Diamonds, armless fun? jpoc opinion
Sub-Saharan Africa is being torn apart by ghastly wars that are being fought purely so that bandit warlords can get rich on the diamond trade.
Meanwhile, De Beers, which controls 60% of the world's trade in uncut diamonds wrings its hands and pledges that all of its diamonds are clean and conflict free.
Increasingly we hear calls from pressure groups calling for steps ranging from a clean up of the diamond trade to a complete boycott.
First of all, let's examine the scope of Africa's diamond wars.
Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone are all affected by these wars. The war in Sierra Leone involves many players from neighbouring countries. In particular, Charles Taylor in Liberia and the Nigerians.
The wars in Angola and the DRC are dragging in armies, bandits and mercenaries from all over Southern and Central Africa. Poor nations such are Zimbabwe and Uganda are committing their own troops in a diamond play to gain control of a share of the pickings.
Consider the impact that these conflicts have on the people in the region.
One aspect is, of course, the apalling brutality of the UDF in Sierra Leone. Children as young as six are forced to work as slaves dredging through mud for gems in the diamond fields. It has been well documented by reporters and human rights groups than any children who object are punished by, for example, having one arm chopped of with a machete. Also, the UDF diamond areas are guarded by child soldiers usually less than fourteen years of age. It is easy to brutalise and terrorise such young children into being remoreseless killers.
Consider also the plight of the citizens of Angola. For decades now their country has been laid waste by the war between the government (funded by oil revenue) and the UNITA rebels funded from the diamond fields in the interior.
It is a country where development and aid are not possible. It is a country condemmned to slide steadily backwards into worsening levels of poverty and misery. You cannot build a school because somebody will destroy it in case it provides shelter for enemy troops lying in ambush. You cannot farm the fields because you risk being blown up by a land mine. We cannot send in aid because the aid workers will be killed when their aircraft are shot down. All of these things are happening.
Consider those countries in the region that do not actually have diamond fields. Zimbabwe is being reduced to poverty as its leaders send troops to the DRC to win their share of the loot. Crops, both food and tobacco, cannot be brought to market as there is no diesel fuel for the trucks. All of the money has gone to send soldiers to the war zones.
The truth is that nobody can argue that the diamond wars are not the cause of incalculable human suffering. The question is, what is to be done. The diamond industry, headed by De Beers says that all will be well if we just restrict ourselves to purchasing their products only.
Well, it would be very convenient for De Beers if the world decided to boycott all diamonds that were not from their controlled supply. But this is not the answer. De Beers is one of the causes of the problem even if they never puchase so called "conflict" diamonds.
For generations, De Beers has acted to maximise its control over the diamond industry. They control over half of the trade in uncut diamonds and they only sell to a select group of buyers, known as sightholders, who agree to De Beers rules.
De Beers actions raise diamond prices and also create a large pool of frustrated buyers who want to purchase uncut stones but who are not permitted to do so from the major supplier.
Is it a big surprise that there is an almost limitless market for the sale of uncut diamonds from the killing fields of Africa?
Perhaps I should call on De Beers to stop hoarding diamonds which pushes up the price and then to liberalise their trading policy so that anyone who wishes to purchase uncut diamonds can do so in an open market.
Certainly that would diminish both the price and the market that would be on offer to the merchants of death and misery who deal in conflict diamonds. It would be a start but, I fear that if would not be enough. The only real solution can be for decent people to stop subsidising the slaughter of little children in Africa by saying no to diamonds until the killing stops.
Until then, one thing is very clear, the purchase even of "conflict free" diamonds helps to prolong the suffering by maintaining the current market conditions and practices which ensure that there is a market for conflict diamonds.