Diamond Desperadoes

Wars by ak-pumping kids with cocaine razor-bladed into their heads, followed by Hollywood movies full of stereotypes, only reinforce the reality that diamonds are mostly about greed.

These same kids who once were sent out all drugged up to scare villagers and control diamond areas are now waking up at dawn in forest areas of Sierra Leone, near Bo, east of Freetown, hoping to find that one stone they hope will give them a lottery ticket to a better life.

They claw, hidden away, miles from their homes.

They say they can never return because everyone knows the atrocities they committed. They were and they remain diamond desperadoes.

None of them ever find anything.

Anyway, when a diamond is found, it's the exporters and their government facilitators in Freetown, who are the ones who make big money. At the source, little is made.

Lebanese dealers will speak to journalists, but never on the record. I once visited Hisham Mackie, who some years accounts for about half of Sierra Leone's legal exports, and had to go through a maze of prison-door gated offices and cousins with gangster, scar-ridden faces, and surveillance monitors on their desks, before sitting down to a brief interview with the head honcho himself.

All he had to offer were nervous smiles, empty sentences and a curt handshake
goodbye, "anytime, you come see me, anytime."

His family has been in Sierra Leone's diamond business since the 1950s, and continued working throughout the brutal war, business better than usual, just under the smoldering table.

In divided Ivory Coast, it seems to be the same.

Rebels block off the diamond area Tortiya, in between Bouake and Ferkessedougou, to anyone who smells like a journalist, especially equipped with camera and video camera, especially since a diamond embargo was imposed against Ivory Coast. As soon as you approach even remotely, you are followed, stopped and asked to report to the local warlord, and given all sorts of excuses why it's not possible to go immediately.

It's too bad, because rumor has it, there's a Lebanese-owned hotel near the mines where the rooms and food are free. There's so much money to launder it seems, there is no need to make any more.

In Danane, west of Man, near the Ivorian border with Liberia, kids, like this one, can be seen making diamond necklaces. Shop owners say their best clients are French peacekeepers.

A nice virtuous circle of child labor, colonialistic corruption under the disguise of peacekeeping, rebel pilfering, violence in short, and making the arms produce the profits, at the expense of victims who are victimized for living on land with diamonds.

If you are wearing a diamond or giving one, it's a pillage of the earth, often at a terrible cost, for all involved except the profiteers and your selfish
vanity, but sometimes ignorance is bliss.

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