Eric Johnson


Dec. 6, 2002



Blood Diamonds: The Conflict in Sierra Leone




History of Diamonds:



            The name "diamond" comes from the Greek word, "adamas" meaning unconquerable. Fittingly diamonds are made of pure carbon, and diamonds are the hardest natural substance known to man.[1] Diamonds have long been a sign of wealth and fortune. Kings and queens have worn these forms of concentrated carbon and even more countless millions people over time have lusted after them. These gems can be transparent, truculent white, yellow, green, blue, or brown. To understand the value of these stones, and ultimately their role in war, it helps to first understand their origins and where they come form.

            Diamonds are the most frequently used form capital by the rebels in Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo use to purchase weapons.  The earliest gem diamonds were found in India and Borneo, were they were found in riverbeds. In the early eighteenth century, deposits similar to those in India were found in Brazil. The story of diamonds in Africa began between December 1866 and February 1867, when a 15-year-old found a transparent stone on his father's farm, on the south bank of the Orange River. Within the next fifteen years, African diamond mines produced more diamonds than the India, the previous leading producer, had in the last 2,000 years. This increase in production occurred at the same time as the diamond mines in Brazil experiences a sharp decline in their production. The depletion of mines in Brazil assured that supply would remain stable and diamond prices would not fall as they previously had when Brazil over produced in the 1730s.[2]

Diamonds are the pure form of carbon in a transparent state, that is formed below the surface of the Earth. Over 150 Kilometers below the Earth’s surface in the mantle, diamonds are formed. The diamonds make their way up the surface captured within liquid hot rock or magma. Once they reach the surface diamonds can be found in volcanic pipes called kimberlite pipes or in loose mineral deposits called alluvial deposits.

Alluvial deposits are created by diamond pipe erosion and are easily excavated. They require very little financial capital to be invested in the removal. This is due to the fact that they are often found in riverbeds and along the coast and they do not require highly advanced mining techniques nor due they require a large amount of human capital. The simplest method of mining alluvial deposits is with a shovel and a pan. With this method diamonds and soil are shoveled into a hand held pan where they are separated by agitation and shorted by eye. More advanced methods of mining use large machinery that moves the alluvial in to large shorting pans that send different densities to smaller picking tables followed by a grease table. Since diamonds are mostly water repellent, they are sorted in alluvial deposits by using grease. While other minerals develop a water coding and slide of the grease, the water resistant diamonds stick to the grease and are collected.

Mining kimberllite pipe requires a more advanced degree of mining technology and is more expensive. The first step in mining a kimberlite pipe is to dig the pit. In "open-pit" or "open-cast" mining, the layers of rock are dug up and eventually tunnels and pipe are build so the hard ore material can be removed with large hydraulic shovels and trucks. The hard rock is broken into pieces with shovels and other methods until the rock is small enough to be remove from the mine by truck. When the kimberlite ore is deep underground it must be removed by mining a series of underground shafts in the pipe that allow the ore to be carved off and make its way down the tunnel to a draw point. At these points the crushed ore is brought up to the surface for processing. Only about 20% of the world's diamonds are taken from pipe mines, and the remaining 80% of diamonds are alluvial.

            In 1866, the first diamonds in Africa were found. Before the discovery of diamonds in South Africa diamonds were very scarce and they were highly valued. Following the discovery of diamonds in Africa the production of diamonds increased tenfold in the next tens years.


Diamond Trade and De Beers:

            Today, over two thirds of the world’s diamonds come from one company, De Beers. The London based company was one the first companies involved in the mining for diamonds in Africa immediately following their discovery. Cecil Rhodes was attracted to the new prospects of mining in African and he started his search for diamonds in 1870. Another English immigrant miner named Barney Barnato, Rhodes’ rival, also fought to control the same diamond claims as Rhodes. By 1880, Rhodes had bought out Barnato and had founded De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. Rhodes envisioned controlling the whole diamond market. By 1888, he had realized his vision and he had gained monopolistic control over the whole diamond market.  He completed his monopoly with the formation of cartel, the London Diamond Syndicate, who were that biggest diamond merchants of the time. His syndicate allowed him to perfectly match supply with demand. They provided him with critical information about the diamond market allowing him to create an artificially controlled supply of diamonds. In return for their assistance, the diamond merchants were guaranteed a certain amount of diamonds from Rhode’s mines.

