announced the
closure of their Angolan offices, but the blood diamond story wasn't
over. In Sierra Leone, the war stood on the verge of new horrors.
The rebels, under the leadership of former army corporal Foday Sankoh, had captured the mines and now they needed miners. A new
campaign of terror was launched to turn Sierra Leone's diamond mines
into slave labour camps. Before the start of the civil war, Usman Conteh
was a typical teenager, but when he was just seventeen he was abducted
during a rebel raid on his home town. Usman had expected to be executed,
but as one of a group of a hundred he was taken to the mines and forced
to work at gunpoint, day and night. Rebels hovered over each captive,
guarding against escape or theft.
The diamonds were whisked out of the country along smuggling routes
that had been set up decades before. RUF control of the mines served
another strategic purpose, it starved the government and its army of
finances to operate. As anarchy reigned in Sierra Leone, the children
would soon be drawn into the conflict. Some were killed, others did the
The conflict in Sierra Leone took on a horrifying new aspect when the
RUF began kidnapping children. Patrick Smith, the editor of Africa
Confidential explains the horrors of this development "They would
capture the children in a specific area, drug the children, brainwash
the children and show them Rambo movies, fill them full of cocaine,
marijuana, cheap liquor and say 'Your parents have betrayed you, they've
betrayed the country, they're your enemies, you've got to go and kill
your parents". During the war nearly 20,000 boys and girls aged
mostly between 8 and 15 were turned into sex slaves of killing machines.
Lovette Freeman was just fourteen when she was abducted by the RUF.
She was sexually abused and beaten; she did what she was told. She held
a woman at gunpoint and abducted her baby. She was sad when the baby
By the end of 1994, with much of Sierra Leone in chaos, the
government hired a South African mercenary army, Executive Outcomes, to
restore order. The soldiers for hire were promised diamonds as pay. In
just one month, Executive Outcomes drove the RUF out of most of the
diamond-rich east. The resulting peace brought elections in 1996, but
the RUF refused to participate.
Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected president. At the urging of the UN,
Kabbah terminated the contract with Executive Outcomes. With no military
force to stop them, the RUF rose up again. To punish those who had voted
for President Kabbah, the RUF exacted horrific revenge on the people of
In 1996, the war entered its sixth year. Illicit diamonds had helped
sustain a conflict that might otherwise have ended quickly. Alexander
Yearsley of Global Witness considers "The amount of money that the
RUF made from the diamonds in Sierra Leone is between 50 and 125 million
dollars per annum for the time they had control of the diamond fields.
The RUF were about to get more rich pickings. The army overthrew the
president and invited the rebels into Freetown, as allies. Almost
immediately, the RUF set about pillaging the capital in an operation
they, cynically, called 'Pay Yourself'. Houses were looted, the
occupants brutalised and the women raped in front of their children and
husbands. The horror ended only when a Nigerian led intervention force
drove the RUF out of the capital, but by then 6,000 people had perished
and the once vibrant city was in ruins.
Finally, the international community intervened. The warring parties
net at Lome, Togo in July 1999 and signed a peace accord. To the horror
of many in Sierra Leone, Fodey Sankoh, leader of the RUF, was handed the
vice-presidency. As vice-president, Sankoh was granted official
oversight of Sierra Leone's diamond mine, the very objective he's sought
through eight years of war.
However, the RUF broke the cease-fire and were on the rise once
again. But, this time the world was determined to defeat them once and
for all. In May 2000, a British intervention force landed on the shores
of Sierra Leone, together with UN troops they crushed the RUF and
arrested their leader Fodey Sankoh.
The peace in Sierra Leone was an uneasy one. Full amnesty had been
granted to the RUF combatants so the war victims and the rebels who had
terrorised them are once again neighbours being encouraged to forgive
Sierra Leone's, UN backed, War Crimes Tribunal will only deal with
those who bear the greatest responsibility for the war's worst
atrocities. Fodey Sankoh was charged with crimes against humanity but
died in prison before he could be sentenced.
CREDITS: All of the above information came from the UK Channel 5
"The True Story" Documentary Series.
||Blood Diamonds -
||Diamond - Matthew
||Rough Diamonds: A
Practical Guide - Nizam Peters