Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
Print this page
This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published
by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action
from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived
document may not work.
Sierra Leone: Diamonds and War
Sierra Leone: Diamonds and War
Date distributed (ymd): 000116
Document reposted by APIC
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+
This posting contains excerpts from a newly released study by
Partnership Africa Canada on Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human
Security. The report stresses that diamonds have been central
to the conflict in Sierra Leone. It says that no peace will be
sustainable until problems related to mining and selling
diamonds have been addressed. It presents a detailed set of
recommendations for addressing these issues.
The report is available in English and French at the web site
of Partnership Africa Canada (http://www.web.net/pac).
The Heart of The Matter:
Sierra Leone, Diamonds & Human Security
By Ian Smillie, Lansana Gberie and Ralph Hazleton
Partnership Africa Canada, January 2000
Partnership Africa Canada, 323 Chapel Street, 3rd Floor,
Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7Z2, Canada.
Tel: (613) 2376768. Fax: (613)2376530. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This study is about how diamonds - small pieces of carbon with
no great intrinsic value - have been the cause of widespread
death, destruction and misery for almost a decade in the small
West African country of Sierra Leone. ...
In the 1960s and 1970s, a weak post-independence democracy was
subverted by despotism and state-sponsored corruption.
Economic decline and military rule followed. The rebellion
that began in 1991 was characterized by banditry and horrific
brutality, wreaked primarily on civilians. Between 1991 and
1999, the war claimed over 75,000 lives, caused half a million
Sierra Leoneans to become refugees, and displaced half of the
country's 4.5 million people. ...
The point of the war may not actually have been to win it, but
to engage in profitable crime under the cover of warfare. ...
Over the years, the informal diamond mining sector, long
dominated by what might be called "disorganized crime", became
increasingly influenced by organized crime and by the
transcontinental smuggling not just of diamonds, but of guns
and drugs, and by vast sums of money in search of a laundry.
Violence became central to the advancement of those with
vested interests. ...
The Diamond Industry and De Beers
... Until the 1980s, De Beers was directly involved in Sierra
Leone, had concessions to mine diamonds offshore, and
maintained an office in Freetown. Since then, however, the
relationship has been indirect. De Beers maintains a diamond
trading company in Liberia and a buying office in Conakry,
Guinea. Both countries produce very few diamonds themselves,
and Liberia is widely understood to be a "transit" country for
smuggled diamonds. ... Through its companies and buying
offices in West Africa, however, and in its attempts to mop up
supplies everywhere in the world, it is virtually
inconceivable that the company is not - in one way or another
- purchasing diamonds that have been smuggled out of Sierra
Belgium and the Diamond High Council
Antwerp is the world centre for rough diamonds. ... The formal
trading of diamonds in Belgium is structured around the Hoge
Raad voor Diamant (HRD) - the Diamond High Council ...
officially acknowledged as the voice of the entire Belgian
diamond industry. ...
A factor which eases large-scale diamond smuggling and
inhibits the tracking of diamond movements is the manner in
which the HRD documents diamond purchases. The HRD records the
origin of a diamond as the country from which the diamond was
last exported. Therefore diamonds produced in Sierra Leone,
say, may be officially imported and registered as originating
in Liberia, Guinea, Israel or the UK ...
The Sierra Leone Diamonds
The first Sierra Leonean diamond was found in 1930, and
significant production commenced in 1935. Sierra Leonean
production is characterized by a high proportion of
top-quality gem diamonds. ...
Siaka Stevens became Prime Minister seven years after
independence in 1968. A populist, he quickly turned diamonds
and the presence of SLST into a political issue, tacitly
encouraging illicit mining, and becoming involved himself in
criminal or near-criminal activities. In 1971, Stevens created
the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) which effectively
nationalized SLST. All important decisions were now made by
the prime minister and his right hand man, a Lebanese
businessman named Jamil Mohammed. From a high of over two
million carats in 1970, legitimate diamond exports dropped to
595,000 carats in 1980 and then to only 48,000 in 1988. ...
From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, aspects of Lebanon's
civil war were played out in miniature in Sierra Leone.
Various Lebanese militia sought financial assistance from
their compatriots in Sierra Leone, and the country's diamonds
became an important informal tax base for one faction or the
other. ... Following a failed (and probably phoney) 1987 coup
attempt in Sierra Leone, Jamil went into exile, opening the
way for a number of Israeli "investors" with close connections
to Russian and American crime families, and with ties to the
Antwerp diamond trade.
The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel war began in 1991
and soon after, Momoh was replaced by a military government -
the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). Despite the
change in government, however, RUF attacks continued. From the
outset of the war, Liberia acted as banker, trainer and mentor
to the RUF ...