            In 1929, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer was elected as the chairman of the board of De Beers. Oppenheimer followed the model of his predecessor by using the single channel marketing structure and formed the Central Selling Organization (CSO) by incorporating other major sellers and producers into De Beers syndicate. Oppenheimer’s strategy was tested during the Great Depression and the amount of diamonds mined were significant higher than the amount of buyers at that time. As a result, Oppenheimer was forced to close many of De Beers mines and still purchase diamonds form other members of the CSO as arranged.

            Following the death of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer in 1957, his son Harry assumed the role of chairman at De Beers. Like his father he believed strongly in single channel marketing and in 1958 he signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to purchase their diamonds that were being mined at the Mir mine in Yakutia. Before Harry’s role as chairman, he made some very significant contributions to De Beers. In 1939, Harry initiated the marketing campaign for diamonds in the United States. This campaign helped to expand the market for diamonds to middle class Americans who had previously believed that diamonds were only for the extremely wealthy. As a result of their marketing scheme, De Beers was able to increase the supply diamonds in the world to meet the new demand. In 1947, the famous slogan “A diamond is forever” was penned and the De Beers marketing machine was born. By 1982, De Beers was marketing diamonds all over the world including Europe, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan. At this point, it had become critical for De Beers to be able to expand demand as a result of all the new mines that were being discovered and exploited.

Despite their marketing success to increase demand for diamonds, De Beers was forced to stockpile a large number of their own diamonds between 1992 and 1998. De Beers stockpile grew by over one million dollars as a result of the increase of rough diamonds. By the end of the twentieth century, De Beers marketing strategy had begun to back fire on them. Their supply management have led to legal troubles in the Uniteed States. The Department of Justice have charge De Beers with violating U.S. antitrust laws and as a result they now have a reduced presence in the United States. The costs of creating a diamond buffer and advertise for the whole market had become unsustainable for them. As a result, the twenty first century saw them to begin to restructure their company and rethink their marketing strategy. But, despite this slight hiccup in De Beers continual monopolist presence in the diamond market, they still control over two thirds of today’s market ant they are still the driving force behind the Diamond market


Sierra Leone:


The diamond history of Sierra Leone began in 1935 when De Beers legally took complete control of the dining prospects in Sierra Leone for the next 99 years. Despite De Beers presence, Lebanese traders within Sierra Leone quickly discovered the immense profits that could be made by smuggling diamonds out of the country. As a result, illicit mining and trading soon increased throughout Sierra Leone.

By the 1950’s the government of Sierra Leone had virtually given up on policing the majority of its diamond industry. All foreign investors were forced to provide their own security for both their personnel and mines. The government did however tighten security in two places. They increased their presence in the Kono diamond district and in Freetown the diamond export center. The result was that illegitimate diamonds were diverted from the high security cites and taken to Liberia and an illegal diamond pipeline between Sierra Leone and Liberia was born. The government seeming took further unintentional steps to increase illegal mining when in passed the Alluvial Mining Scheme in 1956. The scheme allowed indigenous miners to receive mining and trading licenses and the number of illicit miners increased by over 75,000 people[3].

