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History of Blood Diamonds

BLING: Consequences and Repercussions

When American rapper Kanye West sang “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” it was the first time a hip hop artist raised the issue of blood diamonds from Africa making it onto the necks and fingers of African American artists in America.  A new short documentary takes the question a few steps further.

“BLING: Consequences and Repercussions” is a bold documentary that sheds light on the obsession with diamonds in the hip-hop industry.  The film hold no punches in showing the trail that blood diamonds travel from greedy rebels in countries like Sierra Leone to the musicians who don as much diamond jewelry as possible in America.  In the film’s 11 minutes the filmmakers pull the curtains back on a multi-billion dollar a year industry, from the diamond mines in Africa, the profits of the De Beers, to the necks of some of the world’s most famous rap artists.

Though graphic at times, the film is one of the only documentaries to link blood diamonds in Africa with diamond jewelry worn by African American musicians.  Narrated by Chuck D of Public Enemy, the film is an excellent peek into the world of blood diamonds in Africa.  The film examines the role of De Beers in the world diamond market as well as the influence of diamonds in fueling the war in Sierra Leone.

What are Conflict Diamonds?

It’s important to realize, first of all, that as long as there has been a diamond industry, diamond mining has been beset by violence, smuggling, worker exploitation, and environmental degradation.

These problems have existed for decades – since even before diamonds became the most popular choice for engagement rings in the 1940s and going all the way back to when diamonds were first discovered in South Africa in the late 1800s.

Terrible abuses have long taken place at diamond mines run by large companies, as well as in connection with artisanal diamond mining – a form of mining in which individuals mine for diamonds using simple methods like digging pits or panning in riverbeds.

However, it was not until the late 1990s that the diamond industry began to confront a consumer backlash. Bloody civil wars were then raging in Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other African countries. All of these wars had one thing in common: they were all fueled by diamonds.

Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada, two non-profit groups, took the lead in exposing the problem to the public. Rebel groups were seizing control of diamond mining regions and exchanging diamonds for money and weapons. The diamond industry was buying up these blood-stained diamonds and selling them in jewelry stores.

Press coverage soon made the terms “blood diamond” and “conflict diamond” more familiar to diamond consumers. And mounting public concern caught the attention of diamond industry executives. They were smart to realize: if consumers no longer recognized the beauty in diamonds, if all they saw was violence and hardship, then sales could plummet.

And so the diamond industry responded – just not in the most honest or effective way.Conflict Diamonds and the Kimberley Process

The diamond industry’s response came in the form of a new diamond certification scheme called the Kimberley Process, launched in 2003.

The Kimberley Process is composed of 80 national governments and includes active participation from the diamond industry and non-profit groups. In principle, it is supposed to evaluate conditions in diamond-producing countries and certify that the diamonds being exported are “conflict free.”

At first, advocates for a more ethical diamond industry were optimistic that the Kimberley Process could become an effective tool for change. Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada helped to found the Kimberley Process and for years worked hard to improve it from the inside. Both organizations were co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process has failed to live up to its initial promise. One of its most glaring problems is that it has not enacted strict enough controls to stop diamond smuggling. Even when it declines to certify diamonds from a certain country, those diamonds still wind up in the international diamond supply with false Kimberley Process paperwork.

But its most fatal flaw is its narrow focus. Under the Kimberley Process, “conflict diamonds” are defined as diamonds used by rebel groups to fund civil wars. If a diamond isn’t funding a rebel group, it isn’t a conflict diamond, according to the Kimberley Process.

What this means is that the Kimberley Process grants conflict free certification to large numbers of diamonds tainted by bloodshed, child labor, sexual violence, and other injustices—all problems that remain very much a part of diamond mining today.

Since the early 2000s, the situation on the ground in Africa has changed, mostly for the better. Civil wars in Angola and Sierra Leone in 2002, putting a stop to fighting that took thousands of lives and left both countries devastated.

However, by any objective measure, conditions in diamond mining are not always ethical – and they are absolutely horrific in artisanal diamond mining. In Africa, close to a million people are artisanal diamond diggers. Almost all of them live in extreme poverty, earning an average take home pay of less than a dollar a day. Child labor is common and working conditions are very often dangerous and de-humanizing.

The Kimberley Process’s willingness to certify blood diamonds as “conflict free” is disgraceful and disappointing. But just as outrageous is the way the diamond industry promotes the false notion that the Kimberley Process has nearly solved the blood diamond problem.

In 2006, shortly after the debut of the movie Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the group that represents the global diamond industry – World Diamond Council – launched a new web site. (The web site is available at One of the site’s central claims, based on a 2004 statistic, is that the diamond supply is now more than 99% conflict free – or that less than one percent of diamonds are conflict diamonds.

Using its web site as a marketing tool, the diamond industry has managed to get this statistic routinely repeated in the press and in jewelry stores worldwide. There’s only one problem: it’s not true.

A Double Standard for Diamonds

A decade after the creation of the Kimberley Process, the diamond industry has gotten much of what it wants.

By helping create a diamond certification scheme dedicated to stopping “conflict diamonds,” by defining that term extremely narrowly, and by promoting the notion that the conflict diamond problem has been nearly solved, the diamond industry has stemmed a lot of the public outrage that was building in the early 2000s.

Of course, the diamond industry hasn’t really solved the blood diamond problem. It has just done a good job of defining it out of existence – of shaping the terms of the conversation.

In jewelry stores, most consumers do not ask where a diamond comes from and the labor and environmental standards in place at the mine of origin. They ask whether it is conflict free. And since the Kimberley Process certifies 99.8% of diamonds as conflict free – and the rest receive false certification – the answer is always yes.

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About Darlene Dancy

Darlene Dancy is the owner of Affordable and Historical Art. Darlene's goal is to educate, motivate and empower people of African descent to learn the rich history of African culture - past & present. Discover Black History written, researched and preserved by African American Scholars. Lectures, Documentaries & Auto Biographies on DVD's and Historical Black Print/Poster art

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