Blood Diamonds: The True Story (Part 1 of 4)
Blood Diamonds: The True Story combines firsthand accounts from survivors and perpetrators of the African diamond-funded wars with testimony from a range of industry experts and journalists.
InformAfrica – Documentary series exploring infamous historical events in Sierra Leone’s blood diamond conflicts. This installment examines the little-known truth about how the worldwide diamond trade has funded wars across western and central Africa, leading to the deaths of millions of people.
Sierra Leone on Africa’s west coast is one of the poorest nations on earth, with an average income of just 220 US dollars. Conversely, the country is rich in natural resources, with verdant tropical forests stretching for miles and a plentiful source of high-quality diamonds below ground. In some cases, diamond mines are used to cement the economy of a poor nation and drag the populace out of poverty, but in Sierra Leone they have brought only chaos and misery. Blood diamonds or ‘conflict diamonds’, explains Alexander Yearsley, senior campaigner for international pressure group Global Witness, “are diamonds mined and sold by rebel movements, particularly in Africa, that are used to finance arms purchases.”
Between 1991 and 2001 in Sierra Leone, a brutal civil war between government forces and a rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) raged, with 75,000 people being killed and two million being displaced. For many of the survivors, lasting reminders of the conflict exist in the form of deliberate amputations, which were to become a trademark atrocity of the RUF. “They committed every war crime in the Geneva Convention, then invented one of their own,” explains Greg Campbell, author of the book ‘Blood Diamonds’.
In order to fund their war against the government, the RUF gained control of the diamond mines in the east of the country and began to release the stones into the world market. But the RUF were not alone. As conflicts raged in three other war zones –Liberia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo –diamonds from these countries flowed freely throughout the world. In Angola, a civil war that lasted two decades saw rebel forces –this time calling themselves UNITA –sell almost four billion dollars-worth of diamonds throughout the world.
In some cases, the stones were traded directly for weapons. “This was simply a diamonds-for-arms transaction,” explains Alexander Yearsley. At one stage, UNITA even had MiG fighter jets at their disposal.
In 1998, the UN Security Council attempted to stop the illegal trade by imposing sanctions to prevent the sale of any African diamonds not certified by that country’s government,but it had limited success. At the end of that year, Global Witness released an expose´ of the Angolan situation called ‘A Rough Trade’. Unlike the actions of the UN, the report caused a huge stir, not least because much of the criticism was leveled at De Beers –the international company responsible for around 40 per cent of the world’s diamond trade. “The diamond industry likes to think that conflict diamonds only started in 1999,” says Yearsley. De Beers defend their position, claiming to have had nothing to do with blood diamonds, since they closed their Angolan offices as soon as the UN imposed sanctions.
However, for those personally affected by the wars, the definition of blood diamonds matters little. “The human cost is very plain to see,” says Yearsley. Even today, many people in western and central Africa fall victim to the land mines placed by forces during the numerous civil wars.
Blood Diamonds: The True Story combines firsthand accounts from survivors and perpetrators of the African diamond-funded wars with testimony from a range of industry experts and journalists. Along with remarkable accounts of the true horrors of these hidden wars comes an exploration of the worldwide fascination with diamonds, the difficulties of obtaining justice for the millions of people who have suffered through the illegal diamond trade, and the complexity of adapting the industry to benefit the people of Africa.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this documentary series explores infamous historical events in Sierra Leone’s blood diamond conflicts. This African media is quite interesting to watch.