In 1961, Sierra Leone gained independence from Great Britain. It was after gaining its independence did diamond smuggling become a political problem as well as an economic one. In 1968, populist Siaka Stevens became prime minister, bringing the country to a one-party ruler. Stevens was the first person to officially connect the diamond mines to political power and profit, and he encouraged illicit mining to gain political power. He nationalized the diamond mines and De Beers' SLST by creating the National Diamond Mining Co. Through NDMC, Stevens gave himself and his key advisor, Lebanese businessman Jamil Mohammed, control of the diamond mines. Under Stevens' authority, legitimate diamond trading dropped from more than two million carats in 1970 to 595,000 carats in 1980 and 48,000 carats in 1988[4].
         At the end of Stevens' 17-year rule, De Beers removed itself from Sierra Leone. In 1984, De Beers' sold its remaining shares to the Precious Metals Mining Co., controlled by Mohammed. A year later, Stevens retired and his successor, Joseph Momoh, took control of Sierra Leone. With little political or leadership skills, he placed even more responsibility in Mohammed's hand. As a result illicit diamond mining within Sierra Leone flourished. By 1991, Sierra Leone had a corrupt government and openly illicit diamond trading and was a vulnerable and attractive site for armed rebellion. On March 23, a civil war began when the Revolutionary United Front, a group of 100 fighters from Sierra Leone and Liberia, invaded east Sierra Leone.
            Foday Sankoh, an ex-army sergeant led the RUF. Sankoh said he represented the urban dispossessed and promised impoverished peasants a greater share in the mineral wealth misused by the corrupt government[5]. However, Sankoh used brutal tactics, such as mutilation and amputation, against these same peasants to allegedly expose the government's inability to protect its citizens.
             Throughout the nine-year civil war, fighting concentrated in and around the diamond districts. RUF leaders were very aware that whoever controls the diamond mines controls Sierra Leone, and profits from smuggled diamonds funded its attack. Since the civil war began, Sierra Leone has suffered complete desolation. It is wholly dependent on outside support from Great Britain, Nigeria and South Africa's security forces. Sierra Leone's own army is corrupt; its soldiers are nicknamed "Sobels," rebels by day, soldiers by night.
             Finally, in July 1999, Sankoh and Sierra Leone's president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, signed the Lome Peace Accord under pressure from the U.N. and the U.S. government. RUF agreed to surrender its forces for a share in Sierra Leone's government. As a concession to RUF, Sankoh was released from the death sentence he earned for his war crimes and made chairman of the Strategic Mineral Resources Commission, a position that controlled most of Sierra Leone's diamond exports.
             Although the accord was long in coming, it brought a short peace. On Jan. 6, 2000, just seven months after it was signed, RUF revived its attacks on Freetown and Sierra Leone's government. Despite its promises to surrender its forces, RUF never did. Now Sierra Leone is once again battling RUF, and control over the diamond mines is still at the center of the conflict. Ultimately as a result, the UN has issued a ban on nongovernmental diamonds for Sierra Leone.


The Costs of Conflict Diamonds:


            Sierra Leone has suffered terrible social and economic costs as a result of its civil war and fight over diamond control.  Under the cover of warfare the rebels committed heinous crimes against humanity in the form of murder, rape, and mutilation. The war between 1991 and 1999 claimed over 75,000 lives, caused 500,000 Sierra Leoneans to become refugees, and displaced half of the countries 4.5 million people[6]. Also during this period, the Sierra Leone economy was being cheated out of millions of dollars in the form of illegal diamonds.

Rape of women and girls was widespread and systematic during Sierra Leone's conflict through most of the 1990s, and is reportedly continuing on a smaller scale in areas still controlled by rebels in the north and east of the country. Members of the RUF primarily perpetrated this brutal tactic as a tool of war to terrorize the civilian population into submission and break-apart families and communities. In addition, to the thousands of women who were raped, thousands more women and girls were abducted and taken into the bush to travel with the rebels and to act as domestic sex slaves to the fighters. . In many cases the abducted were gang raped, beaten, starved, tortured, forced to walk long distances carrying heavy loads, and told they would be killed if they tried to escape.

