excerpted from: Ian Martinez, Sierra Leone's
"Conflict Diamonds": the Legacy of Imperial Mining Laws and
Policy, 10 University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review
217-239, 217 232-239 (2001-2002) (141 Footnotes)
A common misconception is that the current civil war in Sierra Leone
is the result of illicit diamond mining. True, diamonds were the fuel of
the latest flare-up of fighting. Illicit diamond digging emerged
simultaneously with the discovery of alluvial diamonds in the country.
The British, unwilling to pay for the costs of patrolling or controlling
the hinterland--where diamonds are found--sought a colonial compromise.
Their policy was twofold: a) to institute indirect rule through the
traditional paramount chiefs and b) to use a tributary system whereby
miners received a share of diamonds they recovered in lieu of wages.
Eventually this system degraded government rule and led to a rise in
corruption. The efforts to control the illicit diamond led, in time, to
the rise of a "shadow state." The colonial governance planted
the current mindset that infects Sierra Leone like a malignant tumor.
The patient lived, infused with donor medicine as its lifeblood,
diamonds, were sucked away. Finally, the 1990s saw the tumor explode
into an orgy of violence. This article explores the genesis of the
illicit diamond trade and the continuation of that policy after
. . .
A. Government Collapse & Rebellion
Scandal rocked the government in 1991 when it was discovered that no
work had been done on 32 government development contracts even though $2
million had been spent on those projects. In 1991, the government
announced its intention of repurchasing 49% of DIMINCO, which had been
privatized by Stevens. By 1993, the source of diamond production was
mainly small- scale mining. DIMINCO ceased operations in March 1993 and
went into liquidation in October 1993. In January 1994, the government
instituted a new mining policy that allowed non-citizens to form
companies while requiring the non-citizens to maintain minimum levels,
or else their licenses would be revoked. Next, rebels entered the
country through Liberia. Foday Sankoh, the 1971 coup instigator, whose
personal friendship with Charles Taylor, the Liberian President, gained
the rebels safe passage into Sierra Leone through Liberia, led the
rebels. The rebels had left Sierra Leone in 1987 due to economic turmoil
and had been training in Libya. In Libya, Sankoh teamed up with Ibrahim
Bah, a Senegalese, who trained in Libya and had fought in Afghanistan
and then with the Hezbollah Terrorist group in Lebanon. Bah, a close
friend of Blaise Compaore's--the president of Burkina Faso and future
arms supplier to the region--in turn, introduced Sankoh and another of
Africa's infamous rebel leaders Charles Taylor, to Gaddafi. This group
of would-be rebel leaders would form an "axis" of West African
instability with its pole being Tripoli.
Once in Sierra Leone, Sankoh set about recruiting disaffected urban
youths, many of whom had not benefited from illegal diamond digging and
the "new economy." Sankoh would pay his foreign friends, like
Stevens and Momah did, in diamonds.
The rebels of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) intended to encircle
the regional centers of Bo and Kenema. Bo is 25 miles south of the
former SLST Tongo Lease, which is a 15-mile long vein of kimberlite
diamonds. The RUF executed those who refused to join their ranks and
kidnapped boys and girls for guerilla training. The RUF began their
hallmark campaign of crude amputations that included feet, hands, lips,
ears, and noses. The focus of these brutal amputations was on women and
children. The RUF amputated to usurp the power of the chiefs and
introduce themselves as the new power brokers. The RUF soon turned to
mining and diamonds in order to enrich themselves and their foreign
B. Of Guerillas, Diamonds & Mercenaries
By early 1992, the Sierra Leonean Army (SLA), with the assistance of
the Economic Community of West African States Ceasefire Monitoring Group
(ECOMOG), led by Nigeria and Guinea (who had a defense pact with Sierra
Leone) pushed the RUF back to the Sierra Leone-Liberia border. In 1992,
disaffected SLA soldiers (the leaders were sent to law school in the
U.K. on scholarships after their removal) launched a coup due to
conditions at the front and a lack of pay. The coup was successful, and
the soldiers instituted a commission to look into corruption and soon
discovered malfeasance at ministerial levels. Yet, the soldiers also
succumbed to graft and corruption in no time. Soldiers sent to the front
no longer fought the RUF, but instead turned to diamond mining. In
October 1992, Koidu, the main town in the diamond mining areas, fell to
the RUF. Seesaw battles raged, and by early 1995, the RUF had the upper
Facing imminent defeat by mid-1995, the military government hired
Executive Outcomes (EO), a private South African mercenary outfit
consisting of former Apartheid troops, to fight the rebels. With
experience gained from fighting South Africa's wars in Angola and
Namibia, EO checked the RUF's advance and in less than a month had
nearly cleared them from the country. Branch Energy, an offshootmining
component of EO, was given a 25- year lease on Sierra Leonean diamond
concessions. By 1996, EO had killed several thousand RUF combatants and
forced the RUF into peace negotiations.
