Sierra Leone - Another African Diamond War

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        The Civil war in Sierra Leone (map)  is  a conflict that has many of the regions powers vying for influence and power, over a lucrative piece of real estate.Sierra Leone's neighbors all want to bring  stability and some form of democratic, civilian rule. But the leaders of the region are unable to agree on who that leader is to be. Liberia's Charles Taylor has supported the rebel leader Foday Sankoh  since the early 90's. The Rebels (RUF) primary concern seems to be the control of the diamond fields and the revenue that diamonds bring on the black market.  The Rebels took control of key diamond mines in the Tongo region. Sierra Leone Which has produced some of the worlds highest quality diamonds is to this day one of the poorest nations on earth.  Those who have controlled the mines in the past have not allowed the proceeds from the diamond trade to reach the general populace. This is real essence and reason for the war; who controls the Diamonds and profits from their sale.  The UN, prodded by the need to place control of the diamonds back into the hands of the elected government, enlisted the help of neighboring  nations to eject the rebels from the economically productive regions.  When the UN 'peacekeeping' troops were kidnapped by the rebels from various areas throughout the nation it was seen as a terrible tragedy for UN peacekeeping, especially in Africa. Among those captured are about 100 Nigerian soldiers, soldiers whose government has historically supported the government. It should be noted here that the rebels deposed the elected President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, in 1997 and the Leader of the RUF was held in detention in Nigeria and was later captured by Sierra Leone Government forces.

 

Sierra Leone Produced 2.5 million carats of diamonds the year before the civil war broke out and some mining officials estimate a 220 million dollar loss in revenue to the nations economy.  Branch Energy/Diamond Works , DeBeers and Rex Diamond  all have mining interests in the nation to varying degrees.  All of these groups have interests in the outcome of the hostilities. The UN and the West in general, want to see the elected government restored to power. This is unlikely without major concessions to the rebels who have already broken their word once before, when they were to abandon the mining areas. Currently, the rebels sell their stolen diamonds to western firms through black market sales, which eventually wind up in Department stores. Several Major mining companies have been recently accused of hiring mercenaries in the Sierra Leone Conflict. Mercenaries had been hired in the past in Sierra Leone (as well as many other African countries with large mineral or oil deposits) to guard diamond mines from Rebel attacks and control.  Today these 'soldiers for hire' are often derided in press accounts as being 'white colonizers', yet many aid agencies have quietly accepted the security assistance from these 'soldiers for hire' in very dangerous situations.

 

In 1996, Sierra Leone's foreign debt was 1.2 billion dollars, a hefty amount for a nation as poor as Sierra Leone. This amounts to about 78 cents of every dollar received in aid going out of the country to service this debt. Diamonds were a lucrative source of foreign currency for the Government, and is now such a source for the rebels.  Despite a ban on trading with the rebels in stolen diamonds, the trading does continue, with almost no interference from the West, whose purported concern is for 'peace'. The Government, when restored to power  is bound to continue to honor the lucrative agreements with the big mining firms and thus these firms have a vested interest in pressuring the UN to step in and 'restore order', and with it redirecting the flow of diamond profits back into the hands of the government, and its cronies. And as before, it is unlikely any of the money will return to the hands of the general population.  

 

Diamonds are indeed valuable, but perhaps not as valuable as the price often paid for them suggests. DeBeers, the world's largest diamond dealer has about  4 Billion dollars of the gems stockpiled, naturally to keep prices high and keeps a consensus on demand with other mining and diamond dealers. This is accomplished largely by the global center of the diamond in Belgium, in a very small district known as the 'Diamond High Council'  and where perhaps not coincidentally, the Russian Mafia has a significant presence. The Russian Mob often launders its drug money using… you guessed it…diamonds.  These machinations and arrangements are not unknown to the US.  No America is the worlds largest consumer of diamonds and over 10 billion dollars of illegal Diamonds have made their way out of the main diamond producing nations, Sierra Leone, Angola, Congo and Liberia. The US Government is fully aware of the source of this extremely lucrative illegal trade.  The Diamond Industry, not surprisingly, has stifled US legislation that would force a certification system on Diamonds sold in the US which would have compelled Diamond dealers to disclose the source of their diamonds, either legitimate or ill gotten. The source of the illegal gems would alarm many Americans and would force the dealers to come clean or see their sales plummet.  Many of the words biggest celebrities and Hollywood's biggest actresses individually own millions of dollars in diamond jewelry, the same, celebrities that constantly harp on human rights abuses in the third world.

 

So the wars currently raging in Africa today in Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola are by and large, little more than diamond wars. The US Media, and its million-dollar salaried mouthpieces blame ethnic strife and ancient hatred, for these wars and while these are certainly factors in some of these conflicts, the US Media, refuse to tell the rest of the story. Diamonds, oil and money, and to a lesser degree drugs, are the causes of and continue to fuel these conflicts.  Corrupt warlords want a 'piece of the action' of the diamond trade for themselves and are not overly concerned about who gets killed in the process.  The west seems only concerned when the flow of diamonds gets cut-off or huge mining firms complain to Governments and the UN, or warlords want too much money for their forcefully appropriated wares.

 

The case against the global diamond dealers was clearly laid out in a UN report that, unlike so many such reports in the past, actually named names. It cited major diamond dealers making trade with the Angolan rebels by trading diamonds, not for money, but for arms, directly. The method by which these third party intermediaries flout sanctions and deal with warlords and thugs, turn their ill gotten gains over to the most renowned and respected diamond merchants (with slick, romantically silhouetted ads on TV) is not unknown to our leaders. They are all too aware of the problem but do not want to stop a lucrative business from greasing the palms of powerful men and at times their own campaign donors.

 

The world has finally gotten involved  the African diamond wars, but the motive is not clear. The same can be said of the wars in Africa for other natural resources, oil for example. The Angolan government is a perfect example, Jonas Savimbi is a real menace to the world community, or so some would have us believe. Mr. Savimbi had received large amounts of financial and military aid from the US during the Cold war, while he was fighting Cuban soldiers, armed by the USSR, and when the communist government in Angola won elections (UNITA contested the results), the US eventually gave up supporting UNITA. Now Savimbi (before his recent demise) trades in diamonds that he has effective control over. Yet the elected Government in Angola has some real problems with a lack of transparency in their financial dealings. Much of the oil money is managed by a large and 'respected' British Bank and Insurance Conglomerate (through the Cabinda Trust, which handles the Angolan Block-A Concession that produces about 480,000 barrels per day), yet this huge financial entity has not shown a real diligence to ensure that the money is truly distributed properly.  The money in these situations too often winds up in the hands of the few and the powerful. An audit of the Oil industry is in order in Angola, not surprisingly this has not been called for by the west. The simple fact is that powerful financial institutions are making too much money. Other than a few phony cries of 'revulsion' and 'shock' at the situation, no one is about to do anything that might upset his or her balance sheets.

 

 

Links

Project Underground

Links From Stanford University

Mbendi - Background on Sierra Leone

Conflicts in Africa - Sierra Leone Global Issues.org

 

 

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