I went in search of diamonds, riches, wealth, freedom from this mundane dumb-motherfucker world – and found it!
I am rich! I am free. I am the power; the powerful, the absolute power as ordained by God. I am the big man. I am the warlord. I am the boss. I am the President. I AM THE MAN – you hear; I AM THE KING: the last word is mine, you hear? You hear? You disobey me dumb motherfucker and you die! Die mother fucker, die!
And so this is how the war in Sierra Leone continued … a selfish fight for wealth and power between groups of brutal, stupid men that trapped the peaceful population resulting in a decade of cruelty and shit over diamonds.
Dumb sparkling stones that people chose to wear on their fingers cos they look real nice.
This is one cause of the crap. Demand: these dumb stones adored by female fashion across history and prized by males buying them to win a woman.
And lately in the West a Damian Hurst art-piece: a totally diamond–encrusted skull that is cool but an unnecessary derivative of Aztec-art; thankfully it was auctioned for charity – otherwise 50 million bucks is another God-like stupid extravagance the world can do without.
I really don’t care for diamonds or gems or precious metals but can understand their allure – sure, they are pretty; but this disdain didn’t quell my curiosity about visiting a diamond mine in mountainous, northern Sierra Leone, only 5 years ago an area controlled by the guerrilla army of the RUF, deep amid Sierra Leone’s ugly civil war.
The journey wasn’t the best cos the road was broken, muddy, rutted, cratered, slow, but after a few-100-kms and a full day from Freetown, I got to Kono, one of a handful of towns where diamonds flow like beer after a good day of digging.
Or does it? Well, no, not really, cos half of the town is Muslim. And I was there during Ramadan – the holy month of fasting but I had met David a Christian, and so in his company I drunk beer. But discreetly indoors, as I didn’t want to be a dumb motherfucker and upset the pious outside.
David is the son of a chief, a miner – or at least, has a lease to mine as he won’t be doing the digging himself, and HE, was my guide, my security, while visiting the mines.
Without a local, better a known mine lord or a prestigious person, you’re asking for trouble (you may get robbed or at very least hassled for money as the miners are poor, rough, and wary; many townspeople are shy or suspicious – like when Immigration came to my room ..
I am not interested in diamonds, not a business person nor a journalist – just a traveler, and they saw that when passport in hand and dressed in sarong, barefoot, t-shirt, straight off the bed and into questioning, that I posed no threat).
On motorbikes we zipped out of town – down a dusty, pot-holed road, past Pakistan UN Peacekeeping Force memorial structures of a rebel-captured, white-painted-field howitzer stuck into an intersection leading to a faded steel gateway saying Welcome or Farewell, to the town, and beyond palm tree lines of burn-out broken, housing, partly canvas-ed, shanty, plastic-sheet-renewed then into cut, upturned dirt fields of mud mounds and ponds about a mile from town where men crawled around like ants, with shovels and sifting trays.
This was the standard diamond mining experience. Open field, wet, alluvial, digging dirt, searching, washing, sifting, sorting; rough gems could be found anywhere, any moment.
But it was regulated. Those who had contacts or were chiefs, etc, had access to mining licenses and hired laborers to dig and sift the gems.
David was waiting until December to start: he needed an investor, more cash. But he introduced me to a “Chief” who controlled a large mining area alongside the river.
The Chief was friendly, confident/arrogant, red-casual suit – and once a small payment ($US7) had been made he escorted me around his mud and turquoise mining ponds, ordering laborers to pose, smile for my camera, shouting this and that; thinking I was a journalist – although I told him I was not and saying we need this man, these people; meaning publicity/foreign investment into his mining.
Afterwards he asked my nationality, and was surprised that I was not American or British.
I was told to find diamonds certain soils are the key.
That even after exhaustive mining during the war, today secondary digging of the same area was still revealing more.
And if you were lucky you could just scrape the ground and find one (no rock breaking or deep mining was necessary here but mostly it is long hours of digging craters and searching laboriously by hand).
He also informed me that diamonds came in many colors like coffee, green, orange and double-decker – double–colored – but that the typical white diamonds are the most expensive.
During the war he pointed out, across there stood the RUF – Revolutionary United Front – head quarters, destroyed now; where they controlled the diamonds fields, forcing 1000s to mine or die.
The RUF was a movement that had originated from real historical grievances but that had no “real” political agenda beyond greed, beyond diamond wealth control and this was fueled by the trade in diamonds for weapons by neighboring warlord, Charles Taylor in Liberia. Maybe you know that the RUF were infamous for using child soldiers, who too often cut-off people’s arms, lips or ears … 50,000 of them.
Today, the cripples are there on the streets for display, and your pity of a few 1000 Leones.
But that was then and this is now. 5 years on: diamonds mining is apparently fairer, shared, regulated by international law and money going to the government.
The fact is The Kimberley mine – South African, professional, deep in to the earth with machinery and technology also operate here but that there is no visitor access for a tourist like me.
This mine falls under the international laws; others may not. David told me that of his total diamond profits 5% will go to the government in tax, and he keeps the rest, beyond his overheads of mining license and workers wages, etc.
There are no blood diamonds in Sierra Leone today.
But still, if you’re interested … that lovely diamond you may be tempted to buy may have been mined by men who work 8–9-10+ hours-per-day everyday (or 6 days) for a reward of $US 2.30 a day.
Another cruel global inequality but maybe this meager wage here keeps many families, alive.