The still-unresolved saga of Sierra Leone’s Peace Diamond

If you’re a long-time reader of this website, you may have come across an article a little over a year ago that for once contained some seemingly good news for some of the long-suffering citizens of Sierra Leone. It detailed the story of Pastor Emmanuel Momoh, who owns a diamond mine there that produced the 14th-largest diamond in the world, dubbed ‘The Peace Diamond‘. In it, we learned that Momoh had decided to turn the diamond over to the central government of Sierra Leone so that it could be auctioned off – with the proceeds going to fund development in the impoverished West African nation.

At the time, the story looked like a critical turning point for the nation, which is still struggling to emerge from the shadow of a bloody civil war that raged from 1991 to 2002. It was a disastrous conflict, killing more than 50,000 and displacing half of a million citizens – which are stunning figures in a country with an estimated total population of roughly 4 million at the time of the war. It also wasn’t without irony that it was a diamond that the local population saw as their ticket to better post-war lives. After all, diamonds had been the fuel that allowed the war to drag on for as long as it had.

During the conflict, the armed factions responsible for the worst of the violence had financed their operations by seizing control of the nation’s diamond mines. They forced local populations into slave labor in the mines and sold the resulting stones, known as blood diamonds, on the black market. The practice was so widespread that experts estimate that blood diamonds made up as much as 4% of the global diamond supply as the civil war reached a fever pitch.

That’s why hopes for the Peace Diamond were so high; it was finally a chance for the nation’s most valuable natural resource to play a role in healing the scars they had helped leave on the land and its people. Alas, in December of 2017, the Peace Diamond went to auction and sold for only $6.5 million. It was a figure that shocked the government, which had turned down an earlier bid for $7.8 million, believing the stone to be worth many times more.

That’s not quite the end of the story, however. Despite the disappointing sale price, the people in Pastor Momoh’s village of Koryardu still had high hopes for the developments promised by the government, which were to include a new school and medical clinic. One year on from the sale, however, they have yet to see any real work taking place.

The government claims to have signed contracts with a Chinese developer to build the promised facilities, but that work was delayed by a government review of the project initiated by the incoming administration of President Julius Maada Bio. Government representatives still claim that the work will begin before the end of the year, but that seems unlikely.

In the meantime, the Rapaport Group, which organized the sale of the Peace Diamond, has decided to help. They’ve funded the installation of over 50 solar panels to provide electricity for the village, and plan to add water treatment equipment in the coming months. They did so because they’re aware of how the people of Sierra Leone have been exploited by the global diamond trade in the past, and hope to prevent the citizens of Koryardu from feeling as though their painful history is repeating yet again.

In the end, the Peace Diamond made headlines around the world as a symbol of hope in a place that sorely needs it. The reality so far hasn’t lived up to the media narrative, and the only entity involved that’s even trying to help is the one with no responsibility to do so. So, as 2018 draws to a close, the good people of Koryardu continue to wait for their due.

If they don’t get it soon, it will send an unmistakable message to the rest of Sierra Leone that their government still cannot be trusted. That’s not a great outcome in a nation with a history of corruption and exploitation. It’s also a reminder to the wider world that today’s feel-good headline can turn into tomorrow’s travesty once everyone stops paying attention. For our informed readers, let’s hope it’s a lesson that helps keep some more eyes on the people of Koryardu – lord knows they need all the help they can get.

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