"It seems that almost every time a valuable natural resource is discovered in the world -- whether it be diamonds, rubber, gold, oil, whatever -- often what results is a tragedy for the country in which they are found. Making matters worse, the resulting riches from these resources rarely benefit the people of the country from which they come." -Edward Zwick
The director of the award-winning 2006 film Blood Diamond was referring to the Paradox of Plenty, perhaps better known as the Resource Curse, cast upon Africa by scrambling sorcerers with wands of imperial wantonness. These global opportunists who happened upon shiny stones near the bed of the Orange River in South Africa or the Kono and Kenema districts of Sierra Leone would forever execrate the economic development of African people.
Over the last half-century, as African nationalism spread and colonial governments were systematically deposed, forced labor transitioned to underpaid labor. European owned diamond mining companies grudgingly complied with UN mandates and International trade unions, abolishing child labor and instituting modern safety codes such as air ventilation shafts. For these austere efforts, they received sparkling new wholesome reputations. In the eyes of the international diamond community, the flow of blood coating the world's most prized gems had coagulated. Meanwhile, anarchic guerrillas in the bush who once coalesced to oust colonizers and overthrow kleptocratic governments Robin Hood-style, were losing their vision. The Beattys, Rothschilds, Rooyens and Oppenheimers were now in the position to moralize to these junta groups who undeniably terrorize, pillage, intimidate, rape and utilize diamonds to finance their scorched earth policy. Ostensibly born out of genuine concern for the livelihood of African people, these Rudyard Kipling spirited mining ethic lectures manifested exclusively to prevent their native bloodsucking competition from selling diamonds on the black market, circumventing the standard European and Israeli controlled channels and thus devaluing the product. Subsequently, the cartel syndicates began boasting about the purity and transparency of their mining efforts and the familiar term was born, "conflict diamond."
Sierra Leone, once the pulse of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, exports 500,000 carats of diamonds annually, worth an approximate $78 billion dollars; yet is ranked one of the poorest countries globally by the World Development Report. Gem enthusiasts, United Nations, Kimberley Process and the World Diamond Council would have you believe this financial inconsistency pandemic throughout abundantly mineralized countries -- including Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola and the Democrat Republic of the Congo -- does not pose a "conflict" unless diamonds are being put on the market by African rebels, a favorite villain being Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) which was formed in 1991. There's only one discrepancy with this ahistorical theory, the Temne and the Mende people of West Africa have experienced extreme financial decay and massive human suffering since the initial discovery of natural resources by British aristocrats -- 60 years before the RUF.
The intricacies of the African diamond export business is much more multifaceted than simply blaming black insurrectionary groups profiting off illegal mining while breeding soldiers out of children. Blood diamonds were born over a century ago, under the systematic hegemonic exploitation of African land by non-African people. Long before the rise of Askaris, LRAs, M23s, UNITAs and other native insurgents leaving footprints of carnage, there were men of European descent laying the entropic groundwork for these political revolutionary turned rebel Frankensteins.
To contend that diamond profits exclusively in the hands of only one of these sordid groups is a conflict with African livelihood is undeniably racially prejudiced.
Whether it was the glimmer of carbon allotropes in Chiadzwa or along the dried up Angolan rivers, the discovery of diamonds have always precipitated the decline of third world economies, while local inhabitants are told to be grateful for job creation and the gift of digging. Africans could only wish their land was as geologically fascinating as Taiwan, an undesirable barren rock in the archipelago of East Asia that boasts a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 29 times that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the 2nd largest diamond exporter in the world. Instead of mining their land, the Taiwanese government mined their people, producing some of the highest test scores in the world with 95% of their students going on to secondary education, in contrast to a meager 5% in Africa. Zambian economist, Dambisa Moyo, created what she called the Four Horsemen of Africa's Apocalypse: war, disease, corruption and poverty. But there was one more rider and his name wasn't Jesus Christ, it was Cecil Rhodes.
Hustle the Kings: The Beginning
It's all Christianity's fault.
Okay not really, but I delight in blaming missionaries whenever the chance arises. Nonetheless English tycoon Cecil Rhodes did use Jesuit John Moffat to persuade King Lobengula of the Ndebele people to sign the infamous Rudd Concession, ultimately the death warrant of Matabeleland. In exchange for some ammunition and a riverboat, it was verbally promised that no more than ten white men would ever mine on native soil. Unfortunately, Lobengula wasn't the most literate of African kings and 75 years later Zimbabwe would magically become Rhodesia. De Beers Consolidated Mines followed in the decimation footsteps where the Mfecane left off and the diamond business quickly became a zero sum game.
History has shown us who was left with what.
