“Searching for the world’s newest blood-diamond bazaar …”
Yes, that’s the opening lines in a story in this week’s “Time” (by the magazine’s South Africa-based correspondent Alex Perry) about Zimbabwe’s diamond mines (production could reach US$1.7 billion a year).
But enough of that. Anyway, last week I posted a link to writer Adam Hochchild’s blog post (on Mother Jones) of a few months ago about what Hochchild describes as “the blood diamond myth.” If you can remember Hochchild, who has written one of the best books on the Democratic Republic of Congo (that’s a widely held sentiment), argued that a boycott of minerals that originate in the DRC would be fruitless since it’s hard to trace the origins of those diamonds (we won’t know which one are “blood diamonds”); a boycott will ultimately harm the lowly paid Congolese mineworkers only; and that it would be too difficult to enforce some kind of ban anyway.
My blog post attracted a number of comments, from, among others, regular AIAC commenters Sophia, NP, Don Stoll and Lara Pawson, as well as bloggers Texas in Africa and Blacklooks.
Here’s a sample of the responses.
By this article’s logic, no boycotts are ever useful. I think we can all agree that governance is always something we should fight to change in situations this dire, but does that mean we should stop trying for other improvements in the meantime?
Lara Pawson, who has wide experience as a journalist for the BBC in Angola (and is also a blogger), writes:
The term blood diamonds or conflict diamonds is a farce, in many ways. In the north east of Angola–where the main bulk of diamonds can be found – the end of the civil /Cold war and the beginning of ‘peace’ under the MPLA government has made the lives of many garimpeiros (so-called wild cat miners) more dangerous and much less profitable. What has happened is that the elite–the wife of the President for example, and others–have taken over areas that were run by Unita. Their security guards shoot and kill locals who try to mine (to survive and make ends meet) but because they are part of an (er hum) ‘elected’ government, thse diamonds are apparently not blood/conflict diamonds. And yet, and yet… there’s blood and conflict all over them.
Finally, here’s Texas in Africa:
Hochschild is right about this – people who think a boycott of conflict minerals will work don’t understand the nature of the economy in the EDRC, or that not all minerals that come from the area are conflict minerals. There’s ALWAYS a way to get around regulations, nobody’s really in control of the territory, and there’s always another market for the goods. As we’ve seen in the last six weeks, the DRC’s government’s shutdown of the mines in the Kivus and Maniema put about 50,000 people out of work overnight. They are suffering tremendously, with kids who can’t eat and bills that can’t be paid. The Enough Project, well-intentioned as it was, has created a disaster for these people because of their poorly informed advocacy and insistence on pursuing a path that never works.
On a separate note, I also asked the students in a class I teach on mediating African in Western, mainly US, media and its political implications (the course is entitled Africa and the West), to do a blog assignment last week debating Hochchild arguments.