It took the groundbreaking work of NGO Partnership Africa Canada on ‘blood’ or conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone to convince the UN to take action. UN sanctions were finally imposed in July 2000 under Security Council resolution 1306, banning the trade in Sierra Leone of rough diamonds until such a time as the Sierra Leonean government had an effective certification scheme in place.
Until this point the RUF had, with the support and encouragement of Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia, exported relatively large quantities of diamonds every year. Official exports of ‘Liberian’ diamonds from Monrovia had skyrocketed in 2000. The Sierra Leone diamond embargo remained in place until June 2003, when the president of the Security Council announced the ban would not be extended, given the success of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), which had recently come into operation. A UN embargo was also imposed on Liberian diamond exports from May 2001 to April 2007, following which Liberia joined the KPCS and a system was put in place, although this has cost more than the official exports of diamonds from Liberia, making it only practical if supported by donors.
Since the end of the war, Sierra Leone has taken steps to tighten and introduce regulations related to diamonds. This began with a national certification scheme in October 2000 that allowed for limited exports and Sierra Leone became in 2003 the first country to enforce the KPCS. The KPCS depends on the producer and participant for controlling the exploitation and trading of rough diamonds, issued with a Kimberley Process Certificate of Origin guaranteeing that the diamonds are conflict free.
KPCS in Sierra Leone has been successful in reducing smuggling, as official exports in 2001 were $26 million, rose to $41 million in 2002 and to $142 million in 2007, although since then exports leveled off to $140 million in 2008. Today, Sierra Leone is one of the most important diamond producers in West Africa, exporting around 600,000 carats. Twenty per cent of these are produced from commercial mines, with the remaining production from the output of about 150,000 artisanal miners, mostly from Kono and Kenama districts.
While KPCS is not a UN mechanism, it was the scheme for exporting diamonds legally from Sierra Leone that was recognised by the Security Council. We should credit the success of Kimberley for contributing peace and stability to Sierra Leone. UN sanctions including the 2001 diamond embargo on Liberia also contributed to reducing the trade in Sierra Leonean blood diamonds. Charles Taylor was forced back from Sierra Leone and in August 2003 was finally removed from power into exile in Nigeria. In March 2006 he was extradited to Liberia, and handed over to the Sierra Leone Special Court.
While kimberlite diamond deposits are relatively easy to control, artisanal diamondiferous deposits are not. Significant artisanal and small-scale mining makes controlling production difficult, especially when poverty drives such production, as there is little alternative livelihood available. In Sierra Leone, where state capacity is weak and corrupt, and where international borders intersect causing trans-border trafficking and mining, significant smuggling will continue. Smuggling is not dealt with by KPCS but it inhibits enforcement and sustainable development, and provides organised criminal networks additional incentives.
There have in recent years in Sierra Leone been various efforts to try and limit smuggling, such as the High Level Steering Committee and the Kono Peace Diamond Alliance. There has been some limited success but in Kono production seems to be in decline with few alternative sources of employment. Sierra Leone’s greatest post-conflict challenge is to create jobs and so the incentive for smuggling remains.
The diamond trade in West Africa is regional and interconnected. Solutions require a regional approach. UN diamond sanctions on Liberia resulted in a move to gold production, and reverse smuggling to Sierra Leone and Ghana.