Diamonds and war in Sierra Leone : cultural strategies for commercial adaptation to endemic low-intensity conflict
West African trade is highly ethnicised to ensure commercial success in the face of adverse environmental conditions and lack of basic institutions. The maintenance of trust and the enforcement of contracts are, as elsewhere, key elements in the pursuit of sustainable enterprise. Building on core literature that examines both the use of ethnicity in trade and the nature of African clandestine trade, the thesis addresses the ways in which social groups construct solutions to problems that arise in high-risk settings. The work focuses on the Sierra Leone diamond industry and is organised in chapters that describe the major market players and their tactical approaches. There is particular emphasis on how these systems have changed over time, identifying the gambits used to extract diamonds. Beginning with the introduction of the 1956 Alluvial Diamond Mining Scheme, the thesis traces the emergence of Lebanese Shi'ite and Maronite competition in the Sierra Leone diamond trade, and extends through the period following the 1991 Revolutionary United Front incursion. In the face of political turmoil and virtual State collapse, industrial participants have been obliged to formulate flexible, locally-specific strategies to ensure commercial success. As diamonds have become scarcer and more dangerous to find, the sectarian Shi'ites have shown greater effectiveness in weathering adversity than their rivals. The thesis then examines the strategies of local-born players in the trade. As Kono, the principal diamond field, has become overworked, the market axis has recently shifted to the more southerly, Mende controlled, Tongo and Zimmi regions. Competition in these areas between a coalition of northern-based soldiery and youth, and the Mende-aligned kamajoisia militia, has been the cause of protracted conflict since mid-1997. Kamajoisia fighters, under social obligation to mine without the prospect of immediate pay, have succeeded in maintaining production for elite groups when investment capital has been non-existent. This militia domination has radically altered the industrial landscape. Lebanese participation has become highly condensed while militaristic multi-nationals have failed to expand to their expected potential. Threats to the present status quo remain from those excluded from both society and from legitimate access to resources. Reconstructed ideologies that address local grievances will continue to attract support as regional imbalances of wealth and poverty increase with time. Politically powerful networks of non-Mende elites will also seek to undermine diamond-related power in the south. Duplicitous in affiliation and seeking their own portion of a global market they are likely to pursue disruption at all levels, condemning Sierra Leone to a foreseeable future of sporadic violence.