Denmark Vesey's Plantation

A place to discuss whatever comes to mind.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Diamonds Can Be Deadly

"Bling, Bling" - The Murder of Our People,

I've seen some pretty ignorant and bizarre things in music over the last few years, but of all the things I've witnessed today's "Bling-Bling" syndrome has to be the worst. Sometimes I wonder where the hell this absurd obsession with diamond jewelry came from. I mean flossin' and frontin' have always played a part in rap but this shit is ridiculous! You can't even blame a region because the obsession is everywhere, East, West, South, Midwest, and everywhere between. You've all heard it; the jewelry praises roll off forked tongues from Roc-A-Fella to the Hot-Boyz. Nowadays rappers make songs in tribute to Diamonds (�Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend" - Jay-Z), spend better than 50 thousand dollars on a single piece of jewelry, and then insult their fans (the people who paid for that jewelry) about being broke. Ain't that about a bitch!? The more I think about the more I think that these rappers just must not know any better.

�You know the wrist frost bit, minus two degrees/about as blue as the sea�

I can't help but wonder, what if Jay-Z knew that for more than a century the men controlling the diamond industry have been hardcore racists, some of whom were the founding fathers of Apartheid, and ruthlessly exploited black Africans as well as others. The Dutch, Germans, British, as well as other tribes of Europeans had come to Africa to pull, what today we would call a jack move. Many Europeans had convinced themselves that Africans and other non-whites were inferior people and many of the rest would do so later to justify their immoral actions. From this situation the racial segregation system of Apartheid was born, in South Africa, as well as similar social orders in other parts of Africa.

Cecil Rhodes, for whom Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe) was named essentially started the diamond industry back in the 1880's diamond rush when he "purchased" the farm of Dutch Boer farmers Deiderick Arnoldus & Johannes DeBeers. This farm would eventually turn into one of the largest mines in Africa at the time (DeBeers currently has a mine 3 times the size of New Jersey called the "Forbidden Zone�). Rhodes then went on to "buy" several other mines until he controlled 90% of the world's gemstones. Shortly after that Ernest Oppenheimer made a large discovery of diamonds in "German Southwest Africa�, that rivaled the Rhodes mines. Oppenheimer threatened to flood the market with diamonds and drive the price down if Rhodes did not make him chairman of DeBeers (which was Rhodes' Company at the time). Oppenheimer's company had financial investment from British investors and J.P. Morgan so it was called Anglo-American. Today, diamonds are a multi-billion dollar industry and most of them come from Southern African countries, yet black Africans from these countries remain some of the poorest people in the world.

�Every time I come around your city "Bling Bling" - Pinky ring worth about 50 "Bling Bling�

What if the Hot Boyz knew that from those early days up until now, the profits from the diamond industry were and continue to be one of the most important factors in upholding the region's racist policies and white minority rule? The best example is in South Africa. Once diamonds were discovered, the South African government instituted policies designed to force black Africans off their land and into the diamond mines to work in conditions similar to slavery. This was accomplished by the government creating new taxes on virtually everything from land to pets. In order to get money to pay the taxes black Africans had no choice but to work in the mines. For all their moral talk foreign investors, mainly in America and Europe, played a key role in upholding the South African government and economy, and similar ones throughout southern Africa.

During the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, where South African police murdered 67 black anti-apartheid demonstrators in the township of Sharpeville, many foreign companies and investors pulled out their investments (not for moral reasons but out of fear of South African instability) and sold their shares of stock. Anglo-American bought up these shares to uphold the apartheid economy. Another example of foreign support occured in the Congo (formerly Zaire) in the 1950s. In 1959 Patrice Lumumba was elected as Prime Minister of the newly "independent" Congo, a country extremely rich in diamonds as well as other natural resources. Lumumba was very critical of the racist and unequal power and social relations in the Congo as well as the diamond industry's theft of African resources. The Belgian mining company, the American CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and the Belgian government conspired to have him overthrown and murdered. He was then replaced by Mobutu Sese Seko, a figurehead dictator that these foreign powers found more acceptable. Dictator Mobutu was finally overthrown in 1997 and he died of natural causes later that year. Mobutu ruled the Congo for 32 years and it is estimated that through his theft he amassed a personal fortune estimated at 5 to 8 billion dollars (yes that is a supposed to be a 'B' and yes that is 5-8,000,000,000) in addition to the countless billions he misdirected or gave to his cronies.

�I don't like it if it don't gleam-gleam/ and the hell with the price tag cause money ain't a thing�

What if Jermaine Dupri knew about the conditions that miners past and present endured? Even today most people believe that since apartheid technically ended that somehow it's "all good�. Nothing could be further from the truth. Black Africans continue to work and live in conditions, that make Chicago's Cabrini Green Projects look like Disney World. For example, in DeBeers' Kimberly mines division in South Africa there are between 1,200 and 1,400 workers. About 1,100 of them are black and live in squatter's camps - tin shacks with no electricity or proper plumbing. Many of these black workers are paid as little as 28 American dollars a month. But white miners and managers live in comfortable homes - oftentimes with black servants! In addition, only white and part white employees with families are provided with family housing. Married black miners are forced to stay in separate facilities from their spouses. If a black, female worker gets pregnant she is required to leave her job for 3 months and return without her child if she wishes to keep her job. White workers are never subject to these policies. If a white miner has a family, they are immediately given family housing.

