6 Blood Diamonds: The Ugliness of a Natural Beauty

By Maria Emmanoelides

The film Blood Diamond spotlights the illicit diamond market that fueled the Sierra Leone civil war, showing the inner workings of the trade and its effects on the country. The plot follows a diamond smuggler and an enslaved fisherman through their journey to find a rare diamond in hopes of escape and family reunification. The diamond trade within this story revealed that many sales of black market diamonds were funding terrorist militia groups that were trying to overthrow the current government. The film also revealed that the illicit trade of goods, smuggling, and forced labor within this time of civil unrest were being funded by diamond sales overseas. Without wealthy consumers of western countries, the Sierra Leone civil war would not have had the funding that it did. Consumers were unaware of where their purchases were coming from and had no idea of the implications that they caused. This specific market led to the establishment of the Kimberley Process in 2003, which certifies the country of origin of diamonds and prevents illicit sales of stones. This story helped reveal the inner workings of black markets and implications on other markets. The film showcased the flow of blood diamonds out of Africa supported the civil war, resulting in a mass revolution. Many consumers were unaware of the human cost of mining diamonds, which claimed many lives contributing to poverty and environmental devastation.

Set in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s, Blood Diamond follows a drug smuggler from Rhodesia, Danny Archer, and a Mende fisherman, Solomon Vandy, in escaping civil war and searching for a large rare stone. The start of the movie showed Solomon Vandy and his son returning from a fishing trip to find trucks of rebels attacking their village. Vandy’s family escapes, but he is taken by the revolutionary rebels to work as a slave in their illegal diamond mining operation. While working as a slave, he finds an unusually large stone. In the midst of hiding the gem to keep for himself, the operation is busted and the rebels are detained. At the same time, Danny Archer is caught trying to smuggle diamonds across the border and is detained in the same place as Vandy. Archer hears of Vandy’s findings and wants the gem for himself. Archer convinces Vandy that finding the stone will allow him to reunite with his family. The two unite with an American journalist, Maddy Bowen, who is adamant about exposing the illicit diamond trade. The three find that Vandy’s family has taken refuge in Guinea; however, the rebels took his son and forced him to be a child soldier. Vandy and Archer journey to find the rare stone, while Bowen continues her research. Archer gives Bowen the information and accounts needed to expose the illicit diamond trade, and then leaves with Vandy to search for the stone. Vandy is eventually reunited with his son, who has since been brainwashed by the rebel militias. After all of their efforts to receive the stone, Archer dies but gives Bowen permission to run her story and gives Vandy the stone. Vandy brings the stone to the Van De Kaap company and trades the diamond illegally. Bowen then uses this illegal trade to expose the company’s criminal actions. In the end, Vandy appears at a conference on blood diamonds, leading to the establishment of the Kimberley Process.[1]

Though Blood Diamond revolves around fictional characters, the events are based on real experiences of individuals in Sierra Leone during the civil war. The film depicts village attacks by rebel groups, the enslavement of Sierra Leoneans, the use of child soldiers, and illicit markets that are often ignored. The use of fictional characters allowed the narrative to bring awareness to the workings of the illegal diamond trade. The trade included the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the chief rebel group who mined diamonds in Sierra Leone to support their actions against the government. The actions of the RUF created political unrest and eventually led to the creation of its own party, which brought outrage upon many human rights groups.[2]The illegal diamond trade did not only affect Sierra Leone, but affected other countries such as Liberia, The Ivory Coast, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola. Illegal diamond markets take place around the globe, but the injustices associated with the diamond trade on the African continent dwarf those when compared to anywhere else.

The inclusion of real parties within Blood Diamond brought reality into perspective for the audience. Producers created a fictional company named Van De Kaap, which participated in the illegal diamond business, but in real life the company is called De Beers. At the time, De Beers created a monopoly over the diamond business and controlled over two thirds of the world’s diamonds. De Beers exploited mines in countries with corrupt governments, pitiless rebels, and porous borders which allowed them to participate within illicit markets. [3] Including Van De Kaap within the plot allowed the audience to make clear connections to existing businesses. The parallel between the fictional and real diamond trade conveyed a narrative founded on a very real situation that exposed the truth behind an illicit global market.

The film illustrates real life events that are common among those participating in the illicit diamond market. Archer is shown trying to smuggle diamonds across the border as a journalist from National Geographic, while following a herd of goats with diamonds hidden in their necks.[4] In order for the diamonds to be sent legally, they must first be smuggled into Liberia and then exported as a legal commodity from there. Due to the smuggling of the stones across the border, Sierra Leone lost millions of dollars in revenue from illegal exportation. After the civil war conflict, diamond revenues increased from $10 million in 2000 to $130 million in 2004. [4] Sierra Leone lost mass amounts of revenue due to diamond smuggling and continues to do so. Diamond smuggling still occurs today and according to the United Nations in 2014, it was estimated that 140,000 carats of diamonds, with a retail value of $24 million have been smuggled out of the Central African Republic.[5] This very real issue will continue due to weak regulation.

Prior to the civil war, Sierra Leone was once a British colony and became a republic in 1971. It was led by Siaka Stevens, who was apart of the All-Peoples’ Congress (APC). Once Stevens took power, he introduced the one party rule in 1978. The economy deteriorated, supplies were exhausted, diamonds were smuggled and the government lacked revenue.[6] After Stevens retired, Joseph Saidu Momoh became his successor and allowed corruption to continue. In 1991 conflict from the Liberian border crossed into Sierra Leone. Sierra Leonean troops came under attack by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) which caused an eleven year war.

