Conflict Diamonds: The Pontificating Continues

I just viewed the “Blood Diamond” two disc special edition, with Sorious Samura’s “Blood on the Stone” documentary, and it’s given me an excuse to bring up points I’ve wanted to make for a long time.

I don’t wish to criticize Samura, who was a hero in his documenting of the Sierra Leone civil war (which his brother died in.) His featurette does very well in recounting the horrors of the Sierra Leone civil war, and includes a genuinely disturbing sequence set in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where local diggers are terrorized by a quasi-security force called “The Suicidals.” But overall the documentary is a missed opportunity to genuinely judge the KP’s effectiveness.

The documentary shows how easy it is to buy a stone in Sierra Leone and then sell it by going across the border to neighboring Guinea. Samura acts astonished by this, just as he expresses faux-surprise that there is actually smuggling, bribery and extreme poverty in Sierra Leone.

The larger point is this: The Kimberley Process is a form of law enforcement. Most of the laws it enforces were not on the books before the KP. Stamping out illegal activity is not easy, because the job of a criminal, by its nature, involves flying under the radar. Just as there are laws and operations to stop people from importing or selling drugs, people do it every day in this great land of ours. That doesn’t mean anti-drug operations are ineffective. It means they are not 100% effective. And, they will likely never be. It’s just the nature of the beast. But if there were no drug laws or enforcement, there would undoubtedly be more drugs sold. That’s simple logic.

Of course, the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone is porous, and that invites smuggling. But even the U.S., the richest country in the world, can’t control its borders. One can’t expect dirt-poor Sierra Leone and Guinea to do any better. What the film doesn’t mention is that the KP has a way to deal with this. If too many diamonds are found coming in for Guinea, the KP can force it to tighten its internal controls, or cut it off from the system. Which is what is happening with Guinea and Ivory Coast. There is also a similar issue with diamonds from Zimbabwe.

Of course, then the smugglers can just go through another country. And then that country will have to be cut off. In the end, the KP may never totally wipe out conflict, or smuggled, diamonds. But it can make it riskier, and less profitable, to deal in illicit stones. And that in itself is a victory.

Take the scene where Samura tries to unload purportedly smuggled diamonds on 47th Street. He is able to sell $50,000 in rough without any Kimberley certificates, to what seems like an incredibly sleazy individual, for $10,000. In my opinion, selling rough without KP certificates should be illegal (it apparently isn’t), since it violates the spirit of the Clean Diamond Trade Act. But consider this: Samura has sold $50,000 in diamonds for $10,000. His take has just gone down drastically. Smuggling diamonds is now a less profitable business. That likely wouldn’t have happened pre-KP. And if enforcement is stepped up, perhaps diamond smuggling can be made so unprofitable and difficult people won’t do it anymore.

In the end, the film sends out a mixed message. Samura asks diamond buyers to look for Kimberley certificates – the same Kimberley certificates he just spent an hour saying don’t mean anything. And that’s the irony. The same NGOs who are saying that Kimberley is “full of loopholes” would be screaming bloody murder if it was ever dismantled. Because no one has come up with a better way to deal with this issue. The KP could certainly use improvement. But people need to be brainstorming ways to make it more effective, not just poking holes in it.

Anyway, on the bright side, I am hoping (maybe even praying) this is the last post I will write on “Blood Diamond” for a while, if not forever. Most of what I know about “Blood Diamond” can be found in these two articles in JCK, on its retail impact and the trade’s reaction.

JCK News Director