Conflict Diamonds: Liberia
Article Copyright © 2009 AllAboutGemstones.com
The nation of Liberia was created by the "American Colonization Society" as a destination to send freed African slaves (Americo-Liberians) after the American civil war. In 1847, these Americo-Liberian settlers declared independence as the free "Republic of Liberia."
Liberia has been a conduit and vector point for the illicit diamond trade since the 1950s, and the concept of "blood diamonds" was partially a Liberian creation. Artisanal diamond mines within Sierra Leone and Liberia's Mano River Basin were easy prey for rebel groups who could seize the mines, trading their rough diamonds for weapons and cash.
In 1973, a joint trading, customs and economic union (the Mano River Union) between the nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was created to aid in improving conditions within the member states. Unfortunatly, the Mano River Union did little to stem the tide of violence that spread across the Mano River basin like a wildfire during the 1980s.
Liberia maintained its independence until a successful military Coup d'état in 1980. The Coup was orchestrated under the leadership of Samuel Doe (below, left), along with the assistance of Libyan-trained rebels supplied by strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
Civil war errupted in 1989, and by 1990 Doe was overthrown and killed by members of the Gio tribe. Interim president Amos Sawyer resigned in 1994, and warlord Charles Ghankay Taylor (another protégée of Muammar Gaddafi) was elected president in 1997. The Washington Post reported that following September 11th, al Qaeda had purchased millions of dollars worth of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, using Liberia as a conduit.
Charles Taylor added to his country's problems by agitating conflicts with neighboring Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Sierra Leone throughout the 1980s and 1990s . When the violence reached a tipping point in 2003, a UN peacekeeping force disarmed Liberia's 45,000-strong militia, and charged Taylor with war crimes in the UN "Special Court for Sierra Leone," or SCSL. Facing an international arrest warrant, and the prospect of a criminal trial in the Hague, Taylor was forced into exile in August 2003, fleeing to Nigeria.
In 2002, during a meeting of security ministers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, taking place in Freetown, there were renewed pledges to increase security and stability within the boarder region; yet the fluidity of movements from foreign combatants crossing boarders continues to fuel the instability. In 2005 the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to extend the ban on all Liberian diamond exports . Liberia has hired consulting firms to spearhead efforts to mainstream Liberian natural resources (including diamonds) and lift the remaining sanctions. Liberia's "Camp Alpha" area along Sierra Leone's southern boarder was also the site of intensive artisanal diamond mining in recent years.
Liberia 'Reclaiming the Future'
As a major sign of turnaround for this war-torn country, and a helpful development for the region as a whole, Liberia elected Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as its first woman president, and the first woman president in all of Africa, in 2006. Johnson-Sirleaf, also known as Liberia's "Iron Lady," is a reform-minded leader who had served as the Minister of Finance under President William Tolbert from 1979 until Doe's coup in 1980. Sirleaf had made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1997, running a distant second to Charles Taylor.
Although many of Taylor's political allies and cronies still remain in the government, rebuilding and creating a functioning economic and political infrastructure, and "reclaiming the future" for Liberia has been one of Sirleaf's top priorities. Her inauguration was attended by First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and in 2007, Sirleaf was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
Diamond Mining in Liberia Today
Since the discovery of diamonds in Liberia and Sierra Leone's Mano River basin in the 1930s, regional diamond production has been limited to small-scale artisanal operations, taking place within alluvial diamond-bearing rocks and gravels located in drainage basins, or along the banks of Liberia's many rivers and tributaries.
Although most all of western Liberia's rivers carry diamonds, the Mano River has been Liberia's most significant source. The Mano River basin is part of the geological formation known as the "Mano Craton of West Africa" .
Liberian diamond deposits occur primarily within alluvial terrace gravels located along the Lofa River, Mano River, and Morro River, in the Lofa province of north-eastern Liberia, and in the Gbapa area on the Guinea boarder. The Mano river extends the width of Liberia, from Lofa Province through Grand Cape Province, and on to the Atlantic ocean.
There are several exploratory projects in the works within the Archaean terrain of the Mano River basin of Libera, and as stability sets in the amount of foreign investment is starting to pick up. Mano River Resources, Petra Diamonds, Trans Hex, BHP, First Clearing LTD of Liberia, and Diamond Fields International Ltd. (DFI) have several alluvial and kimberlite mining projects in the pipeline, all along the Lofa River and Ya Creek in north-eastern Liberia. Other potential projects include the King George Larjor artisanal project, Grand Cape project, KPO Range Project, and the Mano Godua, Mabong Valley and Yambessi Valley 'Bea Mountains' Project, all in western Liberia's Grand Cape province.
Bibliography on Conflict/Blood Diamonds in Liberia
1. United Nations, The U.N. On Conflict Diamonds . www.un.org
2. Lansana Gberie, Diamonds Without Maps . www.zmag.org
3. Global Security, Mano River War . www.globalsecurity.org
4. George J. Coakley, The Mineral Industry of Liberia . minerals.usgs.gov
5. Pervenia P. Brown, Conflict Blood Diamonds . www.amnestyusa.org
6. Robert Weldon, G.G, Conflict Diamonds - Rough & Tumble . www.professionaljeweler.com
7. Tom Zoellner, The Heartless Stone: A Journey Throught the World of Diamonds . St. Martin's Press
8. Greg Campbell, Blood Diamonds . Westview Press
9. World Press, Blood Diamonds . www.worldpress.org
10. First Clearing LTD, Liberia Minerals Resources and Mining Industry . www.1stliberia.com
11. Minesite.com, Mano River Resources . www.minesite.com
12. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Keeping Africa's Turnaround on Track . www.washingtonpost.com