The film emphasizes how the actions of nations outside of Africa fuel illicit markets. One of the main plot lines within the film was how American buyers and the support of materialism promotes the illegal trade. In the film, Danny Archer states that by purchasing these diamonds, Americans are funding the war.[7] Due to the purchase of these stones, rebel forces were able to continue their efforts that cost many people their lives. The civil war between 1991 and 1999 claimed over 75,000 lives, caused 500,000 Sierra Leoneans to become refugees, and displaced half the country’s 4.5 million people.[8] The lack of recognition of this issue and major effects on third world countries left affluent countries blind to the issue. Buyers often only worry about the product that they are receiving and when they will receive it while lacking the acknowledgment of the deadly steps taken in order to mine these gems.

Consumers often do not realize that the money they are spending on jewelry funds the enslavement of Sierra Leoneans and the promotion of child soldiers. Militant groups used young boys as soldiers for their schemes. There were roughly 10,000-14,000 children who were child soldiers that fought between 1991 and 2002 in the Sierra Leone Civil War.[9] These children were brainwashed, drugged, and taught to kill. Without a stable government, a system of anarchy and destruction arose causing millions to lose their lives. The use of child soldiers was not the only outcome of this war. Rebels amputated the limbs of civilians to stop them from voting for government officials. Exploiting their power even further, the rebels often abducted, tortured, and raped the young girls of the villages, many of whom were forced into sexual slavery. Due to this there was a mass increase of pregnancies and spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Human trafficking and sex work stem from the illegal diamond trade. Most individuals from affluent nations do not realize the power that this market has. Families were torn apart, lives were lost, children were forced to participate and were convinced that what they were doing was right.

The Kimberley Process was put in place in 2003 to prevent “conflict diamonds” from entering the mainstream diamond market. Conflict diamonds are defined as rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments around the world.[10] The Kimberley process requires certification on the shipment of rough diamonds maintaining that they are conflict free.  Since the implementation of the process, it is estimated that only 5-10% of the world’s diamonds are traded illegally compared to 25% before 2003.[11] Many believe that the Kimberley Process is not effective as some in the trade circumvent the system; however, the legislation contributes to a significant reduction in the quantity of illegally traded gems. It is nearly impossible to follow the route of every gem in the world. In order for that to work, every individual who works in the diamond trade business must be honest and trustworthy. That will never be the case due to the desire and greed that thrives within the human race.

Blood Diamond exemplifies the atrocities that go on within illegal markets. Although it is fictional, it creates a strong narrative for the viewers and allows them to vividly see the types of experiences that were going on within that time period. Films like Blood Diamond expose unaware individuals to world events that receive limited news coverage, but nonetheless deserve greater international attention. It is human nature for individuals to be somewhat egocentric and care mainly about themselves. That is why individuals only care about receiving the product they are interested in, instead of thinking about where it comes from. In order to be conscious consumers we must at least know the basic knowledge of a market we are buying products from. It is the producer’s responsibility to ensure that their products are obtained legally but it is also a responsibility for the consumer to demand products that do not involve forced labor or were not obtained legally. If consumers care about where and how their products are obtained, so will the producers. When consumers buy a product, they do not initially think that the product they are buying may be illegal. But if a consumer were aware that the product that they were buying was linked to illegal activity and harming other people, they would lose interest in the product and demand change. It is important that awareness about these issues is brought up because people who are living in situations that are affected by this activity often have nowhere to turn and their voices are unheard. It is also important that stories like this are told to prevent these types of issues from continuing. Many organizations are fighting against the promotion of illegal trade and the types of behavior that revolves around it but it is up to individuals who participate in it by buying these illegal products to make a difference.



[1] Zwick, Edward, Blood Diamond (2003).

[2]Tamm, Ingrid J. Diamonds in Peace and War: Severing the Conflict-Diamond Connection, (2002).

[3]Harden, Blaine. DIAMOND WARS: A Special Report; Africa’s Gem’s: Warfare’s Best Friend, (2000).

[4]Baker, Aryn. Blood Diamonds: It’s Been 15 Years Since The Global Effort To Ban Conflict Diamonds Began. But The Industry Still Exists.

[5]Baker, Aryn. Blood Diamonds: It’s Been 15 Years Since The Global Effort To Ban Conflict Diamonds Began. But The Industry Still Exists.

[6]Davidson, Nicol. Britannica: Sierra Leone.

[7]Zwick, Edward, Blood Diamond (2003).

[8]Tamm, Ingrid J. Diamonds in Peace and War: Severing the Conflict-Diamond Connection, (2002).

[9]Williams, Zack. “Child soldiers in the civil war in Sierra Leone”. Review of African Political Economy. 73–82. (2003).

[10]Melik, James. Diamonds: Does the Kimberley Process Work?.(2010).

[11]Baker, Aryn. Blood Diamonds: It’s Been 15 Years Since The Global Effort To Ban Conflict Diamonds Began. But The Industry Still Exists.




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Perspectives on Black Markets v.3 Copyright © by Michael Morrone et. al. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book