Historians and archaeologists have regarded Africa as the cradle land for humankind. Indeed her climate and natural resources are a testimony to this. Africa is endowed with a tropical climate that makes it a destination for many tourists from Polar countries. Talking of natural resources, Africa is undoubtedly one for the most endowed countries in the world. Her wealth attracted the attention of colonizers during the scramble for and partition of Africa who wanted to exploit it for their own gains. This wealth ranges from all sort of wildlife that attracts thousands of tourists annually to the rich cultural diversity of its inhabitants and historical sites. One sector cannot go unmentioned when one is describing Africa’s wealth. This is the mining sector.
Africa is home to virtually every known mineral ranging from the most precious like gold and diamond to commonplace ones like sand. One then wonders what the problem really is with Africa that makes her to rely heavily on donors to feed her own and why she still has the highest number of people living in absolute poverty. This paper looks at such an insight with close reference to the problems associated with blood diamond mining, its miners and the relationship between the market demand for this precious gemstone and the exploitative nature of the mining process. Solutions to addressing these challenges will also be explored.
Diamonds are probably the purest of all minerals. They are considered to be a symbol of love, power, beauty and wealthy. All these connotations associated with this precious mineral, unfortunately, do not apply for the case of diamond mining in Africa. This is because its mining is the reason behind the very many power struggles, spread of terror and brutalities on innocent that are characteristic of the continent. The illegal trading of Africa’s diamond aids in funding the operations of terrorists. Such smuggled diamonds are in turn referred to as blood diamonds.
So, when did it all begin? When did the noble endowment turn a disaster to its own? The discovery of diamond is accredited to a young boy named Stephanus Erasmus. The boy found a stone at the DeKalk farm on the banks of Orange River in South Africa. He then gave it to his neighbor, Schall Van Niekerk, a stones collector. The neighbor gave it to travelling salesperson that later showed it to a magistrate, Lorenzo Boyes. The stone was taken to the World Fair in Paris in 1867 where it was declared diamond and named ‘Eureka’. More diamonds were discovered in this period marking a beginning an era of blood shed in a once peaceful continent (Buzzle.com 2011).
When people realized the preciousness and worth of diamonds, they started gambling and quarreling over them. Their mining became a major job. The colonial powers in the South of Africa, the Dutch and the English fought over the control of the mines. On realizing that they were sitting on precious gemstones, the local communities began to fight against one another. Terrorists were not left behind either. They kidnapped and enslaved children and young people forcing them to work in the mines. The profits they gained were used to fund wars against internationally recognized governments in an attempt to overthrow them.
According to the UN Conflict Diamonds (2001), such wars have led to the amputation of the limbs of those who refused to work in the diamond mines and above all, death of millions of innocent locals since the discovery diamonds. The regions where such bloodshed in pursuit of nature’s endowment occurred are mostly in the Western countries of Africa like Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as the Democratic republic of Congo in Central Africa. These diamonds mined by the use of involuntary labor from the locals, smuggled and traded illegally by terrorists in order to fund their wars called ‘Blood Diamonds’ or as the United Nations refer to them, ‘Conflict Diamonds’( Real History Blog 2007).
What makes the terrorists endeavor so much to exploit the poor laborers in the mines? There are several factors linked with this inhumane illegal trade. In fact, ‘few natural resources have captured the attention of the global community in the scale that blood diamonds have aided in the sustenance of several African wrangles and wars since the end of the Cold War (Gberie & Estelle 2006: 3)’. To understand the connection between the mistreatment of blood diamond miners and the market demand of the commodity, it is paramount to examine the structure of the international market of the diamonds and the process they undergo before one buys diamond jewelry in a shop.
The structure of the diamond marketing chain is determined by the method of production used. For instance in Sierra Leone, diamond are produced majorly through four ways. These include through industrial alluvial, industrial kimberlite, small-scale alluvial and artisanal alluvial production. Blood Diamonds are mainly obtained through artisanal production because of a number of treasons. One, there are no concerted efforts to take a geographical survey of the alluvial fields. It is also difficult to accurately estimate the diamond of diamond production in these regions and therefore regulation of the mineral poses a big challenge to the delight of illegal traders.
