The importation of conflict diamonds provoked popular outrage that spawned the Kimberley Process, a piece of legislation designed to bring order to the diamond trade.
Diamonds have been valued as a gem stone for centuries, and they have become an even more highly-desired item recently by distributors like De Beers and the entire chain of diamond production, from mining to retail sales. This explosion in popularity has been a result of several factors including world population expansion, increased affluence among Western countries and those that wish to imitate them, and the discovery of diamond deposits in various world locations. Like slavery and ivory, diamonds are tainted with the image of bloody conflict surrounding the profitable and precious little gems. In the year 2000, popular pressure pushed an initiative for a process to make the importation of "blood" or "conflict" diamonds illegal and unprofitable. The initiative was named the Kimberley Process, and was adopted by 52 nations in 2002, then fully implemented by the member nations in 2003.
Conflict diamonds have been featured in a number of popular movies including the 2002 James Bond Die Another Day and the 2006 Leonardo Dicaprio film Blood Diamond. Both films featured a negative viewpoint of the diamond industry. The fictional character Gustav Graves (played by Toby Stephens) uses conflict diamonds to create the Icarus superweapon in order to fulfill a maniacal quest for power. Blood Diamond portrays the importation of conflict diamonds in a more academic fashion. Diamond smuggler Danny Archer (Dicaprio) smuggles diamonds out of violent Sierra Leone and into neighboring countries, where they can be exported as non-conflict diamonds. With a heart-wrenching plot involving the family of Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), Blood Diamond shows the futility of conflict diamond controls upon the massive worldwide network of diamond production. The ending scenes feature a prominent diamond purchaser photographed buying a gigantic pink diamond from Vandy. The credits then roll with a description of the terrible violence in Sierra Leone and the efforts of the Kimberley Process.
The two movies above found the roots of their plot in the popular rage that emerged from the circumstances of diamond wars in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s. These wars were fought exclusively over the control, production, and profiteering of the country's diamond resources. Diamonds are found in a number of regions in Africa, including Sierra Leone, the Congo, and South Africa. This is because much of the land mass of Africa is believed to be a great deal older than the rest of the world, giving diamonds more time to form on the continent. Unfortunately, government also developed slowly in Africa, and today tribal factions find control of the diamonds in their region an important goal for ensuring the survival of their culture.
Theories of underdevelopment in Africa range from geographical origin theories such as the continent's orientation as compared to Europe's and Asia's, and imperial domination theories that suggest the continent's growth was stunted when various European powers recklessly carved up pieces of it. Whatever the case, diamonds and other valuable resources have played leading roles in the drama of Africa's continued lack of development. The great irony of raw materials means that they tend to be most easily found in poorer nations. When these nations export these raw materials to industrialized powers for a source of income, they actually ensure their own underdevelopment as these industrialized nations export the finished goods back into the poor nations for a profit. Textiles are a perfect example of this. Diamonds, however, offer nations a chance to get out of the underdevelopment cycle if administrated properly. Rough diamonds are finished and then typically sold to capitalist nations and strong economic powers. Since they are a luxury, the sellers of the rough diamonds are not likely to see them again. If the money can be converted to effective governance and social welfare instead of AK-47's and weapons for tribal warfare, then some African nations may find a ticket out of underdevelopment.
Unfortunately, Sierra Leone and other nations have shown only moderate interest in ceasing violence and creating functional nations. The YouTube movie above shows the violence that typified Sierra Leone since 1991. The civil war in Sierra Leone started in 1991 and has since claimed 50,000 lives or more and displaced millions of the population. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) terror organization featured in Blood Diamond was the party responsible for initiating violence in May of 2000 that led to conflict diamond discussions and the construction of the Kimberley Process. The situation has since calmed down somewhat, although the devastation continues and the effects of it are not forgotten. But the host website of the Kimberley Process claims that "Some $125 million worth of diamonds were legally exported from Sierra Leone in 2006, compared to almost none at the end of the 1990s". This citation is one piece of evidence that supporters of the process use to indicate its effectiveness.
The name for the Kimberley Process comes from a meeting in Kimberley, South Africa that was the pre-cursor to the composition of the system. www.kimberleyprocess.com has this to say about the process: "Diamond experts estimate that conflict diamonds now represent a fraction of one percent of the international trade in diamonds, compared to estimates of up to 15% in the 1990s. That has been the KP’s most remarkable contribution to a peaceful world, which should be measured not in terms of carats, but by the effects on people’s lives." Though even one-tenth of a percent of the five-billion dollar per year industry still represents over 5 million dollars being driven to conflict regions per year, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money funding conflict exploits before the process. It is also quite amazing that the Kimberley Process has been this successful when its structure is analyzed.
Like many international organizations, the Kimberley Process has no power to punish nations which have been found to be in violation of the process. It can, however, disband member nations fund to be in violation of the terms of the treaty, visible in full text Adobe Acrobat files here: http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/documents/basic_core_documents_en.html All of the text of the Kimberley Process is in the form of "recommendations" and "suggestions", because it is a soft law. This means that as stated above, there can be no legal ramifications for nations that fail to adhere to the terms, with the notable exception of being removed from the system. This is becoming an increasingly powerful suggestion, as membership to the process is increasing and becoming more effective. Banishment now means decreased trade prospects and decreased profit.
Several other recent developments have contributed to the improvement of the diamond trade. The Argyle Diamond mine of Australia, located in the less than originally-named Kimberley region of Western Australia, has been producing diamonds since 1985. It is currently the world's most prolific producer of "brown" diamonds, although the production has slowed a bit in the past year as Rio Tinto company excavates the mine further to find more diamonds. The popularity of the diamonds, however, has increased tremendously in recent years instead of flagging, and the diamonds have been marketed as alluring colors such as "champagne." Their performance and popularity in the world market has begun to rival that of ordinary colorless diamonds. The production of these diamonds and other new resources has already had an effect upon the former diamond juggernaut, De Beers. In the past thirty years, De Beers' market share of the world diamond market has dropped from 80% to less than 43% with the increase of competition among diamond producers. This could possibly lead to lower prices for consumers and a decreased incentive for conflict diamond warfare.
Although the Kimberley Process has all the classic signs of a clever marketing ploy as a method for greedy diamond suppliers, it has turned out to be an effective piece of legislation that will reduce the impact of conflict diamonds on the world market if maintained carefully. There are still some kinks to be worked out. Legislative and national fissures have allowed conflict diamonds into Ghana and Mali, where they have been exported safely to the diamond distributors' paradise of Antwerp and sold, thereby undermining the process. The illicit trade in Sierra Leone is also still high: experts estimate that between 15-20% of diamonds exported from there are conflict diamonds. A picture below shows children panning for diamonds on the surface in Sierra Leone. Despite its shortcomings, however, the Kimberley Process has proved a valuable and effective first step in regulating the diamond market and promoting peace within Africa.