By the end of the 1990s, Liberia had become a major centre for
massive diamond-related criminal activity ... In return for
weapons, it provided the RUF with an outlet for diamonds, and
has done the same for other diamond producing countries,
fueling war and providing a safe haven for organized crime of
The "Juniors" and Private Security Firms
President Momoh's search for new investors in the early 1990s
was carried forward by the NPRC military government. With De
Beers out of the picture, and with the disappointing and
short-lived Israeli experience behind it, the government now
began to receive overtures from small mining firms, known in
the business as "juniors". Three of these juniors became
heavily involved in Sierra Leone during the 1990s ... All
three companies [Rex Diamond, AmCan Minerals, and
DiamondWorks] trade on Canadian stock exchanges, no doubt
because of Canada's reputation as a source of easy venture
capital for small mining and exploration companies. ...
The juniors arrived in Sierra Leone after the formal
instruments of the state - notably law, order, probity and
justice - had all but disappeared. ... Lawlessness, however,
was not new. The government of Sierra Leone had - from the
1950s - given up pretending that it could police the diamond
areas. From the days of the SLST Diamond Protection Force, it
had encouraged and even required foreign investors to make
their own security arrangements. ...
There is a distinction to be made, however, between the need
to hire a private security firm in order to police a mining
operation, and the provision of troops and weapons in support
of a faction in a civil war. Some would argue that regardless
of Executive Outcome's own purpose, its involvement in Sierra
Leone was in a good cause. EO successfully protected a
democratically elected government against a brutal and
illegitimate rebel force. And EO was certainly cheered in the
streets of Freetown for its efforts. Some would also argue
that the provision of weapons to the democratically elected
government of Tejan Kabbah - a UN arms embargo notwithstanding
- made sense and was in support of a good cause.
The problem is not the individual episodes, but the bigger
picture which they help to form - of a world in which
beleaguered and legitimate governments find little formal
international protection against internal predators, and are
forced into Faustian bargains in order to survive. ...
... taken together, the recommendations have major policy
implications not only for governments and international
organizations, but for civil society organizations in Sierra
Leone and abroad, for private sector firms and for individual
consumers. In addition to national and international
dimensions, there are important regional dimensions to the
diamond trade and the conflict in Sierra Leone. ...
The general thrust of the recommendations aims at improved
human and economic security, a sustainable peace, and at
changing the economics of the diamond trade. If smuggling can
be made more difficult, and if legal mining, investing and
trading can be made more attractive, the potential for change
can be turned into reality.
1 Framework for the Recommendations
1.1 A Permanent Independent International Diamond Standards
Commission should be created under United Nations auspices in
order to establish and monitor codes of conduct on
governmental and corporate responsibility in the global
diamond industry. ...
1.2 In addition to the diamond-specific recommendations in
this report, the development of sustainable peace in Sierra
Leone will require major investment by the government of
Sierra Leone and by donors in long-term basic human
development and the creation of democratic institutions. ...
2 Recommendations for Action in Sierra Leone
2.1 Establishment of the rule of law and human security
throughout the country is of primary and urgent importance for
a return to peace, and for appropriate exploitation of the
country's mineral resources. In the short- and medium-term,
donor agencies, friendly governments, the UN Peacekeeping
Force and ECOMOG must facilitate the disarmament and
demobilization of extra-governmental forces. Force must be
used in a timely fashion to halt a resurgence of conflict.
2.2 Special long-term UN security forces must be deployed in
all major diamond areas.
2.3 Attention should also be given by the UN Peacekeeping
force to blocking or destabilizing major smuggling routes from
Sierra Leone into neighbouring countries.
2.4 Donors should actively support current British government
efforts to rebuild Sierra Leone's army and police force. ...
2.5 The Government of Sierra Leone must ensure full
transparency, high standards and rigorous probity in the
implementation of its diamond purchasing, valuation and
oversight activities. Corruption and conflicts of interest
must be dealt with quickly and decisively. There is an
important role to be played in this effort by Sierra Leonean
civil society. ...
2.6 Systems must be developed in Sierra Leone for the payment
of fair prices to legitimate small miners. ...
2.7 Effective and honest monitoring and inspection systems
must be established throughout the mining and trading system.
External assistance should be sought in developing these. ,,,
2.8 In creating incentives for foreign investment in
larger-scale mining operations, the Government of Sierra Leone
should raise its standards for investors, insisting on a
minimum per annum exploration budget and/or minimum levels of
market capitalization and/or assets. ...
2.9 While it is reasonable to expect mining firms to provide
security within their immediate areas of operation, under no
circumstances should they be provided with concessions in
return for larger security or military operations, or in
return for the supply of weapons.
3 De Beers
De Beers is part of the problem. In its efforts to control as
much of the international diamond market as possible, it is no
doubt purchasing diamonds from a wide variety of dubious
sources, either wittingly or unwittingly. The breadth of its
control, however, is also its major strength, and is part of
the solution to the problem. If De Beers were to take a
greater interest in countries like Sierra Leone, and if it
were to stop purchasing large amounts of diamonds from
countries with a negligible production base, much could be
done to end the current high levels of theft and smuggling.
3.1 As a matter or urgency, more rigorous oversight on the
issue of origin must be instituted by the CSO.
3.2 Strong efforts should be made by the Government of Sierra
Leone, international bodies such as the United Nations and the
World Bank, and concerned governments, to persuade De Beers to
return to Sierra Leone. At a minimum, De Beers should be
persuaded to open a purchasing office in Freetown and should
be given every incentive to do so.
