The new message/adventure movie Blood Diamond is keeling over at the box office, but the debate over whether buying diamonds funds brutality has been heated up a little by its release. Nicholas Stein in Foreign Policy sighs deeply.
Conflict, or "blood" diamonds first gained international attention in the late 1990s when Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Sierra Leone were all engaged in violent civil wars. Soldiers on all sides used their nations' diamond riches to buy weapons. Human rights groups such as Global Witness (as well as this movie) place much of the blame on consumers, whose lust for diamonds allegedly funded these wars and prolonged the slaughter of innocent civilians. The remedy they propose is that consumers refuse to buy diamonds whose origins are in any way unclear.
While the intentions behind this proposal are noble, the solution fails to take into account the economic devastation such a practice would unleash on the legitimate diamond industry in Africa. Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa together take in $5.5 billion annually from diamonds, accounting for 42 percent of the world's production and dwarfing that of the conflict-afflicted areas. In Botswana, the world's largest producer, diamonds account for nearly 80 percent of the country's export income and have single-handedly transformed one of the developing world's poorest nations into one of its fastest growing economies.
Stein's work is almost moot; stories about the uselessness or bloody roots of diamonds have circulated for decades, and the trade's never been impeded.