The vexed issue of conflict diamonds

The answer to the issue of conflict diamonds is that it is directly related to the availability of arms and the ease with which foreign-based nationals can be used as conduits, both for the purchase and the transhipment of weapons. There has never been a political will to come down hard on the arms traders and dealers – the purveyors of death and misery - and their middlemen and couriers who are based in the countries of the protagonists of this charade of a regulatory certification initiative.  Whom are De Beers, the British and the Canadians fooling? Give us a break, please!

Who will defend the interest of Sierra Leoneans now that Kabbah and his men have sold us out? Since when did diamonds benefit Sierra Leoneans, that we now have such interest in certification as a panacea for the years of exploitation by ministers of government and their business friends and partners overseas? Ask the people of Kono who have witnessed the defacement of their land.  When one grew up as a kid in the late 50s, we heard about Katanga in Sierra Leone. No, not the Katanga in the Congo but that in Sierra Leone! Do you know what it was about? It was an outbreak of unparalleled violence, in reaction to attempts to control the mining areas owned by the mining company SLST and the colonial Sierra Leone government. It boomeranged and there was fighting and murders to the extent that Kono was declared a no-go area. For a long while you had to secure a formal permit to enter the Kono district. Historical perspectives like these are often absent from debates about events in Sierra Leone. We are solely focused on the recent events and seem unaware of other key factors for decisions that have to be taken.

Now, fancy this! They have been concentrating on Liberia when there is free transit across the borders between Guinea and Northern Sierra Leone, with Lebanese and Indian merchants, who are based in Conakry, going in and out at will. If you were a diamond dealer would you go to Liberia to buy diamonds when world attention is focused on that country? They tell me business is booming across the Guinea border like never before.

For months, diamond mining has been taking place in areas that are relatively safe and away from the fighting, and from rebels. Yet we have heard little about the yield of gemstones from there. So if ‘pro government forces’ hold areas that do not feature in the conflict, does that make them and their pickings exempt? In fact, I hear that in some areas, a kind of modus vivendi has been agreed between rebels and Kamajohs on demarcation lines, with each side undertaking not to encroach on the other’s turf.  This whole exercise is just another big humbug and the high point of hypocrisy.  They should be stopping arms production and sales.

Those who are claiming credit for this sham exercise should be ashamed of themselves. Let me explain further what I mean:

*  Rebels do not fight with diamonds. They fight with arms.

*  Rebels do not manufacture arms they buy them.

*  Rebels would not buy arms if arms did not proliferate all around them.

*  Even when arms proliferate like they do, in our case they would not reach rebel hands if there were not people prepared to fly them into war zones where rebels operate. Rebels do not make or fly their own aeroplanes!

*  Rebels dig diamonds but neither their captured slaves nor their compatriots have the resources to buy diamonds from them. They need external agents – largely foreign nationals - to purchase it from them because only the latter have the capital and the means to travel. As far as I know there are no bans on these death merchants to travel out of their countries in Europe and North America. They will take their governments to the European and American courts for the infringement of their own Human Rights and civil liberties (to travel freely and trade in death)!

There are no laws prohibiting the manufacture of arms or their proliferation. Only pathetic half measures have been taken to stop the production and selling of arms. Take for example the issue of landmines. Often, it has been some of the very protagonists of diamond certification that have been stalling on signing (and implementing) the ban on the manufacture, sale and use of these deadly items. The hypocrisy is that the strongest advocates of this silly idea of conflict diamonds fuelling wars in Africa, which is true enough, are themselves the largest producers of the arms that are bought with proceeds from the sale of diamonds. They will not stop producing the arms because their economies – i.e. the jobs and the livelihoods of their citizens - depend on it to a considerable degree. Shall we now expect that they too will be brought to the international tribunal as traders in the merchandise of death?

Someone needs to explain why they are wasting everybody's time talking this rubbish about banning conflict diamonds when everyone knows that people with money only need to buy and hoard them – since they are rich enough not to need to resell them right away – until the conflict ends and the embargo is lifted. But it won’t stop them paying the (possibly) now deflated price to rebels or rogue government ministers? I hear that Hatton Garden in London is still doing brisk trade with Sierra Leone ministers and their emissaries who have been down there regularly selling the ‘bloody’ stones.

If Sierra Leoneans are again being so stupid to allow themselves to be led up the garden path, I take this liberty to opt out. This is simply a waste of time. It assumes that the government of Sierra Leone – the overseers of this process of certification - are themselves transparent, which, of course, they are not! The analogy with drugs is compelling – the only difference being that whereas drugs have been pushed underground after regulations to control their abuse, diamonds naturally occur underground and the trade in Sierra Leone diamonds has, for years, with or without conflict, been sui generis illicit. Smuggling has always been a feature of the trade. It would not be a problem now if it were done in the open. So the minister of mines is wasting time and precious money globetrotting for certification. You can only certify diamonds that have been brought to light. Even then the bloodstains would have been washed away by the time they get to the dealers. The smuggling and the collusion with the smugglers will go on.