Sierra Leone: Diamonds Are Not Forever

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

What_price_for_those_diamonds__by_Joe_Leo

Photo Source: Amnesty International

The recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa declared a global health emergency by World Health Organization made me recall the time I spent in Sierra Leone and Liberia few years back. At that time the two countries were in a rebuilding phase from the long civil war which ended in 2002.

A clear incident flashed before me when the catchy names of these countries were shown in the tickers while watching world news. Seeing the resilience of many people I met on my journey was not only inspirational but also unbelievable. Watching all those war amputees, both young and old, telling me that we are no more at war and we hope to see a better future was extraordinary.

I remember I had to buy a tooth brush and my host, Christy, took me to a shop that not only had Swiss cheese but also Belgian chocolates on sale. I was surprised to see a small shop in Sierra Leone having fancy stuff on sale while the rest of the country was in a dilapidated state. Later Christy took me to the place from where she used to buy things. It was an open space with tables and it was shocking to see all the chicken parts on sale and lentils sold in small (the tiniest I have ever seen) pouches. When asked about the shop where she took me earlier, she told me that it was for the UN peacekeepers in the country as people like us cannot afford to buy things from there.

I am always bothered to see the polar extremes in various places that I have been to and also the polar extremes in my country of birth, Pakistan. Yes polar extremes exist everywhere and yes they have become an accepted reality.  I can visualize how things can be in those countries with the deadly outbreak that resulted in approximately 930 deaths in West Africa.

The other day I was reading that a man in Saudi Arabia who contracted the disease during his business trip died in Jeddah. Moreover major airlines like British Airways and Emirates have halted flights to affected countries. Many expatriates are leaving the countries. Blockades have been established in many places, shutting down the affected communities. Also in the news, a Roman Catholic Priest repatriated with one of the nuns is now in a stable condition in Madrid where the sixth floor of the hospital was evacuated for their treatment.

So what about the ones who are left behind in a place where the virus is gnawing at them?  Lacking medical equipment and training to handle the disease many of the doctors have fled the affected areas. The outbreak must be costing the war scarred economy millions of dollars but above all it is killing people, it is costing their lives.  International aid organizations would be ready to help but with the imposition of ban on travel and trade whether many will be helped is still a question.

Stephen Morrison, the director of Global Health Policy Centre while talking to Newsweek said that the containment of the disease is becoming impossible for the governments to handle. The WHO health officials said that the threat is serious but can be controlled blaming the region’s poor public health infrastructure. What if it is not just West Africa? What if an unknown deadly virus erupts somewhere and cannot be controlled?  Many countries around the world have poor public health infrastructure because sadly health is not governments’ number one priority. In this case the developing world becomes an easy prey with little resources to fight. We can spend billions on defense fighting each other but when it comes to defending ourselves from the unknown ailments which are a result of our mal practices in general  for example cancer, we don’t know what to do.

Sierra Leone is apparently at peace today bearing deep scars. It is ranked 180 of 187 on the latest Human Development Index. With a low literacy rate where 20 percent of children die before their fifth birthday, to date thousands of survivors lack medical or psychological treatment. Almost two third of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. Relatively stable countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia yet again face another shock.

I cannot forget the beautiful beaches and hills of Sierra Leone. A country rich is natural resources is fighting yet another battle. If only the resources and wealth of a country are put to good use many of the ills plaguing the country can be dealt with effectively. Changing the game which has been played for years benefiting just a few is the need of the day.

Here I would like to talk a little about the famous blood diamonds.  According to World Diamond Council which represents the commercial diamond trade, blood or conflict diamonds are traded illegally to fund conflict in war-torn regions, particularly in West and Central Africa. Conflict diamonds are defined by United Nations as “…diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”

diamond mine near Kenema, SL 2001 Getty images

Diamond mine near Kenema, Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Getty Images

It has been told by the experts that the illegal sale of blood diamonds has produced billions of dollars to fund conflicts and civil wars in various African nations including, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. In response to the greed and genocide, Kimberley Process Certification System was created in 2002 to regulate diamond trade and keep blood diamonds from entering the legitimate market. The Kimberley Process was put into practice by United Nations. Proponents of Kimberley Process claim 99 percent of world diamonds are now legitimate however the critics claim that this program does not prevent diamonds from being easily smuggled. It should be noted here that Africa supplies 60 percent of the world’s diamond supply.

