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Greg Campbell’s Blood Diamonds has definitely enhanced my understanding of Africa and the diamond mining industry. The book covers areas throughout Africa, but predominantly concentrates on Sierra Leone and Angola. Without this book, I honestly would not have had any clue that diamonds even came from Africa. Having read the novel however, I now realize that my knowledge of diamond mining, and all that this involves has been completely superficial, and based on ignorance. While Campbell’s book enlightened me in different areas, I have chosen to concentrate on three.
First, the historical perspective behind this book and how diamond mining became such a huge industry in Africa and yet left the miners in poverty. Second, the unstable political situation in the region, and how attempts to control the mining industry and keep it lawful ultimately failed. Finally, and sadly the true meaning of the term “blood diamonds” and the bloodshed, violence, and crime brought about by greed and this industry.
Without Blood Diamonds, I could not have developed a true appreciation of the dangers and challenges which are part of everyday life for people within this region.
Before reading this book, I had no idea that diamonds or anything of serious value came from Africa. My assumption was simple and had no historical basis. To me, diamonds are obviously very valuable and so had to come from developed and wealthier nations. It did not even occur to me that they might come from Sierra Leone or Angola. As I started reading however, I was thoroughly shocked to learn that Africa was actually one of the main sources of diamonds in the world.
The continent was apparently blessed with natural resources and “the humid jungle village of Koidu . . . [was] an epicenter of raw diamond production” as discovered by “British geologists . . . in the 1930s” (xiv). It was astonishing to me that the local African people were around these stones all the time, but did not care about them. To them, they were just rocks covered in dirt with no importance. They were farmers and what mattered to them was their land and crops that could be sold for money and provide a livelihood for their families. That all changed with the arrival of outsiders, and specifically the British who brought to light a far more valuable commodity.
With this information in mind, I thought that this discovery would greatly help the citizens and build up the Angolan/Sierra Leone economy, considering the value of these tiny stones and just how many of them existed. Sadly, however, this would not be the case. It was not the native miners of Africa who spent countless hours under horrific conditions in the mining holes who created this industry and benefitted from it. It was instead the pit managers who handed them off to other superiors who sent them off to traders and through a long chain, it was outsiders in the developed nations together with African rebels who truly benefitted. Africa was at this time unfortunately made up of different rebel terrorist groups, RUF (Revolutionary United Front) being the most powerful, who realized that these rocks could now be used as currency . In fact, “purchases in 1996 reached record levels largely owing to the increased Angolan production” and “during the height of rebel/government fighting in Angola” (113-114). The level of exploitation of the African miners became such a way of life that despite a multi million dollar diamond industry, countries like Sierra Leone were still suffering from unimaginable levels of poverty. The native farmers got sucked into this industry resulting in their farms no longer being tended and their crops dying. In fact, in Blood Diamonds, Campbell’s research of poverty, and his writing showed him “observing an operation in a hospital that [had] no power, no running water, and no modern technology” (251). I personally could not make sense of this, but again, this is where the book opened my eyes. It was insane that a country could house some of the most valuable riches in the world, yet still be one of the poorest nations as a result of rebel fighting. Why did the police not step in? Where was the government control and even military if necessary? How could this be permitted to happen? This led me to my next area of education, the politics and instability within this region.
It became clear to me after reading this book that Africa did not stand a chance of remaining a peaceful continent with the growth of rebel groups all wanting to maximize on diamond money, and the growing diamond industry. Africa itself became known for fighting and exploitation which had a significant impact on the diamond industry, where developed nations began to worry that potential buyers would not want to be associated with diamonds coming from areas with fighting. Even though many attempts may have been made by the government and local authorities to keep this industry and the level of corruption in check, most failed. Before reading Blood Diamonds, I did not know how governance over the diamond industry worked. I assumed that one reason African countries were so poor was that the government did not have a good control over its citizens and miners and perhaps just conducted their business badly, but I was wrong. Campbell begins by explaining how “diamonds only added to the increasing political tension” in Sierra Leone (21). Whoever inherited the independent government from the British was also inheriting major political and economic issues that would challenge even well-developed governments. Because of the new government’s inexperience, groups like the RUF controlled the mining industry and robbed the country of taxes/contracts, which could have helped built roads, hospitals, and educational facilities. Even though the United Nations got involved to try and help stop the RUF and other armed groups, the RUF was too powerful and still mined and sold diamonds easily because of the lack of presence of the UN in certain areas. The RUF was determined as diamond income paid for weapons and increased weapons gave them greater control over more areas in the country. Although the government could not overpower or take control over the RUF, they were however able to get them to sign “a disarmament deal in Freetown” which called for the soldiers to “[lay] down their arms by November 30, 2001” (145).