Sierra Leone had no foreign exchange to speak of, so the government,
as usual, signed away the diamonds to foreigners. In 1996, allegations
began to surface that EO officials were engaged in illegal mining.
Between 1994 and 1996, Branch Energy had invested $12 million in
exploratory mining. EO's success meant that a peace treaty would be
signed in November, but with a provision requiring EO and ECOMOG to
leave by January 1997. As EO prepared to pull out in late 1996, Branch
Energy sold its entire stake in Sierra Leone to Diamond Works, a company
with connections to Sandline International Ltd., which was itself a
mercenary company composed of former British Secret Service members.
Diamond Works' security would be provided by Lifeguard, a mining
security subsidiary of EO.
Elections were held in February 1996. EO's success and the new
president helped forge the Abidjan Accords in November 1996, which ended
the war. The RUF would register as a political party and disarm, and
international observers would keep and monitor the peace. Yet, the U.N.
Security Council felt that the Clinton Administration would not support
a U.N. peacekeeping effort in Sierra Leone, and hence, none was sent.
The RUF failed to disarm or demobilize, and on 25 May 1997, RUF soldiers
overthrew the civilian administration of President Kabbah and demanded
$47 million before restoring the government. The RUF assumed power, and
Kabbah fled to Guinea and asked Nigeria to intervene militarily. An orgy
of violence gripped Freetown, with increased murder, rape, looting, and
torture, while all formal banking and commerce operations ceased
throughout the country. Even ECOMOG forces were overpowered.
In February 1998, Kabbah was restored to power by Liberia. The RUF
was pushed into the countryside and exacted its humiliation on civilians
by mutilating thousands more. The rebellion that began in 1991 claimed
more than 75,000 lives, caused half a million refugees, internally
displaced 2.25 million people, and left thousands of mutilated people.
C. From U.N. Protection to British Intervention
In 1997 the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Sierra
Leone. The U.N. responded to the deconstruction of Sierra Leone in July
1998 by creating a peacekeeping operation, named UNOMSIL, which
consisted of 70 observers. The U.N. Security Council modified the
embargo in 1998 to allow the government to rearm itself, but maintained
the embargo inasmuch as it denied the RUF any weapons. Regardless, the
RUF continued to arm itself through the sale of illegal diamonds, and
from 1991 to 1999, the RUF was estimated to have earned approximately
$200 million a year from diamond smuggling. In 1998 and 1999, five
flights carrying weapons from Ukraine to Burkina Faso--whose president
was the Libyan-trained acquaintance of Sankoh, Compaore--were diverted
to the RUF. In 1998 Bah, former Afghan freedom fighter and Hezbollah
member and co-founder of the RUF, met with operatives of bin Laden's al
Qaeda network in order to sell them diamonds. The connection to al Qaeda
was cemented in September 1998, when Bah arranged for an al Qaeda visit
to Monrovia. Bah and Abdullah flew into Sierra Leone to discuss buying
diamonds on a regular basis. A few weeks later Bah arranged a visit for
two more al Qaeda operatives now on the FBI list, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani
and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed--both prime suspects in the 1998 U.S.
Embassy bombings in Africa--who took $100,000 in cash and received a
parcel of diamonds in an introductory deal.
On the military front, in 1998 the RUF launched "Operation Spare
No Soul" targeting civilians because of the capture of Sankoh by
ECOMOG forces. In January 1999, the RUF attacked UNOMSIL and ECOMOG
troops and reentered Freetown. During two weeks in Freetown, the RUF
torched homes and buildings, murdered 6,000 people, dismembered hundreds
and kidnapped 2,000 children before being repulsed by ECOMOG forces.
In July 1999 Kabbah and Sankoh signed the Lome Treaty, ending the
rebellion by the RUF. Sankoh was made chairman of the Strategic
Resources Commission, with responsibility over diamond mining. Anyone
who wished to mine diamonds had to go through him to obtain a license.
In essence a power shift had occurred, and rather than the chiefs
controlling the issuance of licenses as was once done in the old
economy, Sankoh would now personally seek to engage in this kleptocracy.
Sankoh set out to sell his own personal collection of diamonds through
the ministry, and rebels came out of the bush selling their own
In April and May 2000, the Lomé Accords fell apart as U.N. forces
came under attack in east Sierra Leone. In April 2000, ECOMOG (except
the Nigerian contingent that came under U.N. command) pulled out. By May
2000, three key events had occurred: 1) 300 U.N. troops were kidnapped,
leading to the unraveling of the U.N. force; 2) 1,000 British troops and
six Royal Naval warships arrived in Freetown to restore order and train
and arm Sierra Leone's army; 3) Sankoh was arrested. The RUF's
leadership, including three ministers, their spokesman, the secretary
general and two colonels, were also arrested.
