Diamonds of death
IN 2001, a CNN study showed that rings made up 79% of diamond jewellery sales in the world. Human rights activists have got a more disturbing contention. As high as 10% of diamonds from the conflict areas of Africa find their way onto the fingers in New York, London, Paris and Rome. That's the way of our civilisation! One man's gift is another man's grief.
Gift is because the affluent amongst us don't hesitate to spend big money to delight their loved ones. But grief comes as an antithesis, a large number of people being killed, mutilated and displaced from their homes in the quest for diamonds in Africa. Thousands of people have had their arms chopped off in the diamond fields of Angola in the 1990s.
In other African countries lust for diamond has fuelled years of bitter fighting between governments and guerrillas. In Sierra Leone alone, 75,000 civilians were killed and more than one million displaced by the end of 20th century.
More appalling stories are coming out of Congo. A UN report published last week claimed that the Congolese army and rebel groups in connivance with neighbouring forces from Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania have imprecated a reign of terror, especially on the female population. Hundreds of thousands of Congolese women and girls have been subjected to unspeakable horror.
How does it connect with our initial hypothesis? The report claims that foreign governments and international businesses are responsible for perpetuating conflicts in Congo, much of it driven by greed for gold and certain minerals used in cell-phones, DVD players and video games. Doesn't it tell that one man's hubris is another man's horror?
On another level, animals are slaughtered to provide us mink coats, furs, shoes and belts. Many times more die for supply of meat in our meals. That doesn't include fish and fowl gobbled up round the clock. Law of Nature: the stronger consumes the weaker. Snakes eat frogs, frogs eat insects, and insects eat trash.
The name of that eating game is survival. In 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 carrying 45 passengers crashed in the Andes. For two months and ten days until their rescue, 27 survivors stayed alive by eating the flesh from the bodies of their 18 dead comrades. The Roman Catholic Church announced that it was no sin to eat flesh from dead bodies in extremis.
But the blood and tears flow in Africa not because of any extremis. People kill people over the precious minerals because the rest of the world is crazy about them. The rings on fingers, necklaces around the necks, cell-phones in hands, and DVD players in living rooms are trophies of turmoil in a seething continent. One man's misfortune is another man's gain.
The real tragedy is that the fruits of atrocities are treated as the fulcrum on which our civilisation tilts. Who is to blame for it? The hands, which are killing to get those minerals or the hands which are dying to own them? Who is guiltier of the two? The greedy hands of the fortune hunters, or the graceful hands of the fortunate ones?
This is our civilisation, its ramparts built on a perverse contradiction. The woe of one continent is the weal of rest of the world. Most of the illicit diamonds from Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo are traded in Belgium and Israel. The rough diamonds are then cut and polished in 30 different countries.
The final destination of these diamonds is the highest democracies in the world. The top diamond jewellery market is the United States, where consumers buy 65% of all the world's gem quality diamonds. The Americans spend about $30 billion each year on diamonds, nearly $60 billion on jewellery.
More contradiction. The United States is the world's largest arms dealer. While other countries faced decline, it expanded weapons supply in 2008. It signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion, constituting more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals.
Diamonds go where the money is. So do cell-phones, DVD players and videogames. The armaments go where the conflict is. So do governments, guerrillas and foreign interventionists. Diamonds don't always create conflicts. Not all diamonds come from conflict areas. But one finger out of ten! Every time it itches for diamond elsewhere, another finger reaches for the trigger in Africa.