Just slightly higher up the food chain, in West India (not the West Indies), hundreds of thousands of diamond cutters, many of them children under 13, cut low quality diamonds for inexpensive catalogue jewelry. At times they are required to place more than 50 cuts, the size of pencil tip, on a diamond. They are paid 4 cents per stone and work 12 hour days, 6 days a week. I doubt that comes with any health benefits.

�I Rock Ice (lil daddy) every time I step/ I rock Ice (lil mamma) cause I love to rep�

What if Baby knew that diamonds are not naturally rare? Diamonds are made from carbon under high pressure, and on Earth we live in a carbon based environment. Most of the major diamond producing countries are in Southern Africa, but diamonds are also produced in Sierra Leone, Russia, Australia, and Canada. The diamond industry is more about controlling and restricting what comes out of the ground than the actual mining of diamonds. DeBeers controls approximately 75% of the world's rough (uncut) diamonds through its marketing arm, the Central Selling Organization (CSO). It mines 50% of the world's diamonds in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. The rest are vacuumed up through contracts made with other diamond producers, and by sending their buyers to clean up diamonds that leak onto the market from places like Congo and Angola. Since DeBeers is a foreign based company they are not subject to American monopoly laws, so they artificially keep the price of diamonds high by monopolizing supply. Trying to keep control of the diamond supply has forced DeBeers into business dealings with borderline terrorist organizations and other shady characters, though they deny having dealings with most of these groups.

The lie that diamonds are extremely rare and valuable has been built up since the 1930s. During the 1930s and 1940s DeBeers paid to have diamonds placed favorably in movies. In 1947 DeBeers invented their famous slogan "A Diamond is Forever" which sells 2 dreams: (1) that diamonds bring eternal love and romance, and (2) that diamonds never lose their value. DeBeers spends no less than 200 million a year on marketing diamonds in 34 countries. Today the United States accounts for more than 33% of the worlds diamond jewelry sales. It sells the dream to every new generation of gullible young men and women. They sponsor women's magazines, host celebrity auctions and design competitions, and work to have diamonds placed on TV shows and in movies. As if the 1st gaffle wasn't enough they reinvent the dream for those who have already bought it once. Now they have the "Eternity Ring" - a band of diamonds bought to celebrate the tenth wedding anniversary - being sold using the slogan "Show her you would marry her all over again".

These fantasies are aggressively sold oversees as well. In the 1960's, before DeBeers muscled in, barely 1 in 20 Japanese brides wore a diamond engagement ring. Today, diamond engagement rings are sported by 70% of Japanese brides.

The fact that America's love affair with diamonds is the result of a marketing campaign is pretty bizarre, but even more amazing is that diamonds can be made synthetically. Their manufacture requires some expensive equipment, but if a company has the resources, it can manufacture flawless diamonds in most sizes and colors, even the more expensive pink or yellow shades. In the 1980's General Electric was making these synthetic flawless diamonds though they weren't selling them commercially. When former, GE executive Edward Russell suggested that GE begin selling these diamonds to the public he was promptly fired. Apparently GE's higher ups and the DeBeers thugs had an understanding at the time, although GE claims Mr. Russell was fired due to job performance. I try not to wonder these things when I'm watching music videos or listening to songs on the radio, but I just can't thinking about it. WHAT IF THEY KNEW?! Sadly enough though, I don't think they would even care. And that is the truly scary part!

Courtesy of Eyecalone at

Part 2

�Bling!Bling!" Baby says, his "medallion iced up" and his "Rolex bezelled up!" Jay-Z says she's his baby, drives him crazy and is a girl's best friend. We talkin' diamonds ya'll. Helen, a 20-year-old mother raped and held captive by armed men knows about diamonds. Adamsay, 15, who uses her severed limbs to manipulate a cup knows about them too. They live in Sierra Leone, where real thugs keep the block locked down -- all in the name of ICE.

Sierra Leone went from slave port to a haven for Britain's newly emancipated. A colony until 1961, it looked forward to prosperity in those early years of independence. But as with too much of post-colonial Africa, those dreams were short lived.

Government mismanagement led to rebellion in 1991 by a group calling themselves the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by a former official named Foday Sankoh. Attempts to quell the rebellion caused numerous coups and shifts in government. With the war still raging in 1996, the people finally called for democratic elections. Lawyer Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was declared victor and a peace accord with the rebels was signed.

But the peace deal unraveled. And when disgruntled government soldiers staged a coup, the RUF eagerly supported them to topple Kabbah and form a rogue government the international community refused to recognize.

Visiting Nigeria, RUF leader Foday Sankoh was placed under arrest. And Nigeria, backed by the UN and ECOMOG, fought a punishing war to return Kabbah to power in 1998. Sankoh was given the death penalty, but the RUF carried on nevertheless.

