Blood Diamond and The Truth

The Hollywood feature film, 'Blood Diamond' will be opening in theatres on December 8th, already embroiled in a scandal denouncing the diamond industry and its role in fomenting civil wars in Africa. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Hopefully everybody already knows by now that most of European and US conglomerates involve themselves in Third World countries for financial profits with very little or no respect for the life of the people living there.

That said, it's great that a Hollywood movie implicates a company like De Beers or any other multinational company of the sort. For that, Ed Zwick and his partners should receive praise.

But if we look more closely at what the movie is actually saying, that's where the trouble starts. 'Blood Diamond' portrays the rebellion in Sierra Leone as a diamond-war which the rebels are blood-thirsty barbarians only after the diamond mines and their riches.

This is where the director and his partners receive our scorn.

For now, let's assume that they simply didn’t do their homework; the other alternative would be too depressing. In their defense, it would have been quite easy to arrive to this type of analyses when the mass media was reporting the same story over the course of the decade long civil war. On the pages of the most significant newspapers we were presented with horrendous photographic images of men, women and children who had their limbs amputated by the rebels. The major international TV and radio journalists reported the same. According to most of these outlets (if not all), the violence perpetrated by the rebels (the RUF) against the people and foreign corporations was done to gain control of these now famous diamond mines.

Unfortunately the reality was quite different. Sierra Leone is a very small but extremely rich country with a very small population. It has all the minerals that any country would dream of. But unfortunately every part of the Sierra Leone economy has been controlled by foreign corporations since colonial times, leaving virtually nothing for the people of the country. The rebel movement began in 1991 when the country was on the brink of starvation, with the motto: "No More Slaves, No More Masters. Power and Wealth to the People."

But the international community was adamant about NOT changing the system that the rebels wanted. Instead, it loaded bombs and lethal weapons onto planes and boats and waged a war on a country unable to defend itself. The international community created the civil war amongst a people who only wanted their independence.

Now of course the rebels used profits from the diamond trade to finance their rebellion, what else could they have done? What kind of support would they have gotten from an international community adamantly opposed to them?

We spent many weeks in Sierra Leone traveling all over the country. We saw destroyed lives and people - men, women and children starving to death, people mutilated, dead bodies, cities entirely destroyed… the one thing we never saw was rich rebels. These men were hiding in the jungle dressed in rags trying to take back what they believed was rightfully theirs and to rid the country of foreigners.

Ed Zwick and his partners never went to Sierra Leone and never spoke with the rebels. In their defense, it would have been difficult. After the peace agreement was signed in which the rebels and the government were to share power and create a government of national unity – and at the same time canceling foreign companies’ mining licenses - most of the rebels were captured, executed or died in jail from "unknown causes." They were no longer around to tell their story.

The civil war had been manipulated for over a decade by the international community and the international media that painted the rebels as crazed barbarians amputating people in order to spread violence. The rebels did start the amputations during the civil war: when a rebel fighter was captured by the regular army or the peacekeepers, he was immediately executed on the spot. The rebels decided to use another strategy: when they captured an army soldier or peacekeeper, rather than execute him, they would cut off his hand and send him back to his community to show that: "You don’t hold your weapon against your brother."

This method was then adopted in a widespread manner by the regular army, the peacekeepers and the government which conveniently realized that these acts of violence would easily be blamed on the rebels and in turn would help to secure more financial and military aid to crush the rebellion.

So, the government organized a refugee a camp where they gathered all the amputees. It was located next to the international hotels. When journalists and dignitaries visited from around the world, they were invited to interview these helpless victims. These men and women were paid by the government to blame their maiming on the rebels. When we questioned them more deeply on a return visit to the camp, without the presence of government representatives, most of them confessed to having been amputated by the army, the peacekeepers and the militias loyal to the government.

Once again by not doing its homework and looking only at the "official version," Hollywood is allowing - no encouraging - an unlawful and artificially created conflict to endure. By doing this it allows the corporations to continue to reap profits; it allows their friends to propagate a situation where men, women and children die everyday from suffering or starvation. The result is that a country that could be a paradise on earth with all people living a decent life is now the poorest country in the world with no solution in sight.

Philippe Diaz