A section from
‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II
A blood or conflict diamond is one whose sale has financed war or conflict. Diamonds mined in Africa are prone to being traded in exchange for arms which are used in civil wars, coups and cruel military dictatorships in volatile African states. Of course Africa with its rich and varied mineral wealth is also a target of ‘colonizing’ corporations which are backed up by governments of several developed economies and plundering African politicians. Since the atrocities of wars financed by illegal diamond trade have been publicized the diamond trade has become a heavily albeit imperfectly regulated business.
The movie is set in 1999 in Sierra Leone in west Africa.
Danny Archer is an ex-mercenary from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and an independent contractor trading in conflict diamonds. Danny’s former mentor - Colonel Coetzee employs the street smart but recalcitrant ex-mercenary to deliver arms to rebel groups, and to cross over borders into Liberia with contraband diamonds. Like all other fortune hunters - Danny is trying for a big score to escape away from the troubles of Africa and into a life of comfort. In the beginning of the story Danny is caught trying to smuggle diamonds, which are confiscated by the authorities. It becomes his responsibility to repay his principal for the lost diamonds.
Solomon Vandy is a proud father of two and a fisherman in Sierra Leone. His world is turned upside down when his village in attacked by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) militia and he is separated from his family and taken to mine for diamonds. He doesn't know that his captors have recruited his young son into their army. Theft is rampart in the diamond mines despite punishment upon discovery being fatal. However Solomon manages to hide a rare pink diamond. Before he can think about what to do about it, government forces raid the mine and throw the RUF along with their slave miners into a prison in Freetown (the capital of Sierra Leone). The same prison in which Danny Archer is also cooling his heels. But Captain Poison of the RUF knows Solomon’s secret and lets it out in the prison.
Once out of prison Archer tracks down Solomon and offers a deal but Solomon is only interested in reuniting with his family. After a tough sell he agrees to show Archer where the diamond is but only after he has his family with him.
Archer’s attempts at locating Solomon’s family fail and he has to end up recruiting journalist Maddy Bowen who until recently he tried hard to avoid. He agrees to give her inside scoop on the illegal diamond trade that she is researching if she helps track down Solomon’s family. Maddy is initially unaware of the diamond factor in the deal.
Solomon is quickly reunited with his wife and daughter at a refugee camp, but is driven to rage and depression when he learns of his sons fate. Determined not to lose his son, he tries all desperate means available to him along the route to the diamond that he must now show Archer. This journey turns out to be an adventure for all as they encounter local tribes, the RUF and Colonel Coetzee - each with a singular objective.
In the end Solomon is reunited with his brainwashed son, whose experiences and actions in battle have left him scarred. And with the help of Archer, Maddy gets her inside scoop on the blood diamond trade, leading to the incrimination of a top businessman.
Fact Behind Fiction
The movie is set against the backdrop of civil war in Sierra Leone which lasted from 1991 up to 2000 between the government and the RUF over control of the nation’s diamond mines. Conflict with the RUF arose because multinational organisations operating in Sierra Leone were not ploughing their profits into the local economy, thereby starving it of development. However subsequently the RUF came to terrorize the local population, specially in rural ares. The RUF were notorious for amputating villagers and recruiting young boys as soldiers.
For a view contrarian to the film’s check out http://www.theempireinafrica.com. The site is the home page for Philippe Diaz’ documentary by the same name of the exploitation of Sierra Leone and Africa.
The story reflects all the problems associated with illegal diamond mining and the proceeds which finance insurgencies against governments and harm civilian population.
The issue is magnified in poor African nations which are unable to enforce the law because of ineffective administration, corruption, poorly paid officials who are susceptible to bribery etc. This situation coupled with the presence of significant national mineral wealth gives opportunity to war-profiteers, who easily access arms from an underground black market.
The method somewhat adopted is as follows. Diamond mines are located and the area around in occupied by insurgents. The insurgents get access to the area because:
1. Remoteness of location
2. Widespread poverty among the local population, making them vulnerable to employment in high risk jobs.
3. Untrained and unskilled labour can be employed to mine for diamonds, as no particular equipment or learning is required.
4. Absence of any real ‘law’ because of poorly paid civil servants who are easily bribed.
Diamonds that are mined are sold to middlemen (diamond merchants, mercenaries, smugglers, any one desperate enough). Ultimately the diamond ends up on a lady. But the money paid for the diamond ends up financing the war (buying guns and ammo, recruiting soldiers, the good life for top government officials etc). This war is waged for control over more mineral and natural wealth - either diamonds themselves or rare resources like gold, oil and timber. The money doesn't reach the local population who the warlord claim to represent. Instead the money lines the pockets of corrupt officials and ends up in unaccounted bank accounts hidden from official sight.
This plundering of natural mineral wealth leaves the nation poor and bereft of benefits it would otherwise enjoy. This type of conflict against the governments of African states like Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone have kept the nations in poverty.
Why are diamonds used by insurgents?
1. Diamonds are small in size but command a high commercial value
2. Their origin cannot be easily ascertained.
3. The worldwide market for diamonds is massive. ($56 billion, 1999)
This trade in blood diamonds has given rebel groups immense financial clout. The are able to keep in reserve cash earned in foreign currencies along with diamonds which can be sold when the need for finances arises. In effect they are able to establish a parallel economy and government in their country or operation.
Professional mercenaries provide an essential service in the politics of Africa, bringing a degree of sophistication to the conflict. Like Danny Archer, they originate from crack guerrilla units trained and armed by colonizing nations. A wealth of military knowledge and experience coupled with technologically advanced arms give these soldiers an edge over local troops, whose superstitions and fears have given them a bad name.
Mercenaries are better paid than native soldiers and professional military or mercenary firms like Executive Outcomes and Sandline emerged as powerhouses in Africa.
Executive Outcomes is a South African mercenary firm which was employed by the Sierra Leone government under Captain Valentine Strasser in 1995 to push back the RUF rebels who were coming dangerously close to the capital city of Freetown. The RUF were effectively pushed back into hiding in the interiors and Executive Outcomes was paid in diamond mining concessions.
President Kabbah of Sierra Leone (in exile since 1997) negotiated with a Thai businessman to finance a coup d'état to restore him to power, in exchange for diamond mining rights. The military operation was carried out by Sandline.
A Contrarian View
Philippe Diaz and his documentary The Empire in Africa acknowledge the plight of the people in Sierra Leone, but blames the makers of the movie Blood Diamond of following the official view on the conflict. The RUF that came into existence in 1991 was born out of anger at their natural resources and wealth being used by western multinational companies. The profits made out of these commercial operations were exported and not put into local communities or for the welfare of the people of Sierra Leone, leaving the locals in poverty and starving. The motto of the RUF was ‘No more slaves, no more masters. Power and wealth to the people.’
The RUF turned their attention to the diamond mines to finance their rebellion because the international community was certainly not going to finance them. Philippe Diaz who visited Sierra Leone said ‘the one thing we never saw was rich rebels’. As for the amputations of soldiers carried out by the rebels, the strategy was adopted against the regular army’s practice of simply killing captured rebels. The cutting off of limbs was a message to the community at large - ‘You don't hold your weapon against your brother’. This act was tactically employed by the regular army who would of course blame the rebels. In this manner more villagers were maimed, more outrage against the rebels was developed and more international aid was raised.
Other fiction about:
Diamonds: Master of the Game - Sidney Sheldon
Mercenaries: The Dogs of War - Frederick Forsyth
Arms dealers: The Lord of War (movie)
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