Another characteristic of the diamond mining process that makes it prone to illegal traders is the pure nature of the mineral itself. Diamonds are very difficult to trace their origin in the world market since they contain no impurities (Helium 2011:1). This enables illegal traders like terrorists to smuggle the mineral with no qualm of conscience, as there is no difference between their product and the legal diamonds. Such a trade enhances the greed of the greed of the traders who in turn pressurize the poor workers in the mines so that the former can get more profits (O’Rourke 2007:53)
The marketing structure is also to blame for the poor state of affairs of the miners. It contains of a long chain of traders who, by the end of a single transaction leave the miner in extreme poverty than they were. For a model of the chain, a close look of the Sierra Leone chain will suffice to unravel the mistreatment the laborers in the hands of a market structure that does not factor in their grievances. In the case of alluvial mining which, as afore-mentioned is prone to the control of terrorists, licensed miners sell to four different categories of buyers. These are the dealer, the dealer’s agent, or the exporter’s agent. The linear chain comprises of a self-financed miner selling directly to a dealer or an exporter (Alao 2007:135).
No matter what type of marketing chain adopted, the burden always falls back to the laborer. Considering the first case, which is a long one, less profits are likely to be realized because the more the players are increased in the market while the commodity remains constant, the less profit per transaction. The vice versa of this is unfortunately not true. This is because, when the chain is short is short, as is the case with the alternative chain, the exporter gets bigger profits since they are buying from a person with inferior pricing skills like the laborers. This conveys a lack of a clear marketing policy by the international diamond market, a scenario that leads to the exploitation of the poor laborers who ironically are supposed to be the major benefactors of the mining activities. In Sierra Leone, for instance, wages are paid in cash only on either a daily basis or monthly and sometimes seasonal. In the case of artisanal laborers, daily wages range between $2 for the unskilled miners and $3 for the skilled (Gberie& Estelle 2006:7). What a meager pay for such a tedious activity!
The above cartel leads to a myriad of problems associated with the mining activities in the Western Africa states and South of Africa, a condition that has led to the deterioration of their conditions. Blood Diamonds has led to a number of environmental and social impacts. These include environmental degradation. This is because of the large tracts of land being exploited to in search. To cite an example of Sierra Leone, land is communally owned in this country of a small population of less than three million people. The mining activities take so much land that many people are left crowded in small pieces of land or worse still, landless. The wages the laborers get cannot sustain the families given the long chains of cartels involved in the marketing as discussed earlier. In addition, the mines are so risk for the workers because they occasionally collapse burying the miners alive. As if this is not enough, they also pose a healthy risk, as they are mosquito breeding areas and a threat to people as they are gaping and cannot be reclaimed (MSNBC news.com 2009).
Socially, the mining is associated with a number of risks. For one, the whole business poses a lot of insecurity. This is due to the unregulated mining activities. Government intervention in the concerned states has often led to violence. Other social risks are ‘an influx in the number of migrant laborers who have come to seek employment in the mines (Smilie 2008:3)’. Apart from the high population of laborers, the mines also attract money launderers, unscrupulous traders and drug dealers. This crowded population is a predisposing factor for dieses like HIV/AIDS whose infection has remained high in such areas. Children are also involved in the mining as they enslaved by the terrorists due to their cheap labor. All this problems related to the mining prospects have led to the laborers living lives of absolute while the their labor is being feted elsewhere in jewellery shops in New York, Tokyo, London, Paris and Tel Aviv to cite but a few.
There are many reasons that make the laborers and the communities from African states producing diamond not to benefit. Most of these are associated with the failure of the international diamond market to regulate the process. However, others factors are still at play. This include the homogenization of the countries’ economies around this industry instead diversification (Stock 2004:335). The governments’ attitude toward the industry especially their heavy taxation is also to blame. Absence of NGOs or donor bodies to promote alternative livelihoods is also a key factor for the poverty of these laborers. Absence of credit facilities are too, a major cause of poverty in these communities, as they cannot pursue alternative or supplementary livelihoods. Duping in the industry is also rampant leading to difficulties in the valuation of the stones, unequal application of the law and great disparities in the expertise of the negotiating parties are too major challenges facing the diamond miners.
In spite of the above challenges facing the diamond industry, hope is not lost for these laborers and their communities. Various solutions can be implemented to make this lucrative trade benefit them more. Some of these steps have been implemented by the international community like the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). This scheme became effective in January 2003. It seeks to ‘ensure that no blood diamonds are trade through certification of all the legitimate rough diamonds traded among the affected countries (Bieri 2010: 103)’.
Since the signing of this voluntary agreement, blood diamond circulation has decreased to almost 3%. Other recommendations that can help improve the welfare of the diamond miners include converting land that is no longer economically viable for mining to productive activities, reducing the number of laborers to attract competition by the employers, which will in turn increase the prices of the products. Others include alternative methods of purchasing as well as providing for alternative and complementary livelihoods.