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J.F. Jolis - Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Trade

Sep 25, 2000 3:38 PM   By J.F. "Jack" Jolis
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Statement of J.F. "Jack" Jolis, President,

Rough Diamond Consultancy, Antwerp, Belgium

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Trade

of the House Committee on Ways and Means

Hearing on Trade in African Diamonds

September 13, 2000

DIAMONDS: AND AFRICAN CONFLICTS

I am an American diamond dealer/consultant and have worked for thirty years in every part of the globe where diamonds are mined, bought, sold and cut.

Having for the past year or so read and heard so much about how the relatively small diamond business is responsible for "funding" the maniacal carnage we witness pretty much throughout Africa, I feel compelled to reply.

Let's take a look at Africa and its suddenly infamous diamond producing countries:

Sierra Leone: Even if not a single diamond existed there, not a man, woman or child would escape being amputated or beheaded by a rusty machete.

Let us not waste valuable time talking about "peace-keeping" or "mercenary" forces in Sierra. "Peacekeepers"? They consist mostly of Nigerian gangsters, assisted by some Guinean gangsters, who are not only better armed, but even more intent on killing anyone who gets in their way of putting their hands on "the diamonds". And in Sierra, there is a lovely bunch of drugged-up thugs called the KAMAJORS, who, while professing to support the current government find themselves fighting their allies, enemies, even themselves -- not for diamonds, but because they're drugged and all they know what to do is fight. You think they would know how to sell an uncut diamond?

Do diamonds pay for this mayhem? I doubt it, not when you are offered, as I was recently in Kinshasa, a fully-loaded AK-47 for $10. To top it all , the Leonian government hires a bunch of quaintly named South African mercenaries called "Executive Outcomes" who are not only paid by the 'government with diamonds, but are even given diamond "fields" to exploit. And this by a government, supported by the UN, that is bleating about their "rebellion" being financed by diamonds.

Angola. Sure, for the time being most of the "diamond fields" lie in UNITA hands, but these areas change hands according to the fortunes of war. In ANY case, the MPLA ALSO have diamond fields of their own and, I happen to know at first hand of many of the MPLA's "generals" who sell THEIR diamonds to UNITA. The MPLA have infinitely more money from oil to buy weapons than UNITA has diamonds. Not to mention the fact that the UNITA diamonds which are mostly on the western bank of the Cuango River are, IN NO WAY distinguishable from the same diamonds found on the Congo side of the river. So?

There is a lot of uninformed talk of some sort of "invisible infra-red internal marking" scheme for polished stones, which, even were it possible, which it isn't, would immediately wipe out the entire category of "D-Flawless" polished stones. And then there is a theory about "branding" rough diamonds. Eh? First of all, "branding" a rough diamond makes about as much sense as branding a cow and then determining where the resulting steak came from. And, as for the notion of "branding" a cut diamond along its border (with, say, something like "DeBeers 2001 X) ", any half-clever diamond cutter could do the same, using the same number he might have come across a similar-sized DeBeers stone.

So there is a lot of uninformed chatter about "identifying the provenance of diamonds", whether cut or un-cut. No can do. Certainly not in any court of law -- any "expert" will be countered by an opposing "expert".

Which brings me back to what is currently known as the D.R. Congo, a country with at least 3 different areas producing distinctly different diamonds. Some "rebel". Some "government". Mix them together into a single parcel, and the job of determining which are the "clean" stones becomes even more impossible Angola stones? Take some from UNITA-held zones, mix them with stones from the MPLA, add some stones from Ivory Coast, and some others from Guinea and the Central African Republic, and you've got what? A big load of nothing that is remotely identifiable by anyone reputable.

If diamonds were the proximate cause of African tribal butchery, how can one explain the Congolese civil war of 1960? Pro-Western Moise Tschombe tried to establish independence for his copper-rich (and diamond-rich) province today known as Kolwezi. He was foiled by the UN-sponsored Kasavubu, who in turn was overthrown by the equally UN-sponsored Mobutu, whose people killed the communist Lumumba -- but the point of all this ancient history is that at the time nobody even uttered the word "diamond" - it was all COPPER!

And do you remember the civil war in Nigeria, between the breakaway Biafra and the then-"Federal" government? What did diamonds have to do with that butchery? Right. Exactly nothing.

Or the 5 civil wars in the Tchad? Over diamonds. Sorry. Nary a one.

Or, even the 40+-year civil war in the Sudan. Over diamonds? The only diamond you might find in the Sudan would be lodged between the Mahdi's cadaver's 2 front teeth.

And the unspeakable mangle-shambles that used to be Somalia. Any diamonds involved in that particular charnel house? I don't think so.

And finally, in the worst killing fields since Cambodia is the incredibly barbaric HutuTutsi mutual genocide in any way financed by diamonds? Of the "blood" kind or any other? No.

That Africa is in a dreadful and perhaps even terminal mess is undeniable. But to fob off this horrible internecine catastrophe on the fact that diamonds -- along with a heck of a lot of other stuff -- abound there is to utterly lose any claim to a perspective on the problem. As I said earlier, you could take away every diamond that exists under the soil there and not a single human being who is currently being killed tortured or maimed would be spared.

(An interesting case in point is the Central African Republic, where the two major tribes, the Bayas and the Bandas, have been at each others' throats since time immemorial. And yet diamonds are found in profusion in BOTH these tribes' areas. They are manifestly not killing each other for diamonds. )

There are really only two possible solutions to the problem.

First, and this is not really much of a solution at all, is to let them chop each other up until The Last Man Is Standing.

Second would be to send in the only men who are competent and incorruptible enough to do the Job properly: The British SAS and their Parachute Regiment; The French Foreign Legion and their Regiments Etranger Parachutes; and the US Special Forces and our Delta Force. Neo-colonialism? You betcha. And 99% of the people of embattled Africa would kiss your feet for it.

But ban "blood" -- or any other -- diamonds? First of all, such a plan would not succeed . Diamonds, like fine art, are non-fungible, and by definition, are not "controllable." And, even in the unlikely event that such an anti-diamond scheme DID have a measure of success, the only people it would hurt would be the already dirt-poor hard-working artisan/digger poor devils, digging away in the Third World -- certainly not diamond dealers who have stocks like Unca Scrooge had a swimming pool overflowing with golden spondulics.

J.F. (Jack) Jolis
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