Is Blood Diamond a gem of a film--or a critical flashpoint for the jewellery industry's provenance record? Hollywood seems on a run of setting movies in Africa with a moral message that clobbers multinational corporations. For example, the blockbuster The Constant Gardener was a polemic against avaricious pharmaceutical moguls; now Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, depicts the role of so-called "conflict diamonds" in financing rebels' purchases of arms in Sierra Leone's devastating civil war.
The film is set in 1999, the year when the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) celebrated its "liberation" of Freetown by allegedly amputating the hands and feet of innocent civilians.
The rebels seized rough diamond-producing mines, and with the sale on the blackmarket of these "blood diamonds/conflict stones", had sufficient funds to continue a decade-long war. To link such horrible deaths by mutilation with a gem that normally conveys an aura of glamour, elegance and Breakfast at Tiffany's, has the industry rattled. Currently, the global diamond market is riding high; retail sales in the last quarter century have risen threefold from $20 billion to over $63 billion.
Yet this success could be threatened if clients believe that there is an outside chance that the stunning diamond necklace bought at Van Cleef and Arpels could have a sanguinary provenance.
For example, was it mined in Kono's (Sierra Leone) rebel-held rich alluvial diamond fields, then from the proceeds of a sale on the international diamond market, traded for a shipload of Kalashnikovs?
The Greeks called diamonds 'tears of the Gods', and they surely shed buckets as they looked down on this unedifying latterday West African Greek tragedy. "Diamonds are forever," so the slogan goes, whetting the appetite for the ultimate purchase. Now someone could be dying for a diamond--literally. Shot by an AK-47.
An AK-47 costs $6. Think how many you could get for one diamond--let alone a cache. A 7.62mm bullet can penetrate a brick wall as if slicing through butter. A modern Kalashnikov is as light as a toy gun, and the nightmare of a war waged by "Small Boys Units" toting lethal weapons, has become a reality. Over 50% of Africa's population is under 15.
In the Sierra Leone conflict, youth, high on drink and drugs, set the AK47's catch to "automatic" and let loose, spraying a fusillade indiscriminately in the general direction of the enemy.