When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: The Truth About the Diamond Industry
Irwin Ozborne, Contributor
“For every finger to receive a ring, another finger must pull a trigger.”
We all know the story.
The man gets down on one knee, grabs hold of the girl’s hand and she covers her mouth as she is overtaken by emotions. The man pulls out a tiny box and opens it up to show off the sparkling diamond engagement ring before asking the question, “Will You Marry Me?”
The classic love story which peaks when the man asks for the woman’s hand in marriage. They are officially engaged once he props a diamond ring on her finger.
However, there is another side to this story that never gets covered in the media. It is the dark side of the diamond, where if the public knew about the horrors and atrocities that take place to produce this mineral – perhaps we would re-think the way we celebrate “love.”
The Human Price of Diamonds
Diamonds are timeless, beautiful, symbols of love. They are the world’s most precious gems. Or as the popular slogan of the cartels has simply claimed, “A Diamond is Forever.”
But the astronomical prices paid to the jeweler to possess these beautiful gems, is nothing compared to the ultimate price paid to mine the diamond in another world away.
As the love story above tells us the ending in which the consumer purchases the diamond and then uses it to surprise the love of his life in a romantic, fairy-tale ending. But, where does the story of the diamond begin?
Similarly, someone reaches out their hand.
But this is the outstretched hand of a villager in a remote area in West Africa. He also has all his friends and family nearby as the anxiously wait. However, it is not to put a ring on his finger; instead combatant rebels are about to amputate his hand to ensure the man is not allowed to vote or be involved in politics as well as a means of spreading fear to the village to comply to the local rebel militia operating the diamond mine.
In a different Southern Africa town, a 14-year-old girl knocks on the door of civilians home before pulling out a gun and a group rebels raid the home. They steal everything valuable, including abducting the woman’s child and executing her in front of their mother.
In Central Africa, another 15-year-old girl has been living in a pit in the ground in which she is brought up each day only to be raped by a combatant. She becomes pregnant but still endures daily sexual abuse before being dropped back in her hole in the ground living next to the corpse of her best friend who was killed three weeks prior.
All these stories are the result of the illicit diamond trade. The sale of diamonds from these rebel groups funded civil wars in a number of African nations by exchanging diamonds for weapons. As these horrendous acts were carried out for decades, the West turned a blind eye to the blood diamonds they were flossing on their fingers and showing off to their friends and family.
Civil wars were being fought in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than four million lost their lives, many more displaced, and hundreds of thousands suffered varying level of war crimes including intentional mutilation/amputation and rape. All of these wars were funded by the same currency – diamonds.
While the “blood diamonds” found their way into the global market in the 1990s, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that people started becoming aware of the blood that was being shed in producing diamonds. Since then the industry – like all industries that expose cheap labor in under-developed countries – put up a few cover-up operations that put up the illusions that their products come from non-conflict areas.
However, even the “non-conflict” diamonds come from one of the most corrupt industries in the history of the world. This industry has developed one of the greatest marketing schemes in the world that have us believing that love is synonymous with diamonds and getting the world to turn their heads to the crimes against humanity being carried out to bring us the gems that we need to express love.
“How many times will a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.” – Bob Dylan
The Grand Marketing Scheme
Diamonds were first discovered 2,500 years ago and were extremely rare. They were only available to royalty, aristocrats, and the wealthy. They were originally found in riverbeds in India and Borneo. In the early eighteenth century, diamond mines were found in Brazil and as the supply increased the prices dropped.
In 1866, a 15-year-old boy found diamonds on his father’s farm on the banks of the Orange River in South Africa. Within fifteen years, African mines became the leading producer of diamonds and the industry was changed forever.
A mining rush ensued and industrial mining for diamonds had begun.
Cecil Rhodes, an English imperialist, whose thirst for power and quest to spread the British way of life across the globe stumbled upon the diamond mine on the De Beers farm and purchased it for a small price. Rhodes feared that if all these diamonds hit the market, the prices would crash. His goal was to then control the market by securing supply. One-by-one, he bought out the other mining companies and founded De Beers Diamond and Mining Company.
By 1888, Rhodes had control of 90-percent of the diamonds in the world ensuring there would never be a flood of supply to lower prices. He also had been named Prime Minister of Cape Colony giving him political power to enforce laws that would pave the way for Apartheid by removing natives off their land and into forced labor camps to mine his diamonds.