Lobegula once poetically summed up Rhode's slick takeover:
"Did you ever see a chameleon catch a fly? The chameleon gets behind the fly and remains motionless for some time, then he advances very slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then the other. At last, when well within reach, he darts his tongue and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon and I am that fly."
Although the ever gangster King Msiri refused to surrender the Congo, Rhodes hustled King Lewanika, Mwata Kazembe and Nsama, obtaining a charter from the British Government to rule, terrorize, police and excavate stolen earth from the Limpopo River to the great lakes of Central Africa. His parasitic De Beers imperium went on to merge any land replete with silica dust, throwing tantrums along the way if he was outbid for one alluvial deposit.
Rhodes and his cadre of sparkly-eyed stratigrapher bandits would set-up shanty towns confining hundreds of thousands of grossly underpaid workers, many forced into free labor after the creation of Rhode's Hut Tax, which demanded 10-14 shillings per hut occupied by indigenous people. To put this in perspective, imagine men entering your personal dwelling predicated upon a poorly written, protracted contract signed by a linguistically challenged, blind-sighted, confused great-grandmother, penned only after months of ongoing harassment. The non-expiring paperwork would mean that these home invaders could help themselves to the food in your garden, charge you to live on your own land, force you and your offspring to tend the backyard amidst pesticides in order to pay rent on your own house, while refusing to let you sleep with your wife and performing customary rectal exams to make sure you weren't stealing your own food. That is pretty much the most comprehensive metaphor I can come up with as to how Europe got rich while Africa got Silicosis.
The Myth of Conflict-Free Diamonds
The term "conflict diamond" has become defined as the paltry 2-3% crisis when the purchasing money doesn't flow directly into the pockets of pilfering white owned mining mafias, whose legacies emerged from the Berlin Conference and were rooted in apartheid, colonialism, pass laws, forced labor, family separation, illegal search and seizure, and working conditions that would make America's migrant grape pickers shudder. The contention that only a small fraction of diamonds fall into the "conflict" category is about as illusory as declaring sweatshops satisfactory if they offer their employees fire escapes.
Any occupation that proliferates widespread disease is a conflict. A devastating effect of mine work is the inhalation of crystalline silica dust, which is toxic and often lethal. Silicosis is a debilitating disease that attacks the lungs, causes chronic airflow obstruction, cyanosis and often precipitates Tuberculosis. Currently, South Africa has the highest infection rate of Tuberculosis in the world. Contracting the disease in the past meant mining peripatetics would be sent back to the Apartheid Bantustans to die. It wouldn't be until a century later that the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works was instituted, forcing the diamond cartels to ever so graciously shell out meager compensation sums to a miner's family post-mortem.
It is indeed a conflict when Jacob the Jeweler brings in an estimated $20 million annual salary and drives a $500,000 Maybach while the annual GDP for capita in diamond originating countries like Sierra Leone and Zimbawe are $1,138 and $516 respectively -- and when the net worth of De Beers is more than the entire combined GDP of Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone, both struggling to feed 18 million people with a below poverty rate of 70-80%. Miners who strike for a 10% increase to their scarce wages are continuously gunned down until the billion dollar juggernauts counter back with fraction offers after becoming exhausted from shooting. This nickel and dime approach seems counterintuitive to De Beers and Trans Hex, whose philanthropic websites boast of donating millions to "fostering sustainability" and "community engagement" in Africa. Conceivably, losing the superficial, bighearted PR campaign and simply paying workers livable incomes would better assist with "sustainability."
While diamonds as emblems of everlasting love have become a cultural imperative for brides and grooms in developed nations, digging up gems from the crust of the earth has afflicted Africans with everlasting despair. They have been left with haunting memories of silica dust, The Glen Grey Act, tin neck cans, Hut Taxes, Bantustans, conjugal visit waiting lists, and full body cavity searches. Unlike oil, rubber, natural gas and cotton, diamonds serve absolutely no purpose other than Western adornment, and Africans continue to die for our vanity.
Wearing a diamond ring with a style cut "Kimberley Canary" is like fashioning a hangman's knot into a necklace and calling it "Antebellum Chic." Diamonds are as symbolically repugnant as the noose, burka or swastika -- iconography that evokes a constant reminder of a legacy rife with dirt and blood. It makes no difference if that rope came from your local hardware store and not from the tree of an abandoned plantation in the deep south; or if that yard of cloth was purchased from JoAnn's Fabric and not taken off a young Muslim girl buried neck high in dirt for crimes of chastity. From Auschwitz and the Antebellum South, to the Arabian Sands and mines of Kimberley and Transvaal, the symbolism of these cherished talismans of tyranny disrespect our deceased brothers and sisters around the world
It is as equally important to boycott diamonds surfacing from exploitation as those that come out of armed rebel areas. Throughout history, the grim reaper has shown his many morbid faces across lands where aboriginal people lose control over their own capital. The savage legacy of De Beers, mercenary groups and corrupt governments remain firmly rooted in the depth of these volcanic craters, The conflict remains apparent whether diamonds are found in Antwerp, Côte d'Ivoire or Mobutu's wife's suitcase.