D. The RUF's Renewable Fuel: "Conflict Diamonds"
The RUF supported their offensives through illegal diamond mining in
the occupied regions, which continued after the Lomé Treaty required
the RUF to turn over occupied regions to the U.N. Like its predecessors,
the RUF was aware of the resources to be had in the diamond sector.
Sankoh lined his pockets and encouraged his cronies--just like Stevens
and Momah before him--to rape the diamond industry and co-opt the
chiefs. Thus, the RUF did the same as others before them, but co-opted
the chiefs through violence. In May 2000 the Sierra Leone Attorney
General charged Sankoh with corruption and diamond smuggling.
As for the RUF's diamonds, they were smuggled through the old
smuggling routes to Liberia and sold in RUF-friendly Monrovia. From 1998
to 2000, diamond exports from Sierra Leone were around $30 million while
diamond exporting from Liberia--which possesses fewer diamond
fields--exploded to over $300 million. In July 2000, Charles Taylor,
President of Liberia, responded to allegations of his involvement in
arms and diamond smuggling to and with the RUF: "When someone gets
up and says that Liberia is involved in diamond smuggling and gun
running like a movie, you've got to be joking. What we have said, is
with all of the Western intelligence--for God's sake, these people have
satellites ... please bring me one photograph of a convoy." In
August Western Intelligence, mainly the U.K. and U.S., showed Taylor and
the world his convoys. The evidence was presented to the U.N. Sanctions
Committee, thereby implicating Charles Taylor and Blaise Compaore,
President of Burkina Faso. The evidence included allegations that Taylor
orchestrated the rebels, supplied food, medical supplies, and military
equipment, all in return for 60% of illegal diamonds smuggled out of
Sierra Leone. Burkina Faso, which received around 30% of illegal
diamonds smuggled out of Sierra Leone, made fraudulent end user
certificates for weapons purchased in Bulgaria, which were then diverted
to the RUF. But even the U.N. became tarred when, in September 2000,
Nigerian troops, originally part of ECOMOG and later part of the U.N.
operation, were accused of diamond smuggling by the Indian individual
commanding the U.N. force. As late as July 2001 Bah and the RUF were
mining diamonds for al Qaeda operatives.
Presently, Sierra Leone's legal system has collapsed because of
corruption and the recent civil war. The country's institutions for the
administration of justice (both civil and criminal) are barely
functional. The courts in Freetown have no law library for research,
recording facilities, or secretarial staff. The court system outside
Freetown is nonexistent, with courtrooms destroyed and personnel killed.
There is no police force to bring perpetrators to justice. Jails do not
provide food for inmates. The British have provided assistance to the
rebuilding effort by developing programs aimed at re-establishing and
training the national police force.
. . .
British colonial policy in West Africa created a system of patronage.
Unlike other countries in West Africa, Sierra Leone also had a Creole
urban population of freed slaves. These Creoles were educated and given
jobs in the civil service. The interior was known as the "white
man's grave," and no systematic effort was made to develop the
hinterland until pressure from another expanding colonial power pushed
the British colonial officials to go to the hinterland to protect
Freetown. Unwilling to pay for the administration of the interior,
Sierra Leone became a hybrid of British Imperialism using both systems
employed in Africa. The discovery of diamonds led to the granting of a
monopoly over the diamonds, in response to colonial protectionism in the
face of the Great Depression. The monopoly followed the colonial policy
of using local chiefs and co-opting them.
At independence, Sierra Leone inherited a system of reliance on one
major export--diamonds. It also inherited the economic dominance of the
Creoles and the subservience of the chiefs. Resentment for the Creoles,
and to a lesser extent, fear of Mende domination, led to Stevens'
political victory. Stevens' rule was akin to Mobuto's in Zaire, but much
less publicized. Where the West financed Mobuto's kleptocracy, diamonds
financed Stevens. Stevens' creation of a new economy eliminated the
inherited monopoly and alienated the Creoles and co-opted the chiefs.
The economy suffered widely as Stevens and his cronies sought to enrich
themselves. This disconnect led to the rise of frustrated urban youths
who eventually became the backbone of Sankoh's RUF. The RUF needed to
finance their movement and what better way than through diamonds--symbol
of the elite that had caused great misery and had instituted the new
Sierra Leone has now come back full circle. Freetown is the economic
heart of the country with the diamond district tenuously held by a
foreign force--the U.N. The U.N. and the country are watched over by
British troops who do not stray too far from Freetown and leave the
interior as the black man's grave.