March 17, 2004
Partnership Africa Canada and the Network Movement for Justice and Development issued a joint report today on diamonds in Sierra Leone, a country emerging from one of Africa’s most brutal wars. The Diamond Industry Annual Review: Sierra Leone 2004 examines the country’s transition from war to peace and the extent to which “blood diamonds” can now be called “development diamonds”.
It describes the remarkable turnaround in an industry which in 1985 exported only 50,000 carats legally (and probably ten times that amount illegally). The 1990s was a “lost” decade with the diamond regions being under the control of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) who used the sale of diamonds to finance a rebel war. In 2000, as a result of international pressure and UN sanctions, the government began to regain control of the diamond industry. In 2003, after two years of peace, Sierra Leone officially exported half a million carats, worth over US$75 million.
The report is a who’s who of the country’s diamond business, ranging from the 200,000 men and boys digging waist-deep in the mud of alluvial pits, to Hisham Mackie, the country’s largest diamond exporter. The report examines the impact of diamond mining on the environment, and looks into the issue of child labour. And it spells out who makes money in an industry that once fuelled war and is now held up as a hope for the future.
The report describes the temptations of smuggling and corruption in the casino economy of diamond digging. And it takes a long hard look at Sierra Leone’s ability to comply with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme for rough diamonds, which aims to end the problem of conflict diamonds forever. The report describes initiatives for better management of the diamond sector, and tries to answer a question posed by a New York diamond dealer: “Should I buy Sierra Leone diamonds?”
The Diamond Industry Annual Review is the first in a series. It benchmarks problems and achievements in one of the country’s most important industries and is the starting point for a longer discussion over time about whether and how diamonds – symbols of love and purity – can create badly needed employment and bring lasting development to the poor countries where they are mined.