Conflict diamonds are diamonds mined in war zones and sold in order to finance tribal warfare. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.
Rapper Kanye West paid lip service to the issue (no Boutros?) on the remix to his hit single “Diamonds Are Forever,” called “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” And conflict diamonds are at the center of a new Hollywood film opening this weekend – Blood Diamonds, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
As noted in a story in the New York Times the other day, tribal warfare financed by the sale of conflict diamonds seems poised to become the hot new cause du jour among not only Hollywood’s celebrity elite, but also many of today’s hottest rappers.
Indeed Africa is already having the proverbial best year evar, what with the likes of Bono campaigning for debt relief by talking Pink Floyd into reuniting to play Live 8, Madonna shopping for AIDS orphans in Malawi as if they were Ugg boots, and Jay-Z handing out bottled water on MTV.
As such, it’ll be interesting to watch the celeb-charity fallout from the Blood Diamonds film. Already, rapper Nas has contributed to the film’s score (how so?), including a new song called “Shine on ‘Em” – the video for which I posted here yesterday.
Check it out if you haven’t already:
- Nas “Shine on ‘Em” [YouTube]
Of course the DeBeers family, which controls the bulk of the global diamond trade, is decidedly non-plussed. They’re making it a point to note that trade in conflict diamonds only makes up a tiny fraction of the overall diamond trade.
Reportedly, they’ve even gone so far as to lobby Warner Brothers to have a disclaimer placed on the film noting that the events portrayed in it are fictional and that the film takes place in the past. (The film takes place in 1999.)
Obviously the concern is that knowledge of the conflict diamonds issue might make buying diamond jewelry unfashionable. I wonder though if the deeper concern is that people might begin to wonder about the sale of diamonds that don’t go to fund tribal warfare.
As noted in the Times story from the other day:
Part of the problem, in Sierra Leone in particular, is that very little of the profit finds its way back to the people. The government officially gets a 3 percent commission on the rough stones, but since a diamond that sells for $5,000 in America typically comes from a rough stone worth about $500, that commission amounts to about $15.
$15 for a $5,000 diamond? Even Sato in the Karate Kid Part II wasn’t that cold! And keep in mind that $15 goes to the government of Sierra Leone. How much do you want to bet trickles down to the poor bastards who actually risk life and limb digging these damn things up?
Presumably countries like Sierra Leone would be much better off if they actually benefited from the rich natural resources of their own native land. (An obvious parallel can be drawn to the situation in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez vis a vis, say, Saudi Arabia.)
Which brings me to my point: The diamond trade in Africa doesn’t have to fund grisly, Hotel Rwanda-style tribal warfare to be essentially exploitative in nature, which it is. And that’s the real reason to think twice before you cop any more diamond jewelry.