The Diamond Industry and Its Impacts on South Africa and Sierra Leone

The Diamond Industry and Its Impacts on South Africa and Sierra Leone Mankind has been captivated by diamonds for centuries. Delicate beauty, magnificence, and eternal traits made diamonds the ultimate representation of love and affection (Diamond Facts. Org, “About Diamonds”). Adding to man’s fascination are the legends and symbolisms associated with the most coveted stone among gems. Residents of India, for example, considered diamonds as lucky charms and Indian men wears diamonds to suggest their masculinity and valor (Hoge Raad voor Diamant).

For the more romantic people, diamonds symbolizes the conclusion of the relationship between partners. This tradition possibly emanated from the notion that arrows used by Cupid, the Roman God of Love, to reconcile lovers is tipped with diamonds (Hoge Raad voor Diamant). Legends and symbolism aside, diamonds declared its position as the main symbol of love when Austrian Archduke Maximilian gave his fiance the first diamond engagement ring during the 15th century.

The ring was placed on the finger where the love vein was believed to pass the heart, the fourth finger of the left hand (Pomeroi). Nowadays, people’s perception on diamonds extends to the commemoration of personal achievements, child birth and anniversaries (Hoge Raad voor Diamant). Among member countries of the diamond community, fascination of man in diamonds is the core rationale for intensified efforts to develop and expand the industry.

Satisfying the demand for diamonds requires a continuous supply of the material in every stage of the production process; from mining to marketing of the finished product. Based on this premise, it is imperative to address primarily the source of diamonds before engaging in other aspects of the diamond industry. As the colloquial phrase “no diamond means no diamond industry” suggests, the diamond industry is significantly dependent on the supply of diamonds. There are several major countries that produce diamonds.

They include Canada, Russia, Australia and South America which together contributes around 35% of world diamond production. Major African diamond-producing nations, contributing around 65% of total production, include Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Congo and Sierra Leone (Diamond Facts. Org, “About Diamonds”). Since Africa, by far, is the largest producer of diamonds, studies on impacts of the diamond industry should relate first to African countries.

The economic, social, and political structures of a country are general fields directly affected by the diamond industry. Differences between economic, social, and political standings between South Africa and Sierra Leone made these African nations perfect candidates for studying the impacts of the diamond industry. The diamond industry was built by De Beers both literally and figuratively. The discovery of huge diamond deposits in Orange River, South Africa in 1870 compelled major investors in the diamond mining sector to form the Consolidated Mines, Ltd.

The company was incorporated in 1888 in South Africa and thus began the domination of De Beers over the diamond industry (Epstein1). As the largest player in the diamond market, De Beers made noteworthy impacts on the economic conditions of African countries especially South Africa and to a certain extent in Sierra Leone (De Beers Group). Most of these impacts were centered on funding health services and social development projects as well as training and skills development programs.

In addition, De Beers also contributed to building infrastructures, opening business opportunities and creating jobs in South Africa (De Beers Group). Immaculate as the diamond and its industry may seem, there is a dark side behind the excellent attributes. Fuel for war, instigator of human rights violations, regulator of smuggling and promoter of corruption are among these dire features. Brought about by bad politics, economic difficulties, and over-all poor management, Sierra Leone and South Africa have had their share of the negative aspect of the diamond industry.

Because of rebellion and wars, the diamond industry in these countries suffered from drawbacks and was not spared from illegal activities of rebel groups and its allies (Brima1). Rough diamonds were exploited and arms were bought from profit worth billions of dollars. Diamonds utilized for this purpose were called conflict diamonds or blood diamonds (Pomeroi). The proliferation of diamonds as a source of finance for armed conflict instigated the rebels’ employment of rural people in diamond mining.

But without concern for humanitarian principles, much death and suffering were forced upon the people by this illegal activity. Because of this situation, the United Nations Security Council was instructed to impose sanctions to prohibit the import and export of diamonds in countries under conflict (United Nations 2). In addition, an international certification scheme called the “Kimberly Process” was formalized in May 2002 to help protect legal trades of rough diamonds by removing conflict diamonds in the market and subsequently stopping atrocities among people working in the diamond mines (Pomeroi).

With the help of the international community especially the United Nations and key players in the diamond industry including De Beers and the African countries concerned, agreements for the termination of hostilities, removing of arms from fighters, and reconstruction of national unity went underway (United Nations 5). Regardless of the negative images attached to the diamond industry, proof of the diamond’s exceptionality to provide economic growth and development is noticeable in most government economic policies of African countries.

In South Africa and Sierra Leone, economic policies put emphasis on mineral resource extraction particularly diamonds, to reduce poverty on the premise that mining is the sole industry that can easily and significantly contribute to economic recovery (Brima1). By tackling head on the problems associated with the diamond industry, large gains, not only in the economic side, but also in the social and political arena can be achieved.

By critically analyzing available data on Sierra Leone and South Africa, it is anticipated that the diamond industry is an integral and indispensable part of these countries and that the benefits from diamonds far outweigh the negative implications attached to the diamond industry. The importance of the diamond industry can be best described by the acknowledgments of African world leaders whose respective countries actively participated in and benefited from the industry.

In 1999, Nelson Mandela expressed the crucial value of the diamond industry to the economy of South Africa and its contribution to human rights issues. Moreover, with the help of the diamond industry, Mandela mentioned that the struggle against HIV/AIDS is being conducted by African countries through funding services for education and counseling, programs for testing and treatment, and building of clinics and hospitals (Diamond Facts. Org, “The Facts”). In 2004, South African President Thabo Mbeki recognized the role of the diamond industry in augmenting the general economic welfare of countries and communities.

Mbeki noted that diamonds are sources of employment, tax revenue, foreign exchange, and other investments (Diamond Facts. Org, “The Facts”). In 2006, President Festus Mogae of the Republic of Botswana recognized the position of the diamond industry as a major factor in achieving excellent economic accomplishments. In his speech, Mogae generalized that people benefits from diamond revenues since diamonds can provide food and water, healthcare services, shelter and better living environment (Diamond Facts. Org, “The Facts”).