Imagine you are walking through Sierra Leone, a beautiful, lush landscape surrounded by tall trees in the summer sun. Sierra Leone is a small country located on the northwest side of Africa?s coast that encompasses approximately 45,000 square miles of mountainous terrain, about 7% of which is arable (Affairs 2010). The country has a mixture of verdant rain forests, beautiful beaches, and more than six million people living within its borders. Then imagine yourself walking around a bend, discovering a large center of slaves working on their hands and knees in muddy riverbeds in search for diamonds. In addition to the diverse foliage, Sierra Leone is also home to deposits of diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold, and chromite (Affairs 2010). For Sierra Leoneans, these resources, diamond deposits in particular, have been a curse for they have been the basis for much conflict and war. Because of their small size, diamonds can, with little effort be transported or smuggled out of the country and sold into the black market. There are two types of diamonds in Sierra Leone: alluvial diamonds, which are found in shallow riverbeds and kimberlite diamonds, which are found in concentrated mines. Because diamonds can be smuggled out of the country so easily for such high profit, they have become both a reason to fight and a factor in creating revenue in order to purchase firearms and other provisions. One group who came to power as a result of their control overwas the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Because Sierra Leone has such a weak property rights regime over diamonds, rebels from the RUF seized full control of the diamond deposits away from the government. This seizure boiled over into a decade long war between the RUF to determine who controls the property rights to the diamond deposits. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the overall role of blood diamonds in Sierra Leone. I will first present a brief background on diamonds that will transition into the role of diamonds in initiating, exacerbating, and eventually ending the war in Sierra Leone. Finally, I will end this analysis with a discussion of the post-war challenges Sierra Leone faces in developing as a peaceful, unified country. Despite having some of the most beautiful scenery in West Africa, Sierra Leone has often been described as one of the most economically poor countries in the world.
Since the discovery of diamonds in Sierra Leone in 1932, the country has managed to export over 32 million carats of diamonds (Hirsch 2000). Prior to the conflict with the RUF, the diamond industry was comprised of several corporate mining companies. In addition to these diamond companies, Sierra Leone also used what is called the Alluvial Diamond Mining Scheme (ADMS). Through this, small diamond producers were granted licenses that enabled them to mine for diamonds, typically using labor-intensive mining techniques (Hirsch 2000). The most common method for diamond mining in Sierra Leone is the sifting through gravel from river banks, river bets, and small pits (Conflict Free 2009). Unfortunately, the majority of workers in this type of work have no ownership over the diamonds they are unearthing. Because the diamonds mined through the Alluvial Diamond Mining Scheme are ultimately sold through chains of small dealers to one of the corporate mining companies to be exported, the ADMS seems to have only two main purposes: ?to appease traditional rulers in the Eastern province and to obtain diamonds through labor-intensive, non-capitalist labor that could not be obtained profitably by the larger corporations (Zack-Williams, 206).? The corporate structure behind the Alluvial Diamond Mining Scheme is dominated by a company named DeBeers. Through Lauren Thompson?s report Sierra Leone: 1935-2000, she explains how ?in 1935, DeBeers gained full rights to the diamond industry in Sierra Leone until the year 2034 (Thompson 2000).? Later in her report, Thompson discusses the role of Lebanese traders in Sierra Leone and their attitudes towards diamond smuggling. ?These traders quickly discovered smuggling diamonds brought easy profits, and illicit mining and trading grew throughout the country (Thompson 2000).? As soon as word spread concerning diamond smuggling, thousands of people flocked to Sierra Leone creating an overwhelming diamond rush in 1950. Because of the new influx of people, the government was no longer able to police the diamond districts (Abdullah 1998). Ultimately, with the government completely removed from the diamond industry as well as the diamonds being dispersed over such a large territory, diamonds were now seen as a good that could be socially looted, becoming the object of conflict in Sierra Leone.
The diamond conflict in Sierra Leone is often credited to Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia. Taylor is known to have directly sponsored diamond bandits in Sierra Leone. Following the illegal attainment of diamonds, these same bandits were then responsible for smuggling the diamonds across the border into Liberia. In an article concerning regional peacekeeping in Sierra Leone, Steven Burgess states that ?The failure of the United States to respond to pleas from its traditional Liberian ally during the disintegration of the dictatorship of Samuel Doe in 1990 permitted a rebel incursion to escalate into a protracted conflict; subsequently, it spilled over into Sierra Leone, a similarly weak state? (Burgess 1998, 41). The decade-long war in Sierra Leone is heavily linked to Taylor?s actions in financing diamond bandits and introducing the ability to finance war through diamond smuggling.
