History of Blood Diamonds

Is the History of Blood Diamonds Different Than the Famous Movie?

Diamonds are universally considered to be a symbol of love, beauty, wealth, and power. But in some African nations, they are the reason behind power struggles, brutalities on innocent people, and terrorism. Their illegal trade helps terrorists fund their operations. Such diamonds are often referred to as 'blood diamonds' or 'conflict diamonds'. To learn more about them, read on...
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
The story goes that the first diamond was found by a young boy named Stephanus Erasmus. He found a stone at the DeKalk farm, on the banks of Orange River in South Africa, and gave it to his neighbor named Schalk van Niekerk, who used to collect unusual types of stones. Niekerk gave it to a traveling salesman who showed the stone to the magistrate, Lourenzo Boyes. The stone was displayed at the World Fair in Paris in 1867, and there it was declared to be a diamond and named 'Eureka'. More diamonds were found during this time and this was the start of the history of bloodshed in Africa.
As people started realizing the worth and preciousness of diamonds, they started quarreling over them. Mining for them became a major activity. The Dutch and English fought and tried to establish their control over the mines. The local tribes too came to know about it, and were at war among themselves. Terrorists are known to have enslaved people and even children, to force them work on these mines, for decades. The limbs of people who refused to work on the mines were amputated. It also resulted in the death of thousands of people, since the diamond was discovered. Hence, the diamonds from these regions of Western Africa (Angola, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia), which were mined by forceful labor and traded illegally by terrorist outfits to fund terror activities, are called 'Blood Diamonds' or 'Conflict Diamonds'.
In Sierra Leone, Lebanese traders discovered that profits could be made by smuggling the precious stones out of the country. Hence, they started their illegal mining and smuggling. The discovery of diamonds in poor African countries should have led to prosperity and development, but instead, it led to violence, human rights violation, and terror activities.
In 1950, the government of Sierra Leone gave up monitoring the diamond industry, but tightened securities at Kono and Freetown districts. This resulted in the illegitimate diamonds being diverted to Liberia and the establishment of an illegal trade route between Sierra Leone and Liberia. The biggest blunder that the government made in 1956 was that it passed the Alluvial Mining Scheme that allowed indigenous miners to receive mining and trading licenses.
After gaining independence from Great Britain in 1961, Sierra Leone plunged into political and economic problems. Almost all the problems centered around the control of diamond mines. In 1968, Siaka Stevens became the prime minister. He was aware how profitable the smuggling of diamonds could be to him. So he encouraged illegal mining and trading. During his rule, most diamonds were traded illegally. The legitimate trading dropped heavily; from more than two million carats in 1970 to 48,000 carats in 1988.
In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under Foday Sankoh, rebelled against the government. Sankoh said he represented the poor peasants and promised to get them their share of the mineral wealth, which the government was misusing. However, Sankoh himself used brutal tactics like cutting the limbs of innocent people who worked in the mines, to prove his strength and show the government's inability to protect them.
From the beginning, RUF had realized that whoever controlled the diamond mines, controls the country. It later became clear that their main aim was to control the mines, not to help the poor. They would take people as prisoners and make them forcefully work on the mines. People were heavily punished for minor mistakes. And a decade long civil war followed.
In 1999, United Nations (UN) intervened to solve the problem. The Lomé Peace Accord was signed and the hostilities came to an end. According to the amnesty, Sankoh was given a high position in Sierra Leone's transitional government. Kimberley process certification was introduced which monitors the diamonds, from the mining till they reach the hands of distributors.
The illegal trading and mining has almost been eradicated, but the struggle still continues. The peaceful situation has almost doubled the diamond production in Angola. However, in Sierra Leone and surrounding regions like Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, the people still remain poor. People are being encouraged to buy conflict free diamonds, which are the ones, whose profits are not used to fund wars. So, it's your right to ask, before purchasing the diamonds, where they have come from, because the certifications can be faked. But, finally it's more about the denial of human rights of people who are made to work in the mines, which everyone should keep in mind.