De Beers Diamonds: As Hemorrhagic as They Come
Cecil Rhodes was once quoted as saying, "I would annex the planets if I could." Thankfully NASA wasn't yet established or Rhodes may have very well been sticking African cargo on Voyager 1 to exhume Jupiter. His Lernaean Hydra head business ventures -- from Consolidated Mines to Diamond Trading Company -- would go on to monopolize the production, cutting, polishing, distribution and sales of diamonds from Johannesburg to London.
Ironically while De Beers marketing efforts promoted diamonds as symbols of love and unity, Rhodes himself took pleasure in ripping black family units apart. His mine workers were confined to single sex compounds, forced to place their names on two to six month long conjugal visit waiting lists to spend time with their wives who often had no choice but to become maids for white mining overlords. When female employees became pregnant they were ordered to leave the land for three months. If they still had the baby when they returned they would more than likely lose their jobs. While American women fawn over their sparkly new carats and scurry off to Maui to enjoy romantic honeymoons, African couples in the mine area of Kimberly and Transvaal had to make the painful decision between baby dump or unemployment.
Africa would become De Beer's Mordor with the English Eye of Sauron ever watchful for glimpses of shimmery rock, willing to displace any indigenous group and eager to entomb men in the middle of the earth. The mining magnate relished in the fact that he could "teach natives the dignity of labor," as apparently local tribes were acting too lethargic for the man who had the painstaking hardship of living off his aunt's dime. Rhodes waxed eloquent about despotism and argued "black barbarians" should be treated like children and denied franchise, often regurgitating his phrase "I prefer land to niggers." Consequently, it is difficult to believe that now posthumously, his staff has become so concerned with the welfare of African people that they would encourage the United Nations to institute the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme fto protect the interests of African children and local economic growth amidst the horror of (gasp) "blood diamonds." The far fetched idea that a board of elite bleeding heart Europeans would unexpectedly be troubled by local poverty when the salaries of their indigenous personnel barely rises above $10 a day is pitiful. Before we clear our memory cache it's important to note that prior to those pesky labor unions and vigilant NGO's, Rhodes diggers of choice were always underage boys.
Hypocritically, De Beers are known for their don't-ask-don't-tell attitude surrounding the origins of its gems, indirectly but knowingly financing Jonas Savimbi and UNITA's gruesome 1990's war against the Angola government. Conceding to global pressure, De Beers eventually shut down their branch offices in the South West province, but don't think for a minute they would have passed up a chance to purchase a one of a kind canary diamond from the hands of Charles Taylor's regime in Liberia circa 2003.
Kimberley Process Certification Scheme: Africa's Rampart Scandal
In 2002, on the recommendation of Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler's, "The Fowler Report," the UN issued The Security Council Resolution 1295, in response to Jonas Savimbi's UNITA's violating the Lusaka Protocol ceasefire and UN-imposed sanctions. These sanctions were explicit in removing Savimbi from the diamond business in order to finance his human rights abusing warlords. Subsequently, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was born in 2003, a non-barking global watchdog which attempts to prevent rebel groups from selling diamonds to fund brutal campaigns or revolutionaries working to undermine puppet governments. Any self-proclaimed transparency operation that would elect Mathieu Yamba of DRC as vice chair and allow him to place Robert Mugabe's notorious Marange diamond killing fields on the "okay list" is nothing but a cynical, corporate, accreditation scam.
There's no reason for KPCS to screen tamper-proof plastic containers when they're originating from the foothills of Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands, signed off on by the ever so trustworthy ZANU-PR, Mugabe's military arm who are well known for executing more than 200 local villagers in 2008 along with ongoing murder, torture, lawlessness, rape and use of child labor. Mugabe's Operation Hakudzokwi ended with so many bullet ridden bodies that the local Mutare Hospital morgue began sending corpse trucks away for lack of space. Indeed, we definitely wouldn't want to find out anyone's "tampering" with the unadulterated Marange gems.