3.3 Strong efforts should be made by the same international
community to persuade De Beers to halt the purchase of all
diamonds originating in Liberia and Ivory Coast until clear
international guidelines have been developed for proving that
any diamonds sold in these countries are genuinely of local
The structure of the Belgian diamond industry ... looks
irresponsible, secretive and seriously under-regulated. It has
a demonstrated attraction for new forms of organized crime,
and is complicit in fueling African wars. ...
4.1 The Government of Belgium must take full and direct
responsibility for oversight of the Belgian diamond industry.
This includes taking direct responsibility for customs,
valuation and statistical procedures.
4.2 The conflict of interest posed by the government's current
customs-related arrangements with the HRD should be
4.3 A high-level commission of enquiry should be instituted
into the Belgian diamond industry as a whole, with particular
reference to its lack of transparency and questionable paper
work, and its possible infiltration by organized criminal
4.4 The HRD and/or the Government of Belgium should
immediately prohibit the processing of all diamonds that are
said to be of Liberian and Ivory Coast origin.
4.5 As a matter or urgency, more rigorous oversight on the
issue of origin must be instituted by the HRD and the
Government of Belgium.
4.6 The Government of Belgium and the HRD should, as a matter
of urgency, investigate the diamond "fingerprinting"
technology being developed by the Royal Canadian Mounted
5 Liberia and Ivory Coast
5.1 The United Nations Security Council should place a full
embargo on the purchase of any diamonds originating in, or
said to originate in Liberia until a full and objective
international review can be carried out of the country's
legitimate resource base, and until exports fall into line
with that resource base.
5.2 The United Nations Security Council should place a full
embargo on the purchase of any diamonds said to originate in
Ivory Coast until a full review can be carried out of the
country's legitimate resource base, and until exports fall
into line with that resource base. Consideration should be
given to imposing the same restrictions on Guinean diamonds.
As "home" to a high proportion of the world's junior mining
companies, Canada has a particular responsibility to ensure
good corporate citizenship abroad. ...
6.1 All Canadian securities commissions should initiate
discussion among their members about issues relating to
corporate conduct in war zones ...
6.2 The Royal Canadian Mounted Police should be encouraged and
supported in its development of diamond "fingerprinting".
Efforts should be made to develop systems for adopting the
technology as a matter of course in diamond producing
countries and in major trading centres around the world,
including the CSO and Antwerp.
7 A Consumer Campaign
Like diamonds, the Atlantic slave trade essentially served
non-African markets. And like the diamond trade, the impact of
slavery was devastating for many West African countries: it
spawned predatory bandit groups acting like the RUF, UNITA and
the NPFL, and mercenary regimes based entirely on violence and
slave raiding. ... The abolition of the slave trade was
significantly influenced by a consumer campaign in Britain,
aimed at the products of slave labour - mainly sugar from the
Caribbean. The political and commercial damage to the slave
trade of such campaigns was as much responsible for abolition
as the humanitarian imperative.
... Diamonds have, in fact, been a curse, not a blessing. This
does not have to be the case, but concerted action on all the
recommendations above will be necessary just to start making
a difference. The recommendations will not be easy to
implement, nor will they be cost-free. The easiest thing for
the major actors - De Beers, the HRD, the Governments of
Belgium and Sierra Leone, the UN Security Council - will be to
do as little as possible.
One way of drawing greater attention to the urgency of the
matter and of gaining broader support for change, would be a
consumer campaign. ...
An effective consumer campaign could [also] inflict damage on
an industry which is important to developing economies and to
poor people working in the diamond industries of other
countries such as Namibia, South Africa, India and Botswana.
Those considering the possibility of initiating or joining a
campaign, therefore, would have to consider how many lives in
countries like Sierra Leone, Angola and the Congo these jobs
are worth. ...
Nelson Mandela has said the same thing: "We would be concerned
that an international campaign... does not damage this vital
industry. Rather than boycotts being instituted, it is
preferable that through our own initiatives the industry takes
a progressive stance on human rights issues."
The word "boycott" does not appear in this report. Certainly
a boycott could damage the industry. But the idea of a
campaign is different: it is about transparency, change and
urgency. Where people's lives are concerned - as they are in
Sierra Leone - time is of the essence. In the absence of clear
and meaningful movement within the industry and among other
international actors, the point of a campaign would be to help
the industry "take responsibility for its actions" - not
damaging it, but improving it.
This report is available at www.web.net/pac, in both English
and French, or in printed form from PAC. Further information
on diamonds and the conflict in Sierra Leone can be found in
the full 90-page report (English only) which is available from
Partnership Africa Canada at a price of Can $25.00 or
US$20.00, including postage and handling. ... A daily source
of reliable information on Sierra Leone can be found on the
Sierra Leone Web: http://www.Sierra-Leone.org
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary
objective is to widen international policy debates around
African issues, by concentrating on providing accessible
policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide
range of groups and individuals.