Hip-Hop Artist Debuts Video on "Blood Diamonds"

June 16, 2005

Hip-Hop Artist Debuts Video on "Blood Diamonds"

Hip-hop recording artist and music producer Kanye West's new music video, called "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," debuted on the BET network June 15. The music video features images of children working in diamond mines, with a voice-over explaining what the artist calls "their plight." Also featured are what one reviewer called a "chilling sequence" involving a woman wearing a diamond ring, and a sampling of Shirley Bassey's rendition of the song "Diamonds Are Forever." The video will be repeated on MTV's Total Request Live program on June 20.

After the release, a Vibe magazine online story commented: "Diamonds may be forever, but the meaning of Kanye West's single 'Diamonds are Forever,' has changed since the rapper found out the price some Africans pay for the ice he and his fellow MCs hold so dear."

Vibe goes on to say: "Illegal diamond trading has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians in the last 10 years in the small country of Sierra Leone, as battles continue for control of diamond mines and the stones found within."

In fact, Sierra Leone's long civil war ended in 2001 and the country has struggled ever since to normalize diamond mining, help poor workers earn more for their efforts, and stem the tide of smuggling that still bedevils the country. Though most efforts are still in early planning stages, there is hope they will work. Sierra Leonean officials have visited Israel and next week go to Antwerp to discuss official contracts with diamantaires in those two diamond cutting sectors.

Official diamond exports from Sierra Leone, which are monitored by the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, showed an almost 100% rise to $126 million last year, from $74 million in 2003, said human rights watchdog group Partnership Africa Canada and a Sierra-Leone based group called Network Movement for Justice and Development. The groups said in a recent report that Sierra Leone had made great strides, though it still had a long way to go before the majority of its citizens began to benefit from its diamonds and smuggling was more effectively curbed.

Various diamond industry initiatives have begun in Sierra Leone, including an effort to invest more than $20 million to open two kimberlite mines by Koidu Holdings, a company majority owned by Steinmetz Diamond Group. Industrialized mining is the key to Sierra Leone's future success, believe many experts, as artisanal mining by individuals is hard to control or manage.

There are also efforts to help legalize and better control artisanal mining and take it out of the hands of smugglers. The Rapaport Group, for example, is cooperating with the U.S. government Agency for International Development, to fund digger cooperatives in Sierra Leone so that local people receive a tangible benefit from their diamond resources. U.S. AID and the local Kono Diamond Peace Initiative will select, support, monitor and coordinate the diggers' cooperatives. Human rights group Global Witness will monitor all aspects of the venture.

De Beers also announced in March it is cofounding the Diamond Development Initiative with several human rights groups. It's exploring the viability of establishing an initial partnership of parties in various places in western and central Africa to mine alluvial diamonds for the greater benefit of local miners and communities.

"While we have not viewed Mr. West's new video, the lyrics of the song certainly do not reflect the tremendous work the diamond industry has done in conjunction with the U.N.-sanctioned Kimberley Process introduced in 2000," Carson Glover, of the Diamond Information Center, said in a released statement. "In response to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the diamond industry introduced a 'certificate of origin' allowing only legitimate diamonds to be traded on the global market, therefore creating a zero tolerance environment for conflict diamonds around the world.

"The diamond industry is one of the cornerstones of economic and social development of many sub-Saharan African nations. Without it, the fantastic growth and prosperity impacting millions will be jeopardized, further delaying Africa's long struggle to catch up with the rest of the developing nations around the world," said Glover.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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