Regrettably, the only African country KPCS refuses to let sell diamonds is Côte d'Ivoire, and even that embargo took three years of genocidal civil war to go into effect. Even more deplorably, amidst rebel groups controlling the Northern diamond mines of Côte d'Ivoire, the KCPS hasn't entirely eschewed them -- they're still considered members -- even if not active participants. KCPS has become a macrocosm of The Rampart Scandal, similar to the infamous Los Angeles police department, half the members are discovered to be on the payroll of the most notorious street gangs in the area yet only a few end up formally dismissed. It seems the voracious demand for diamonds has placed the importance of human rights abuses at a distant second to the opulent needs of foreigners. Although KPCS started off with good intentions, it has become nothing but a feel-good PR exercise to assuage the guilt of hesitant buyers.
Much like religion, the importance of diamonds only exist in our minds. George Berkeley once coined this phenomenon "subjective idealism," and even the gem hustlers know it. Perhaps De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer spoke it best, "Diamonds are intrinsically worthless, except for the deep psychological need they fill."
Contrary to what you've been told, on the atypical spectrum, diamonds rest somewhere between cracker jacks and the Mona Lisa -- think mother-of-pearl. Granted quality gem carats were once only about one in 1 million, after 125 years of digging, Zale's can have a gift wrapped three-CT Princess-cut at your doorstep by midday tomorrow. Historically, De Beers' stockpiling was the key in creating an artificial scarcity. At one time the Oppenheimer family was sitting on an amass of 40 million carats, there were even clandestine talks of dumping metric tons of diamonds into the ocean so as to not over saturate the market. The syndicate has always been keenly aware that the supply of diamonds must remain far below the demand, for if large numbers of the gemstones came onto the market the per-carat price would plummet.
An illusion requires marketing. In 1948, Frances Gerety, a copywriter at N.W. Ayer & Son Marketing came up with the booming ad campaign which created a linkage between diamonds and romance. Urban legend has it Gerety put her head on the desk and pleaded, "Please God, send me a line," and through divine intervention "A Diamond is Forever" was born. Okay. Within three decades, De Beers annuals sales grew from $23 million to more than $2 billion. Apparently God never felt any kinship towards the Xhosa or Zulus who would bear the brunt of that drastic rise in demand, knee deep in mud or confined to not yet ventilated mining shafts. Without this marketing campaign, diamonds would be about as sought out as quartz. De Beers also was keenly aware if the general public began selling their precious rocks secondhand they would cease to become priceless, so to prevent this from happening, the cartel spent a large part of their PR efforts in making diamonds into "heirloom" properties to be passed down for generations. Tiffany's is very grateful most diamonds end up at bank safe deposit boxes or dust ridden in the back of jewelry armoires.
Employment vs. Exploitation
Even though African miners make Walmart employees look affluent, some diamond enthusiasts like rock star Bono who is a regular Jacob Jeweler "bling bling" customer claim the diamond industrial business provides jobs to over 10 million workers. However it still begs to question how countries like Sierra Leone, Botswana and the Congo who are all members of KPCS and producing a hundred million "conflict free" carats every year remain below the poverty line. Bono's theory that diamond production is beneficial to his beloved continent is about as well researched as his theory that foreign aid has improved the economic conditions of African people over the past 50 years. Mining jobs, much like aid are not creating wealth for anyone but corrupt governments and the Oppenheimer crew.
If even a fraction of the money the global community spent on diamond accessories went towards African infrastructure such as building homes, schools, roads and hospitals, or miners were compensated appropriately for labor the continent wouldn't need a trillion dollars of worthless welfare and perhaps may have even ceased being a third world. There would be no need for De Beers sightholders to pride themselves on philanthropic donations to UNICEF. Seriously, out of the 78 sightholders that De Beers authorizes for bulk diamond purchases around the world their official DTC biographies read like a whose who in the aspiring to be charitable category -- how many African orphanages have been built and HIV/AIDS infected children treated. Although most of these diamantaires refuse to name specific institutions they are kind enough to leave abstract memos like, "We fund schools and support educational programs for impoverished children." Insert side eye.
Make Humanitarianism a Girl's New Best Friend
We witness the secession of our global conscience with the unending purchase of these crypto-fascist rocks. Whether produced in the laboratories of Gemesis and Apollo, picked up by tourists at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas or found deep within volcanic craters of the kimberlite pipes, diamonds are a symbol of totalitarian dictatorship, brutality, humiliation, inequity and enslavement. From the hands of De Beers to India's elementary school cutting emporiums, diamonds are in direct conflict with the sustainability and sovereignty of underdeveloped nations. The Greeks once called these stones "adámas" meaning "unbreakable," adversely they have broken the spirit of the continent our ancestors once called home.
We all know Africa has never had many friends in the world, but maybe one day we could replace our camaraderie with her stones for a kinship with her development. Next time you're considering buying diamond jewelry and the sales person brags about the stones being "conflict free," remember there's no such thing and opt for its synthetic sister, Cubic Zirconium, a gem of peace.