The De Beers Company had created a cartel that was based on the French concept of controlling the copper industry – buying up mines, restricting supply, and raising prices. A cartel, by definition, is simply an agreement between competing firms to exclude prices and exclude entry of a new competitor into the market – illegal in the United States and United Nations.
De Beers largest competitor, Anglo-American Company, was founded in 1917 by Ernest Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer had stumbled upon massive amounts of alluvial diamonds (diamonds on top of the earth that did not need to be mined). Oppenheimer threatened to flood the market with these diamonds unless he was made chairman of De Beers. And just like that, the illegal anti-trust monopoly was created with complete control of the industry. Now that supply was in control, they had to take charge of the other side of the business equation – demand.
In 1930, a De Beers engineer warned,
“The diamond market is dependent for its smooth function on the maintenance of the illusion in the minds of the general public that the diamond is a rare and valuable stone.”
The cartel then set up an office in Hollywood and exchanged valuable diamonds to producers to put in scenes showing off the diamonds with the man surprising the woman with the diamond which helped launch the notion that engagement meant receiving diamonds. They would give to actresses to flaunt at all public appearances for advertising to the public.
This followed with the marketing campaign with the simple phrase, “a diamond is forever.” This trained the public that love is synonymous with diamonds and people were willing to pay large portion of their salaries to show love for their significant other.
Furthermore, “A Diamond is Forever” also suggests that there is no resale value of diamonds. Every woman deserves her own unique diamond to symbolize your love. This also prevents diamonds from returning to the market, which again would lower prices.
While this sounds like a brilliant marketing scheme; this false concept of diamonds are rare and valuable led to millions of lives being slain, forced manual labor, set up the foundations for apartheid, and brutal civil wars over the next century.
Scramble for Africa
In the late 1880s and 1890s, the European nations got together and literally drew up a new map of Africa. They sketched out which European nations would own certain parts of Africa. They drew imaginary lines through the landscape of the continent and were claiming possession to lands they had never seen.
As the colonial powers fleet came ashore all the African land, they soon put the natives to work to plunder all the natural resources. The European Industrial Revolution was born as they had recreated a different form of slavery and a rise to Western capitalism. All of this was done under the false pretense of bringing civilization and Christianity to the natives – eerily similar to the conquest of the Americas a few centuries prior.
This included tin, copper, rubber, gold, diamonds, cobalt, ore, oil, etc. The entire industrial revolution was dependent upon cheap resources from Africa. While the European nations flourished off the rich natural resources, the African continent remained poor and enslaved.
After World War II that the rise of African Nationalism took place and the anti-colonialism movement began. In the 1960s, one-by-one the African nations were granted their freedom due to the European nations lacking the money to continue to operate as oppressive empires.
The next obstacle for Africa was the Cold War. Just like the Europeans did previously, the United States and the Soviet Union started dividing up the world into Capitalists vs. Communists. Any African nation that supported nationalizing their own natural resources was soon deemed communists, and American-backed rebel groups were created in the name of “freedom. “
Once the Cold War ended in 1989-90, they money stopped flowing into these war zones and the rebel groups needed funding. There was still an ample supply of valuable natural resources and the brutal civil wars were funded by illegally selling raw materials to the global market.
Hence, the consumers funded the most brutal civil wars in modern history. The three countries most ravaged by the illegal diamond trade were Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the rich made enormous profits off these countries, the citizens still live is some of the least desirable conditions on earth.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries on Earth. In the early 2000s, following their decade long civil war, the average annual income per capita was around $220 per day. In fact, more than half of Africa’s population lives under $1 per day. Conversely, Sierra Leone is one of the richest in natural resources with some of the most sought after diamonds. This discovery should have helped the nation prosper, but instead brought conflict and one of the most diabolical wars in history – and one that your history books and media never share.
Located on the western shore in northern Africa, Sierra Leone was a main area for the slave trade in the 1800s. British ships would exchange arms for slaves before shipping the slaves to the New World. The slaves would work in land stolen from Native Americans in labor-intensive jobs such as cotton and tobacco. These two industries made America one of the wealthiest nations on earth.
In 1961, Sierra Leone was liberated from Great Britain and the prospects looked good with a newfound discovery of alluvial diamonds in 1930. They nationalized the diamond industry which should have allowed for enormous economic growth. However, this brought corruption as the new leaders brought in shady characters to run the industry. The diamond exports dropped from 200-300 million dollars to practically nothing.
In turn, funding for social services soon evaporated. Leaving no money allocated for education or health care and the entire infrastructure collapsed. Soon the press was restricted to not allow the outside world to see inside the corruption of the new government. This didn’t take long for young students to get radicalized by this experience and formed an opposition rebel movement – known as the RUF (Revolutionary United Front).
