The sorry role the diamond has played in the history of Sierra Leone, stunningly told by journalist Campbell (The Road to Kosovo, 1999).
Sierra Leone is “a vacuum of violence, poverty, warlords and misery, a tiny corner of western Africa where the wheels have fallen completely off,” writes Campbell, its politics as raw and unrelenting as the natural environment. But the country has lots of diamonds: it’s “diamondiferous.” It was also home, until the beginning of this year, to a civil war, fueled by diamonds, wherein the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which is neither revolutionary nor united, killed 75,000 people and mutilated another 20,000, turning 80% of the 5 million civilians into refugees. The war involved much murder, dismemberment, and gouging, and diamonds kept it going, gems destined to go not just to the De Beers consortium, but to Al Qaeda as well, a handy liquid asset that couldn’t be frozen and travels well: “Three hundred grams of diamonds are equal in value to 40,000 pounds of iron ore, but only one of those commodities can be successfully smuggled in one’s bowels.” Campbell follows the murky trail of the gems from mine to mainstream as they’re taken from grubby pits in the rainforest—mined by what can only be called slave labor—carried by mule to Liberia, The Gambia, and Guinea, thence to the great diamond centers in New York, Israel, and the Netherlands. Campbell travels the breadth of Sierra Leone to gather his story—a savvy blend of history, mercenary operations, corporate shenanigans, and war reporting—surely putting himself in as much danger as Doug Farah, the Washington Post reporter who uncovered the Al Qaeda connection and had to leave West Africa hastily.
Readers of Campbell’s horrific tale—from killing fields to corporate boardrooms and all the seedy, murderous, and pathetic characters that fall between—who don’t demand proof-of-source on any diamond purchase ought to have their ethics examined. (10 b&w photographs)