About the Author: Sue Saarnio is the State Department’s Special Advisor for Conflict Diamonds.
It wasn’t long ago that the remote part of Liberia, near the Sierra Leone border, was controlled by rebels. I was there a couple of weeks ago as part of a Kimberley Process review team that was visiting diamond mining sites to monitor Liberia’s compliance with the international diamond trading regime. In the 1990s, the diamonds from this region financed weapons and supported those who brutally abused, maimed and killed the local residents. Now -- with any luck -- these diamonds may help contribute to Liberia’s economic development and support reconstruction efforts.
Diamond mining is hard, back-breaking work performed in wretched conditions. The miners stand knee-deep in mud hefting pans of gravel to be sieved in search of the illusive octahedron-shaped stones. They weren’t finding any diamonds the day we were there. I asked the miners why they didn’t just return home and plant crops, settle down and become farmers. They laughed, but we all knew why. Tomorrow they might find the big one, and that is what keeps them coming back.
The Kimberley Process was set by the international community in 2003 to try to prevent diamond sales from financing the bloodshed witnessed in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola. Five years later, 74 countries have agreed to control the sales of rough diamonds in an effort to keep them out of the hands of rebels and tyrants. The idea is that if we can keep the diamonds in formal export channels, there’s a chance we can help prevent future conflict and contribute to government revenues that will support reconstruction.
Liberia’s got a lot going for it – a strong President, solid international donor support and abundant natural resources. Liberia is coming back. Diamonds could play a positive role its future.
Dipnote readers are invited to read more about multilateral diplomacy and the Kimberly Process.