If the RUF were fighting on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone, they certainly neglected to demonstrate it. As if mimicking Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge or the brutally oppressive Belgian Congo, the RUF waged a bloody campaign of terror. They raped, maimed and killed civilians, including children and the elderly, in the tens of thousands.

When the RUF attacked the capitol of Freetown in January of 1999, they initiated "Operation No Living Thing" - raping young girls and women, burning homes and villages, and viciously hacking off the hands of children. At least 10,000 people died in this rebel terror campaign. As one UN official put it, "The RUF have turned Sierra Leone into the worst country in the world to live in�.

So who are these RUF? An extremist faction like the Peruvian Shining Path, with some profound political agenda? Something akin to the fratricidal, Hutu Interahamwe of Rwanda bent on revenge upon ethnic rivals? Or like the Hezballah, do they wage a struggle based on fanatic religious ideologies? No.

The 45,000 member RUF are simply disillusioned young men, some no older than 10, spurred on by older leaders and drug-induced acts of bravado. They come from diverse ethnic groups, practice no particular religion, and espouse no set political agenda or platform.

All that can be said is that their goals are rooted in greed. For it is diamonds that have caused and fed this war of atrocity. The eastern part of Sierra Leone, a RUF stronghold, produces some of the finest gems in the world. Reports say the RUF sells the diamonds through Liberia, who's president Charles Taylor supports them for his own corrupt ends, and receives arms in return. The evidence of this illegal trade is in the numbers: Liberia's own average annual mining capacity is 150,000 carats. But between 1994 and 1998, Liberia exported more than 31 million carats, an average of six million per year.

The RUF was eventually routed by Nigerian troops into the countryside. But pressure from the US and other governments forced President Kabbah to sign a treaty with the RUF. Jesse Jackson himself helped broker the much applauded peace deal which not only gave the RUF blanket amnesty, but ensured their leaders high-ranking government posts. Foday Sankoh went from death row, to the Vice-Presidency.

However, it soon became apparent that this deal was a sham. Only about 4,000 of the RUF disarmed while at least 13,000 government troops did so. UN observers noted that the RUF continued murder, rape and mutilation in Sierra Leone as if the peace deal never happened. In fact only days following Nigeria's withdrawal, the RUF ambushed and took 500 UN peacekeepers hostage. Terrified of the rebels, who's infamous reputation preceded them, the UN force surrendered their weapons, armored personnel carriers and even their uniforms without so much as a fight.

Sierra Leone citizens in Freetown, finally taking matters into their own hands, marched on the home of Sankoh to demand he end hostilities. They were greeted with bodyguards who fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades into the crowd, killing scores. Weeks of humiliation later, the UN hostages were finally released. So what went wrong?

Jesse, the US and foreign nations underestimated the RUF and miserably failed to understand the conflict in Sierra Leone. The RUF may be experts in tactics of guerrilla warfare and terrorism, but they amount in the end to little more than mafia-like thugs. Giving Sankoh and his rebels places in the new government would be akin to the NAACP giving gang members a place on their board. The people of Sierra Leone were betrayed by an international community looking to make deals with the devil. As one Sierra Leonean dryly observed, "they didn't make deals with Milosovic in Bosnia---why here?"

But perhaps there is hope in Sierra Leone's future. The UN, following Nigeria's lead, has taken a tough stance on the RUF. And the peacekeeping mission sent there has restored some semblance of order to the nation. Foday Sankoh was captured and marched through the streets of Freetown to the jubilant cheers of its citizens. A tribunal has been set up to prosecute both Sankoh and the RUF for their reign of terror. And a government diamond certificate is now being put into to place to keep rebel gems from financing this brutal war. And word is the RUF rebels have begun to disarm en masse.

As Nigerian author Chinua Achebe might say, in Sierra Leone things "fell" apart. It will take untold generations to heal the wounds the civil war has caused. The very existence of the RUF illustrates some of Africa's most pressing post-colonial problems: corrupt leaders, the powerful exploiting the powerless, the break-down of traditional African societal values and mores, and a lack of basic order on many fronts. What should be a diamond-rich and prosperous country, is today on the verge of chaos. Modern Sierra Leone is part of the African legacy of colonialism and the seeming inability of western styles of government and post-independence leaders to speak to the needs of their respective countries. The implosion of Sierra Leone is what happens when all of these factors go untreated for too long. It will take a world community and, most of all, the commitment of the people of Sierra Leone to fix it once again.

As I listened to yet another ghetto lyrical fantasy of ICE play out on my radio, I could not help wonder if some artists are dumber than a box of rocks? When a recent high profile rapper was asked about what he thought of Sierra Leone as he bragged about his shiny wrist pieces, he answered dumbfounded -- "Sierra who?" It seems while the rest of the REAL world was concerned with world affairs, these thugz, ballaz and ThOw'd YuNg PlAyAz could have cared less. Yet now I watch em' tripping over each other to get some American patriotic media glory after September 11th. These simps (yeah, I called em' simps) should all be loaded up in a plane and dropped ground zero into Sierra Leone, with all their flashy ICE wrapped around them. Let's see how long they make it.

Courtesy of Morpheus at


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