Thousands of rebel soldiers put down their arms in Sierra Leone, but there were still many pockets of soldiers that kept their weapons. Sadly this was an acceptable solution for both sides because for the rebels it meant less aggravation from the UN and government groups, and for the government it meant that the “elected leaders in Sierra Leone [could retain] power and [accumulate] wealth” (263). This was the best that anyone could hope for. For me this was one of the most disappointing eye openers of this book that despite the government leaders in Sierra Leone knowing how bad the state of their country was, they seemed to almost give up. It felt like they had concluded that it was too difficult a problem to fix and so settled for a deal where they also could financially benefit off the backs of the poor miners. They overlooked the true cost to the country which was not just financial but was actually a cost too high for anyone to have to pay.
This is where the name of the book came from, Blood Diamonds. I did not know what gave blood diamonds their name and just presumed that Campbell would be talking about mining related injuries to the workers at most. After reading this book however I was absolutely horrified by the amount of violence caused by these gems. From the first line of the book, violence, bloodshed, and crime was everywhere and Campbell depicted a local man “Ismael Dalramy los[ing] his hands . . . with two quick blows of an ax” (xiii). It was not shocking and there was not a lot of build up, but was very matter of fact. Apparently, Dalramy had voted for a democracy in Sierra Leone (which would have hopefully ended the diamond smuggling), so the RUF rounded him up with a group of other locals and cut his hands off to send a message to him and many others. This is how Al-Qaeda and other smaller groups managed to terrorize the citizens of Africa through the use of brute force and bloodshed. The RUF however was the main group involved with the diamond industry, who used amputations and violent acts on a massive scale to achieve their successes. I wanted to know how they even became such a dominating force and wondered where and how they acquired all of their weaponry, and as I read the book, Campbell explained their strategy.
Illegal diamond smuggling provided the RUF with essential funds that they could use to finance weapons purchase, and this is what it was all about, control. After they illegally smuggled diamonds out of Africa, they used the “money earned from their diamond sales to pay for AK-47s, helicopters, rocket propelled grenades, and surface-to-air missiles” (Campbell 63). These weapons helped create wars and terrorize villages and innocent families which the government agencies were no match for. Dalramy and his family were just one of many affected by the RUFs assertive dominance over the region, and there were even many examples of amputee camps in the book which showed how violent this industry was. Campbell in his research actually stated that the “buying and selling” of the diamonds “had resulted in the death of some 3.7 million people in various African war zones”, not to mention the many hundreds of thousands who were forced amputees (200). This was the horrifying and brutal meaning behind the name of the book which showed the reality of the diamond business, the way it was conducted, and the immense suffering it caused the people in Africa.
After reading Blood Diamonds, I truly received an ugly and painful education about the diamond mining industry and its effect on Africa, and as a result see the continent in a whole new light. I learned that while Africa is not recognized as a developed continent, it could have had so much potential to become one of the wealthiest nations in the world, with solid infrastructure, excellent medical care, and a good standard of living for its native people who earned and deserved it. It was a land filled with diamonds, some of the most amazing and valuable natural resources in the world, but imperialism, greed, and exploitation brought nothing but violence, bloodshed and poverty. The diamonds of Sierra Leone were ultimately used by terrorist groups like the RUF for evil rather than good and the government did little to stand in their way. The discovery of these beautiful natural resources by outsiders together with a lack of government control and widespread violence taught me that the title of this book was accurate in every possible way. In this country and others, stores everywhere are filled with diamonds and cartels like De Beers and others market them worldwide especially at this time of year, hiding the ugly truth behind their production. Without this book I could not have any understanding of the true cost of owning this jewelry, a cost that goes far beyond the dollars we pay. I now sadly realize that the production of something so beautiful and valuable carries the ultimate cost, loss of lives.
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