In addition to Taylor?s actions in nearby Liberia, conflict was also influenced by a large international link. The monopolistic control of diamonds dug in Africa and the world as a whole is dated all the way back to the initial discovery of diamonds in Southern Africa in the late 1800s (Hirsch 2000). Through careful social construction, diamond companies like DeBeers have managed to instill the idea that diamonds are worth fighting for (Stanton 2002). ?De Beers is able to maintain high diamond prices by buying up control over the world?s diamond supplies and managing the amount available for sale, also enabling the corporation to weather dips in the price of finished diamonds (Ariovich 1985).? Advertising also plays a role in raising the value of something when they are so plentiful. Slogans like ?a diamond is forever? represent the idea that engagement rings not only must have a diamond as the stone, but they also serve as a symbol for wealth and social status for a couple (Epstein 1982). The final aspect dealing with diamond prices influencing conflict is the difference in price between finished and rough diamonds. Surprisingly, finished diamonds, that is, diamonds that have been cut and polished, sell for a dramatically higher price that of rough diamonds coming out of poor countries such as Sierra Leone. ?The value of retail sales of polished diamonds can increase to many times the value of stones in its rough form. For instance, retail value of diamond sales in 1981 totaled $18.0 billion, while the value of rough diamonds sold was probably only around $2.0 billion (Ariovich 1985).? In this system, countries like Sierra Leone are not the ones receiving the profit for diamond sales. It is corporate companies like DeBeers who are exploiting cheap labor, driving up the price of diamonds, and creating conflict and war between the rebel group RUF and the Sierra Leonean government.
Conflict originally began in 1990 when Foday Sankoh, a former corporal in the government military, forcibly asserted control over a group of young boys who were protesting the installation of fees for attending government schools (Abdullah 1998) Build from this initial group of children, Sankoh began building the foundation for the RUF in the form of a child army comprised of both male and female fighters. Recruitment methods used by the RUF often included threatening young children and teens that if they did not join the RUF, their family would be raped and killed in their presence. Once children were inducted into the RUF, teen soldiers were forcibly injected with cocaine, altering their psychological reasoning and creating a sense of loyalty to the RUF (Kandeh 2005). Children were brainwashed into leading raids against the very villages in which they once lived. Ultimately the RUF ravaged the country, raping and killing while abducting new children for their cause.
Amputation was a strong tool used by the RUF as a means to control the masses. In order to stop people from voting, the RUF began cutting off hands if people even considered voting. As Kate Fogelberg and Alexandra Thalman explain in their article, Amputation as a Strategy of Terror in Sierra Leone, terror strategies such as amputation were used in order to displace people away from diamond deposits, granting the RUF full control over the mines (Fogelberg & Thalmann 2004). Child soldiers accounted for the majority of the workers in these diamond mines controlled by the RUF. One significant aspect of the relationship between RUF leaders and the child soldiers is the loyalty created between one another. In addition to terror tactics and cocaine, RUF officers often provided ?surrogate ?patrons? to their ?client? child soldiers, replacing the very same patron-client relationship they claimed to be fighting (Murphy 2003).?
In 1991, long after the RUF had already done substantial amounts of damage to Sierra Leonean society, President Momoh requested that peacekeepers be sent in an attempt to form peace between the government and the RUF. History shows that regional organizations like the SADC in South Africa and the ECOWAS in Nigeria were more willing to aid Sierra Leone in their struggle while major forces like the United States and the United Nations steered clear from the fight (Burgess 1998). When peaceful attempts failed to get the RUF to yield, ECOMOG troops began a military campaign to force the RUF to back down. However, just as the Sierra Leonean military had before them, the ECOMOG forces were unsuccessful in their efforts.
The civil war between the RUF and the government of Sierra Leone took over five years to come to a permanent close. Several attempts were made by Sierra Leone to find ways to end the conflict. In 1999, war was temporarily discontinued through the signing of the Lom? Peace Accord. Through this, Sankoh, the RUF leader, was granted the position of vice president in the Sierra Leonean government and call for international peacekeepers to further control the situation (Schaeffer 2007). The primary two forces that aided Sierra Leone in this were the United Nations and ECOMOG. However, when peacekeeping forces began pulling out in 2000, the RUF began violating the Lom? Peace Accord, most notably killing as many as twenty people in one demonstration (Prosecuting Foday Sankoh 2000). Accordingly, chief members of the RUF were arrested while Sankoh was stripped of all governmental power. Following this incident, while the disarmament and breakdown of the RUF continued to progress, the government began reasserting control over areas that were previously controlled by RUF forces. While rebel forces continue to cause destruction in Sierra Leone today, on January 18, 2002, President Kabbah declared the civil war between the RUF to be officially over (Pugh et al 2004).
Post-Conflict development and the social implications brought on by the war in Sierra Leone are still a pressing issue for all members that society. The social implications of the war alone are enough to severely cripple the country. Following the civil war, Sierra Leone experienced a large influx of orphans, many of who served with the RUF as combatants. With the RUF expelled, these children must now live side by side with the very people they once terrorized, raped and murdered (Azar et al 1999). The fact that previous combatants and victims are living side by side in such an unstable economy allows for a high risk for future conflict. Although most child soldiers were not punished for their actions due to the recruitment methods by the RUF, there is still a high need for restorative justice that provides a sense of community and calm for both victims and combatants (Peters and Richards 1998).
In addition to social growth that needs to take place, economic development is also necessary to prevent future conflict. According to the World Bank, in order to create a sustainable economy that will prevent future war in a post-war country is the diversification of GDP away from one specific commodity or good (World Bank). For Sierra Leone, this commodity is without a doubt diamonds. However, if Sierra Leone decided to reduce its dependence on income from the sale of diamonds, the government would not receive nearly as much revenue because so much of Sierra Leone?s resources are diamonds. Also, steps would have to be taken to police the diamond fields if they were not going to be mined as heavily in order to prevent the looting and exploitation of diamond deposits by yet another rebel incursion. Overall, the increased opportunity cost of not depending so much on revenue generated from the selling of rough diamonds is a testament to how difficult the conditions are currently being faced by the government of Sierra Leone.
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