Some people all over the world love to wear diamonds, a stone that has been made valuable at the cost of somebody’s life. We don’t know where these diamonds come from. We don’t want to think about it as long as we get a dazzling stone around our necks or fingers.  Today we have been blinded by our need for more. Today development depends on more production and more consumption. If only we realize how this need for more is causing harm to this planet. We are at war with ourselves and should not blame anyone else for the mess which we face all over the world, a mess that has various shapes and sizes. Our focus is entirely on faster, newer and cheaper that we have actually lost ground on things like safer, healthier and fair. We are motivated to find solutions but those solutions aren’t the most need solving. We are playing the game with one goal and that is the need for more.  In this game of more we need to change our goal and that would be towards betterment, better health, better jobs and a better chance to survive on this planet. The laws and rules that define development need to be redefined.

Flashing the stones, glamorizing material goods and manufacturing things which we don’t need at all in this game of more make us forget the worsening health indicators, the growing income inequality and the melting of polar icecaps to name a few. Today water is on sale and maybe in the years to come we will have air for sale too, if we don’t change the game. We have become individuals with insatiable appetites accumulating more and more. 40 percent of Earth’s resources are owned by 1 percent of the population. The combined wealth of three richest individuals in the world exceeds the GDP of the 47 poorest countries. The world contains only 497 multi billionaires while half of its population survives on less than 2 dollars per day. It is time we start thinking of the connected self where we all are inter dependent.

Mass Mutilation Sieera Leone

Mass mutilation Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Google

These glittering diamonds which people like to flaunt are extracted by thousands of men, women and children who are used as slaves in countries like Sierra Leone.  In Sierra Leone a group known as the Revolutionary United Front threatened, killed and mutilated people living and working in diamond villages until they were able to take control of the mines. About 20,000 innocent lives suffered bodily mutilation, 75,000 killed and 2 million fled Sierra Leone according to PBS Online NewsHour. These conflicts combined have displaced millions and resulted in more than 4 million deaths according to National Geographic News.

Now when I think of it, we can survive without diamonds. No?  It can be seen that the lack of political will among member states has made the Kimberley Process ineffective.  According to Amy Barry of Global Witness while talking to CNN, Zimbabwe is a test case for Kimberley Process. She alleged that Robert Mugabe’s regime benefited from the sale of blood diamonds despite it being a member of Kimberley Process. However the conflict trade costing the lives of millions of people is not limited to diamonds. Rebel fighters and army units from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have hijacked the trade in mineral ores used in mobile phones and computer production according to Global Witness. This has subjected the local population to extortion, rape, massacres and forced labor. Later on the conflict minerals are laundered into global supply chain by export houses before it is being transformed into refined metals by large international smelting firms.

Being part of this rouge trade just for the sake of profits or to be more apt money is nothing but inhumane. We should realize the fact that we are not immortals who will be on this planet forever. It is important to realize that we are all connected and a suffering in any part of the world is the suffering of humankind.  Right now we might get away by thinking that it is the people of Palestine who are at stake or child soldiers in Democratic Republic of Congo or polar bears in the Arctic but it will not be too late when we will be in the same boat. It is important to change the game which gives us a false economic model based on the need for more. We need to think with reason and say no to things which we don’t need instead of blindly accumulating stuff at the cost of others. The economic model which we need to follow should be sustainable keeping in mind better survival on this planet instead of making more or having more.

It is not an easy task for sure but neither is this impossible. By thinking and adopting a collective and selfless approach we can surely come out of the many self created problems. Let’s change the game by adopting less is better and prevent the downfall of humanity.

 

   

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Anam Gill

Believes that empathy and compassion can trigger change. A media professional passionate and committed towards issues of human rights and social justice.