Blood Diamonds: the facts

As of 2003

Last weekend I saw the much-talked about ‘Blood Diamond‘ movie with Leonardo di Caprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly, over which I have mulled before. This is no place for a movie review. Suffice to say that the performances were credible, the plot a little shaky, the scenography superb and the ending ridiculous.

Now, on to more interesting things. The movie unquestioningly puts the blame of conflict diamonds – with all the human pain and misery that come with them – onto the big, bad diamond corporations, some of which are all but named directly during the film. Is this going to promote a healthy, balanced debate on the issue? Clearly not. The film goes for the knee-jerking approach, and I am pretty sure diamond sales will plummet in the forthcoming weeks. I really wouldn’t know what sort of woman, after seeing this film, would still want to wear a diamond around her finger/neck/whatever.

The message is loud and clear: diamonds are being smuggled out of conflict zones, some dodgy middle-man is falsifying the documentation in some intermediary country, no one in the diamond industry is really paying any attention, and by the time conflict diamonds reach the jewelleries of New York or London, they are indistinguishable from all the others. Edward Zwick – the film’s director – reportedly said that when the industry claims that only 1 % of traded diamonds come from a conflict zone, they are throwing out “a funky number” that doesn’t capture the breadth of the problem. Hence, the Kimberly Process is a bit of a scam to keep us NGO-types quiet, while the corporations just carry on doing what they’ve always done, only with an extra attitude of sainthood. And don’t get me started on child labour in the diamond-cutting industry.

Really, you’re better off wearing pearls.

Hold on a second – argue the Washington Post, hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons (who’s recently been on a De Beers-sponsored tour around African diamond mines) and the UN, highlighting the benefit of diamonds for African economies: most of the diamonds now come from well-established industrialized mines in Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana, which are all peaceful countries. And also Sierra Leone, where the film takes place, has now seen an end to its terrible civil war. What Warner Bros and Global Witness are doing is actually damaging the livelihoods of many people in Africa. They are the ones who are actually destroying people’s lives!!!

Much as I would like to take a balanced view, on this topic I am afraid I am going to have to come down to Global Witness’ (or if you like, Jon’s) side. Apart from all the issues highlighted above, there are deeper problems with the diamond industry – and the extractive industry more generally – in Africa. This is often ‘socially thin’, which means it does not build an economic sector that employs large amounts of workers, builds service infrastructure, generates backward and forward economic linkages to other industries, and is a step towards industrial upgrading and economic diversification. On the contrary, like in the case of Botswana, it employs a few thousands people, and generates huge revenues for the state, but these are not shared with the majority of the population, which is being culled by soaring HIV rates and no access to healthcare systems. If we look at Nigeria, the oil curse is even greater.

Am I suggesting we close down the mines? This is clearly not going to happen: people are still going to spend family fortunes on those shiny stones, and Botswana (let alone De Beers) is not going to stop production just because Leonardo says so. But the film will deal a blow to the big corporations, and as we know – unfortunately – they only get their act together when you hit them where it hurts: their market share-value…


8 responses to “Blood Diamonds: the facts

  1. It’s interesting that you mention Botswana. While the industry there is certainly “socially thin,” isn’t that one of the few countries where state revenue could be seen to be benefitting the general population (through Botswana’s AIDS programs)? Am I off in my understanding of Botswana, or is there a better example country out there?

  2. The huge GDP per capita growth of Botswana (not necessarily its overall revenues, which remain comparatively small) is entirely due to the huge mortality rates due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and to the fact that there is no effective health provision for HIV+ people. This is a combination of lack of infrastructure, pervasive social stigma attached to the illness, which prevents any effective palliative care and educational preventative strategy, and other more complicated factors which I won’t go into (and can’t, not being a Botswana expert myself).

    The only people who receive free treatment after compulsory testing are precisely the few employees of the diamond industry, which is therefore encouraged to maintain the numbers of local workers very low. If this kind of social provision were to be extended to the entire population, the economy would promptly collapse.

  3. look at Africa the country known as “no. 1 world’s largest diamond deposit” but what is happening to their country?. they are still suffering from hunger and being exploited by the businessmen! they did not feel their resources tricked down to their table! because others such it by the first world Businessmen..

  4. So many people have absolutely no idea what is going on in the world around them. Read some of these comments:

  5. You are quite right, Helen, many people have no idea how complex, exploitative and tragic the diamond industry is.

    But in fairness to many commentators on your picture, I think they were simply congratulating your piece of art, rather than discussing what inspired it… and it is indeed a very powerful statement…

  6. Hello Alberto, it’s been a while since I was here. Yes, I think you are right about the comments on my work. I wish people would click the links I provided to learn more.

    Thanks for the opportunity to post here and help bring awareness to a serious human rights issue.

  7. Your awesome posts are quite valuable.

  8. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this
    post was great. I do not know who you are but certainly you
    are going to a famous blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!

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