The rebels have been reluctant to turn over children in spite of their obligation to do so under the Lome Peace Accord and have been particularly slow to hand over girls. Girls and young women who managed to escape from the rebels or who were released, suffer a variety of consequences such as sexually transmitted infections. These include HIV/AIDS, trauma and post traumatic stress disorder, extreme anxiety and alienation by their communities and families. Numerous women also were left with scarring and serious gynecological problems, such as damaged uteruses and bladders. A high percentage of the survivors are pregnant or are now single mothers of so-called "rebel babies."

            The Rebels also terrorize citizens with the systemic mutilation of men, women, and children. The rebels had teams dedicated to capturing citizens and mutating them. Often times they cut off both the victims’ hands and put the hands in a rice bag and took it back to their commanders. Such behavior is not an isolated event or the product of undisciplined soldiers, it is the rebels gruesome strategy and can be traced back to the leaders of the RUF. As a result of these acts, the thousands of surviving amputees in Sierra Leone were forced in to refugee camps. Many of these people are illiterate and support themselves by farming the land, and they are left futureless as a result of their needless amputations. 




Eliminating Blood Diamonds:


            As a result of these grave tragedies, the world is now starting to take small steps in an effort to eliminate conflict diamonds. The UN has placed a embargos on conflict diamonds, while providing peacekeepers, economic aid, and other sources of assistance. There has also been the introduction of the Kimberley process. The Kimberley Process is a certification system for monitoring a diamonds origin from the mine, up until it reaches the hands of the distributors. With this process all diamonds collected from a mine are sealed in containers, and given warrantees. As they move from location to location, they are given further identifications to verify their origin. The United States is currently working on legislation for the Clean Diamond Act. This act would ban any diamonds that come from an unknown origin. Both the Clean Diamond Act and the Kimberly process are an attempt to create a diamond paper trail and to eliminate conflict diamonds from the diamond markets. While these resolutions are both a good start it is clear that it will take more for this conflict to be resolved.

            The main problem with conflict diamonds is the structure of the diamond industry. Since, De Beers controls the majority of the market, they lack real incentive to address the problem of conflict diamonds due to the fact that conflict diamonds are such a small portion of the worldwide diamond sales. However, if the diamond industry were a truly completive market then conflict diamonds would have a greatly adverse affect on the whole market and would be quickly addressed and dealt with by the member of the diamond industry. Such a fact raises the question, why is there still a monopoly in the diamond market today? De Beers in still operating off the contracts that were made at the end of the nineteenth century with governments that for the most part do not still exist in those countries. Many of the contracts were made when these African countries were still colonies of European nations. Today, most of these countries have gained their independence but still honor these ancient contracts. This is where the newly formed African Union should step in on behalf of these African nations and challenge the current legality of these contracts in world court. All African nations would benefit from the release of these contracts and being allowed to have control over their own mines. If they were given this control they could use the increased revenues from the mines to reinvest into the growth and development of that particular country and its economy.

            As demonstrated above with the atrocities that have occurred in Sierra Leone, it is apparent that some action immediately needs to be taken to eliminate these sources of death and destruction. Whether the solution is, the current action that is taking place or a more dramatic solution, action needs to be taken now because enough lives have been ruined and lost over a valueless piece of carbon.




1 -

2 - Kanfer, Stefan. The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World

3 - Hirsch, John L. Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy

4 - Hirsch, John L. Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy

5 - Hirsch, John L. Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy

6 - Tamm, Ingrid J. Diamonds in Peace and War: Severing the Conflict-Diamond Connection.



Campbell, Greg. Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones. New York: Westview Press, 2003.


Hirsch, John L. Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2001.


Kanfer, Stefan. The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1993.


Tamm, Ingrid J. Diamonds in Peace and War: Severing the Conflict-Diamond Connection. Cambridge: World Peace Foundation, 2002.


Web Sources:

Amnesty International:


De Beers:



[2] Kanfer, Stefan. The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World.

[3] Hirsch, John L. Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy

[4] Hirsch, John L. Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy

[5] Hirsch, John L. Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy

[6] Tamm, Ingrid J. Diamonds in Peace and War: Severing the Conflict-Diamond Connection