The Diamond
Kono, Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is a beautiful
country rolling with lush
green hills, thick forests,
winding rivers and white
sandy beaches.  It is also
rich in minerals, in
particular diamonds.....Its
curse.  Due to the brutality
of the 10 year conflict,
Sierra Leone became
synonimous with blood
diamonds.  Kono was the
district to control.  The
warring  faction that
controlled Kono, controlled
the illicit diamond market.
Mining Fields From the Air, Koidu
Small Mining Operation, Koidu
A lot of people talk about
the diamond mines in Kono.
 I like to think of them
more as diamond fields.  
When I think of mines, I
think of bored holes and
shafts managed by a big
corporation.  For the most
part, what I saw in Kono
were vast fields of dirt
where people used picks
axes, shovels, and water
pumps to dig holes no
deeper than 7 meters.  
There were many small
organized operations which
were usually funded by
Lebanese businessmen.  
Most of the diggers in
these operations were
given a cup of rice and
the equivalent of 25 cents
a day.  If they were lucky
they received a very small
cut (which was divided
among them) of any
diamonds found in their
diggings.  However, the
vast majority of people I
saw were freelance miners
who would sift through the
muddy river water or dig
through the tailings of
the official operations.  
These men worked under the
scorching sun each day
hoping to find crystal.  
Luck wasn't guaranteed.
Hand Over Hand
I would say Diamonds are a
drug in Kono.  It is said that
in Kono nobody greets anyone
in the street because they are
too busy looking down hoping
to trip over some sparkling
stone.  People will dig
anywhere, anyhow to find a
diamond.  When I first arrived
in Kono people were mining in
the middle of Koidu town, the
commercial center of the  
district.  (There are easily
20,000 people living in Koidu.
Nobody knows the actual size
of the town because displaced
people and refugees continue
to return.  There is also the
transient nature of a boom
town that makes calculating
the size difficult.)

The lawlessness of the war
allowed the diamond craze to
get out of hand.  The rebels,
RUF, dug across the paved
highway between Yengema and
Jaiama leaving the route
completely useless.  Many
people coming back after years
of  displacement were shocked
to enter their living room or
kitchens and find the floors
riddled with holes.  Whoever
occupied the house during the
war decided that there must be
diamonds under the concrete.  

Then you hear the sad stories
of people getting ripped off.  
In 2002, BBC aired a report
about a large diamond that
disappeared.  One of the
stories I heard, stated that
the man who found the diamond
brought it to Freetown to be
registered at the Ministry of
Mines.  He was asked to come
back the following day.  On
his return the official told
him that the crystal he gave
him was worth nothing ....
that all it was a piece of
glass.  Interestingly, he
never got his piece of glass
Working the Pump
All You Need