Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

Another “Blood Diamond”

Posted by Chris on September 17, 2007

The other day I watched a two-hour special (not sure it could be called a documentary, as cultured as that would make me look) on the History Channel called “Blood Diamonds.” I am not sure exactly when it was made but it seemed very current and my guess is that sharing the title with the movie was no coincidence.

I really enjoyed this show and learned several large pieces of the diamond puzzle that I did not yet know.

1) I did know how conflict diamonds worked in Sierra Leone. Here’s the abridged history that I knew: Sierra Leone has diamonds. Liberia does not. Yet, at one time, Liberia had millions of dollars in diamond exports. These diamonds came from Sierra Leone as a result of illicit, black-market trading. They are called “conflict” diamonds because it is armies on one side of a conflict that use the diamonds to fund their operation.

What I learned was the connection between Liberia and Sierra Leone (SL). I mean, the SL diamonds could have been funneled out to any country, right? But the RUF (SL revolutionaries) was in partnership with Charles Taylor, eventual dictatorial leader who was to take over Liberia. Taylor used the diamond money to fund his own revolution in Liberia while RUF fought its war in SL. I had heard of Taylor and that he was a bad guy, I never knew the details of the connection between he and SL/RUF.

2) The conflict in Sierra Leone was still ongoing when the rest of the world awoke to the state of the diamond trade. I had always assumed it was discovered after the fact.

3) There is a purported link between Al Qa’eda and the RUF, and therefore, an alleged connection between 9/11 and conflict diamonds. This should be the most shocking [alleged] fact. I keep saying alleged because the CIA and FBI didn’t [want to?] see much of a connection. However, Congress made them investigate it anyway. The CIA returned a report stating that there was no evidence that Al Qa’eda funded itself through the black market diamond trade. Of course, the film offered compelling evidence. Apparently, the allegations started when a guy involved in diamonds saw pictures of the US most wanted from 9/11 and said, “hey, I know some of those guys, they just bought some diamonds from me.”

To make a little more sense of this… why would Al Qa’eda (AQ) have anything to do with diamonds? Well, you know that the Taliban oversaw the growth of opium poppies (used to make heroin) in Afghanistan, right? There is a common link in that both have thriving black markets. I went on a tangent about the basic economics of diamonds and drugs, at least as I understand and can explain it. Rather than get too off topic, I posted that HERE.

According to the film, the US froze AQ’s assets after the US Embassy bombings in East Africa. So, whatever ability AQ had to do “legitimate” financial dealings, I’m guessing it was taken away after that. Just as a rebel army would not be able to open bank accounts and get a license to buy guns from the government against which it is revolting. I just read an interesting article the other day, very timely now that I’m writing on this, about why terrorists get involved in drugs. Much of the reason is due to the high profit margin of drugs. If the Taliban built factories to build widgets and sold them to China for 50 cents apiece… well, that is just not as good of a deal as selling opium for however much that is.

AQ could offer the RUF guns and military goods in exchange for the diamonds it could sell for a very large profit. Altruistic terrorists, engaging one another in the globalized economy—it’s almost sweet isn’t it?

Hopefully that explains, without too much incorrect information and in simple enough terms, why AQ or a group like it would be involved in the diamond trade.

Now, to come back briefly to the first two things I learned. There were two quotes from the special that I want to share. The first is from a public affairs guy from De Beers:

We looked at [what was going on in Sierra Leone] and we were shocked. Diamonds should not be a part of it, about that we were adamant. De Beers wanted to be part of the solution.

I would hope not. This is a “what do you want, a cookie? That’s what you’re supposed to do” situation (Chris Rock joke). De Beers solution was to disengage from the Sierra Leone/Liberia market and eventually cooperate in the development of the Kimberley Process, which identifies conflict-free diamonds.

But here’s my more cynical response: Diamonds should not be a part of it, but they are. It’s unfortunate, but, in a way, you started it. The first Mr. Oppenheimer bought all the diamond mines in South Africa in order that he might limit supply and drive up prices. This does not offend my moral or business sensibilities. However, when combined with the fact that for most of its years managing the business, diamonds were mined at the expense of Africans, and its snazzy marketing campaigns (“Diamonds are forever”) that created a larger market for a product that no one needs to survive, I find no problem criticizing them. It blows my mind that people will delay engagement and marriage in America because custom calls that the diamond equal so many months of income. I will not insult anyone’s choice to buy a diamond but I will say that that is a very superficial custom. It is essentially the American version of the dowry, or bride price. If you want to pay it, fine, but let’s not exacerbate the marriage problem we have in this country, that says all these certain things are integral to marriage when they really are not. And let’s not be overly sentimental about it! Your Great-Grandmother didn’t do it that way. The thought would not have crossed her mind.

The second quote is from someone from one of the NGOs that helped raise awareness about conflict diamonds:

Conflict diamonds could pop up at any time. Africa is a volatile region… the root causes have no been addressed: corruption, poverty, [etc…]

He argues that we cannot think that the Kimberley Process, and the current state of affairs, means that conflict diamonds are a thing of the past. One element that is missing is a civil war in the right geographical region. The root causes for revolutions have not been solved. The market conditions that make a black market diamond trade profitable still exist. It is probably good if we continue to take all the steps to avoid conflict diamonds in the marketplace that we would take if we knew that terrorist groups were trying to use them to fund their evil deeds.

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