Professional Jeweler Archive: Africa: Cry the Beloved Continent

July 2001


Africa: Cry the Beloved Continent

This year, the conflict diamond crisis forced jewelers to consider Africa’s problems and perhaps fear the continent as a result. Mining companies all over Africa also must cope with the escalating AIDS crisis as it affects their work forces. There’s lots to worry about and seemingly nothing to feel good about. This negative impression is a shame – anyone who’s visited Africa knows it’s a ravishing land with rich customs and traditions and oases of hope among the ruins of conflict. We seldom hear the good news about Africa, however, because U.S. reporting is sparse and tends to focus on the mayhem.

Next month, I’ll take a look at the AIDS crisis in Africa and some positive initiatives by the jewelry industry and the U.S. government. But this month I have some encouraging news from conflict countries. Why should you care? After all, consumers don’t seem to pay attention, and the day-to-day worries of running a small business in shaky economic times must take precedence. But developing a complex understanding of Africa’s opportunities as well as its troubles is a key to smart buying and impressing customers who inquire about human rights issues. Africa is a huge source of the raw material from which jewelry is made, so it pays to stay informed.

United Nations interventions and the work of governments, human rights groups and caring industries like yours do make a difference. A United Nations ban on Liberian diamond exports went into effect May 7 because the country didn’t fulfill its promise to stop laundering conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone. The U.S. banned Liberian rough diamond imports as well. In Sierra Leone, rebels returned to the bargaining table, released kidnapped child soldiers and began to disarm.In the Democratic Re

public of Congo, a 21/2-year-old conflict that’s partially over who controls diamond fields has a revitalized peace process under way. The U.N. recently called for an embargo on trade with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, which are accused of plundering Congo’s resources during occupations and raids of the mineral-rich country.

Even the 26-year-long war in Angola is lumbering toward resolution, with Angola’s president agreeing to talk peace with rebel group UNITA. The U.N. says its sanctions are working to thwart UNITA’s efforts to buy guns – earnings from diamonds have dropped two-thirds since 1999.

Make no mistake, the coming international certification program championed by the industry’s World Diamond Council is helping in these peace efforts. Rebels, rogue dealers and corrupt officials are already anticipating difficulties in trading conflict diamonds as transparency is established in the movement of rough diamonds. Though human rights groups continue to criticize the slow pace of governments getting certification in place, just the plan itself is having a good effect. So if Martin Sheen appears on your TV anytime soon (the “West Wing” actor and longtime activist is helping human rights groups popularize the conflict diamond issue) and customers ask questions about his doom-and-gloom presentation, remember knowledge of what’s really going on in Africa is powerful.

– Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications