Blood Diamonds by Greg Campbell

February 23, 2013

Summary (from the publisher): First discovered in 1930, the diamonds of Sierra Leone have funded one of the most savage rebel campaigns in modern history. These “blood diamonds” are smuggled out of West Africa and sold to legitimate diamond merchants in London, Antwerp, and New York, often with the complicity of the international diamond industry. Eventually, these very diamonds find their way into the rings and necklaces of brides and spouses the world over.

Blood Diamonds is the gripping tale of how the diamond smuggling works, how the rebel war has effectively destroyed Sierra Leone and its people, and how the policies of the diamond industry – institutionalized in the 1880s by the De Beers cartel – have allowed it to happen. Award-winning journalist Greg Campbell traces the deadly trail of these diamonds, many of which are brought to the world market by fanatical enemies. These repercussions of diamond smuggling are felt far beyond the borders of the poor and war-ridden country of Sierra Leone, and the consequences of overlooking this African tragedy are both shockingly deadly and unquestionably global.

Reaction:

I was completely appalled by the atrocities detailed in this book. As a consumer, I’ve of course heard the term “conflict diamonds”, but I only had a very vague sense of what it meant. Furthermore, I was under the impression that since most reputable jewelry dealers won’t accept conflict diamonds, that we could make guilt-free purchases at the local mall.

Boy, was I wrong. Campbell shows that the Kimberley Process has a lot of built-in flaws that allow diamonds from Sierra Leone to make it to the consumer market after all. It’s just a bit more difficult to do so.

Campbell also does a good job of highlighting the human toll that Sierra Leone’s diamond mines have exacted on the local populace. His various tales of all the amputees and murder victims is left in the wake of the diamond trade is graphic and heartrending and won’t soon be forgotten.

Campbell also digs a bit into the political unrest in Sierra Leone, which I didn’t find as interesting or compelling, but which was necessary to build a framework for understanding why the region is so unstable. Frankly, I’m surprised he and his traveling companions made it out of there alive. There’s no way I would ever travel to that kind of place — even for a good story like this one.

By far the most engrossing part of the book to me was the stuff about the De Beers diamond cartel and its monopolistic hold on the world’s diamond supply. I learned a bunch of things that I never knew before, including the fact that diamonds are NOT as scarce as jewelry marketers would have all of us believe. Campbell points out that if De Beers released all their stored up diamonds onto the market at the same time, the price for the stones would fall below what’s paid for rubies and emeralds. And there’s no end in sight to the current supply. (Obviously, there’s a built-in “scarcity” as there are only a finite number of diamonds in existence; but there’s hardly scarcity in the sense of “rarity”.

Because diamond marketers play up the precious/scarce angle and have convinced us that diamonds are a symbol of everlasting love, we’re duped into paying grossly inflated prices for these gems. I was actually thinking about buying a diamond necklace or bracelet, but not anymore. You better believe I won’t be wasting my money on this stuff — and possibly helping to fund terrorist organizations — anymore.

Rating:

Blood Diamonds by Greg Campbell was an eye-opening account of what was happening in Sierra Leone in the early 2000’s (and is probably continuing today) in terms of the diamond trade. It is well-written, contains some truly gripping passages, and has succeeded in changing my jewelry buying habits forever. I give this one 4 stars out of 5.

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