The RUF was led by Foday Sankoh, who promised to help those impoverished for a greater share in mineral wealth that was misused by the corrupt government. But instead, they started using brutal tactics of daily sexual assault, mutilations, and amputations to the same peasants he was claiming to protect.
Civil War broke out in 1991 in Sierra Leone and the RUF took control of the diamond mines which not only brought in arms for the rebels, but it limited the Sierra Leone government’s ability to finance a military and citizens could not be protected.
The diamond mines were turned into labor camps in which young children were working day-and-night at gun point. If they attempted to rest, grab something to eat, or suspected of stealing diamonds they were killed instantly.
The diamonds were smuggled across the border to Liberia, who was run by fellow war-criminal, Charles Taylor. Liberia became one of the top countries for diamond exports in the 1990s, with more than two billion dollars worth of diamonds exported each year. However, Liberia does not have the capability to even produce 10 million dollars worth of diamonds. While the world market saw this influx of diamonds from Liberia from fake companies, nobody blinked an eye. They knew these were blood diamonds but they turned their heads as these gems piled into the global market at the hands of killing innocent lives.
It is estimated that in the 1990’s one in every five diamonds came from a conflict area. Meanwhile, the United States became the largest market for diamonds by consuming more than 40-percent of all diamonds in an industry that sells $72 billion worth of diamonds per year.
Child Soldiers, Amputations, and Rape = Vice Presidency
Eventually the United Nations stepped in and a president was elected in Sierra Leone which agreed to negotiate with the rebels. However, violence ensued because Sankoh wanted political power as well as control of the diamonds. Soon, the rebels started amputating arms and hands of civilians to ensure they would not vote again.
They would ask if civilians wanted “Short sleeves or Long sleeves” referring to where they would sever their arm – either at the wrist or elbow.
Young boys and girls started to be abducted to further the cause of the RUF. There were more than 20,000 soldiers between the ages of 7-12 that were taken from their homes and knew no family other than the rebels that trained them to kill. They were fed drugs and alcohol to become more violent and rob from their own families. Young girls were recruited to be cooks, sex slaves, and soldiers.
In 1997, the rebels took over Freetown in what they referred to as “Operation Pay Yourself.” They went house-to-house ravaging the city and slaughtering civilians. The streets of the capital were lined up with corpses of civilians stuck in the middle of the world’s most vicious civil war. Eventually, the US and UN stepped in around 1999 and had the parties at war come to a peace agreement with the Lome Peace Accord.
This agreement was for the RUF to surrender the fighting in exchange for their share in the Sierra Leone Government. This allowed for Sankoh to be released from his death sentence and handed the keys to the vice presidency of the country. He was also left in charge of the diamond fields – the two things he wanted but could never achieve through war and violence.
The man who committed the most atrocious acts was named Vice President of the people he tortured for one decade.
Additionally, amnesty was granted to all fighting forces. This meant that rebels and civilians were now living side-by-side as if nothing had ever happened. Nobody could be charged for war crimes besides those who had been in power to carry out the most heinous crimes.
While the war ended in 2002, it has destroyed a nation that now has to “forgive” the perpetrators of war crimes. Furthermore, there are still people working for less than a dollar a day in the diamond mines that are making their way into neighboring countries to be sold into the world market. Furthermore, the alluvial diamonds are still there leading to an ongoing threat of the next uprising.
Angola was one of the last African nations to be granted independence by its colonial power when they were liberated from Portugal in 1975. But liberation did not equal freedom as three different groups suddenly fought for control over the Angolan government.
Just like many nations in the Cold War era, one side was funded by the Soviet Union and the other by the United States. While the superpowers played a game of chess over Angola, the end of the Cold War left a market of alluvial diamonds traded for arms to allow the war to continue. The nation was faced with extreme poverty, refugee crisis, millions of deaths, and an estimated 10 to 20 million land mines spread out throughout the land.
Angola diamonds are some of the best in the world, the ones that everyone desires. More than $3.7 billion worth of diamonds were sold from the rebels into the world market in the 1990s.
In 1998, the UN placed a ban on non-government sanctioned diamonds, but there were zero attempts at actually carrying this out. The Angola government had purchased diamonds from UNITA (rebel group supported by the United States) and would then be exported as their own with both parties profiting off blood diamonds. It was the consumers in the West that were funding this two decade civil war.
Precursor to Apartheid
What about the non-conflict diamonds? Is there such a thing?
Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the diamond cartel, was an imperialist racist who paved the way for apartheid. He was a perpetrator of genocide, responsible for the displacement of millions of Africans for the benefit of white settlers and enslavement of African people on their own land.
Rhodes, in 1887, told the House of Assembly in Cape Town that “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa”. In less oratorical moments, he put it even more bluntly: “I prefer land to niggers.”
Rhodes also notoriously stated:
“I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimen of human being, what an alteration there would be in them if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence…if there be a God, I think that what he would like me to do is paint as much of the map of Africa British Red as possible…”
In 1890, Rhodes became the Prime Minister of Cape Colony. He soon passed laws that were a precursor for apartheid. The Glen Grey Act limited the amount of land that Africans could hold and also tripled the property qualifications to be able to vote – hence, making it literally impossible for Africans to be involved in politics. He also introduced the “Native Bill” in 1894 as a colonial taxation of African people to force them to work to be used as near slave labor in the diamond mines.
Racist laws enabled the cartel to control workers, keep wages very low, and gain immense profits from the diamonds and gold that black miners extracted from the earth. Many African men worked on the mines and farms under dangerous conditions for wages that could not sufficiently feed and clothe their families. They also required black men to carry documents that identified where they could and could not work and live (a law that continued under apartheid).
Aside from the consumer diamonds, there are also industrial diamonds used to manufacture weapons and arms for national defense. During the time of World War II, De Beers denied the United States access to large quantities of industrial diamonds. They feared that diamond prices would fall if stockpiles of industrial diamonds entered the market after the war. Rather than help the United States (ally of United Kingdom and South Africa) in war, they protected their profits.
At the same time, the Nazis were getting large supply of diamonds smuggled into Hitler’s possession. It was believed Hitler had only eight month supply of industrial diamonds and would soon run out if it were not for the illicit smuggling through the Congo. The only way to ensure the smuggling stopped was for De Beers to shut down their mine to guarantee there was no leakage.
However, again, they chose it was more important to make profits and continued to operate the mine knowing that there would be leakage to help facilitate the Nazi war and because of this millions more lost their lives. After the war, De Beers shut down any attempts at an investigation.
Yet, during the war, De Beers advertisements encouraged consumers to buy their diamonds because they produce the same diamonds that Americans need to win the war.
After the world was exposed the blood diamonds in the industry in the 1990s, they had to respond. Not because they cared, but because they feared that consumers would protest. They implemented the Kimberly Process in 2003 which is a system of certifications in which jewelers are able to validate their diamonds are “non conflict diamonds.”
But there are a few problems with this process.
First, it does not allow for third-party reviews. It is all done internally by the same industry that has been corrupt for the past 125 years. The industry self-regulation is also voluntary with no provisions for audits. Also, there are more than 180,000 diamond diggers that are not licensed and it is impossible to know where the diamonds are coming from unless an inspector is physically at every site.
An online documentary shows a couple journalists who followed the trail of blood diamonds coming from UNITA in Angola. They are smuggled into neighboring Zambia in which diamond retailers from around the world are purchasing diamonds – in which they know are blood diamonds. From there, the journalists purchase diamonds before going to the capital city. Here, they easily obtain a license to export diamonds – despite the fact that Zambia does not produce diamonds. Then they go to Johannesburg, South Africa, and pass through customs with their “legal” documents. They arrive in Belgium and are able to legally sell their diamonds to the world marketplace as exported from a nation that does not produce diamonds. And nobody blinks an eye.
The diamond cartel likes to pretend that all is fine now that they have got the blood diamonds under control. But, there are still millions of lives destroyed throughout Africa in which restoration has never been offered.
Happy Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is the day of sharing love. The diamond industry has brainwashed a generation of people across the globe that love is only expressed throughout material possessions. You can determine how much you are loved by how much is spent on you. The most loving gift is a diamond.
Yet, the irony is that true love can never come from anything externally. True love only comes from within, requiring nothing. The story of diamonds is a lie, based on a the mission of the great imperialist who was enslaving natives, controlling a supply, and alluding to the fact that diamonds are rare and symbols of love.
In fact, they are symbols of genocide, bloodshed, torture, rape, and brutality. It just depends on which story you chose to believe.
About the Author
An avid historian, Irwin Ozborne (a pen-name) is a survivor of childhood abuse and torture over a period of 13 years, and a recovered alcoholic. As a mental health practitioner, today Irwin practices holistic care and incorporates eastern philosophy into his work with clients.
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