It is a profound and tragic irony that diamonds, marketed in London, New York and Antwerp as the eternal symbol of love and beauty, are potent symbols of hate and disfigurement, misery and suffering to the millions of people in whose countries they are mined.

In Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Democratic republic of the Congo and Angola, the diamond trade has brought with it years of conflict and instability and the deaths and maiming of hundreds of thousands of Africans perceived as standing in the way of The lucrative profits the increasingly illicit trade brings.

The statistics speak for themselves. In Angola, between 1992 and 1997, Unita earned $3.7 billion from illegal diamond sales, helping them fuel a war in which 500,000 were killed. In under ten years of fighting, Jonas Savimbi built his rag-tag army up into one of the best armed irregular forces around, all thanks to diamonds he traded for state-of-the-art weaponry. In Sierra Leone, between 1991 and 1999, over 50,000 died and many more were maimed (their limbs hacked off with machetes) whilst government forces fought the rebel RUF over an illegal diamond industry worth over $200 million a year. And in nearby Liberia, between 1989 and 1997, 150,000 died as a result of a conflict fought over control of the diamond trade. Liberia, which incidentally has no significant diamond deposits of its own, nevertheless runs a $300 million plus diamond trade with the help of troops loyal to Sierra Leone’s RUF leader Foday Sankah. Such is the illicit global trade in diamonds that the US State Department believes it to be worth anything up to $7 billion a year.

The diamond trail usually starts in the dusty towns of Angola, in the Sierra Leonie wilderness or the jungle terrain surrounding Kisangani in the Congo, where half naked workers labour with pick, spade and drill, guarded by miniature and well-equipped armies. Small mine owners pass on their stones they unearth to local dealers, though not before the guards’ commanders have had their share, and likewise the local dealers have to make payment to the local militia leaders, who similarly have to pass a share to their seniors.

Immense armies can be spread over hundreds of thousands of miles of diamond rich land, providing safe passage to all prepared to pay the price, whilst governments and warlords sell concessions to mine, with concession purchasers selling them on to anyone keen on making a killing (no pun intended).

There are of course other key figures, albeit playing as low a profile as possible. They include Burkino Faso’s leader Blaise Compaore and Liberia’s Charles Taylor, who help speed smooth passage by circumventing the controls imposed by the UN and other regulatory bodies. Meanwhile, the governments of Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and Zimbabwe provide military help to warlords in exchange for these little shiny stones and the right to mine them. In the case of the latter, critics of Robert Mugabe accuse him of donating 11,000 troops to the conflict in the Congo in return for diamond field concessions.

And of course there is the middle men who make the deals, find further safe passage for the diamonds to the western markets and supply the weapons that fuel the conflicts and ensure the diamonds keep coming.

Investigators working with the UN recognise a well organised international network of smuggling involving numerous west and southern African countries, with further links to freight companies supplying arms from the UAE to Bulgaria and the Ukraine. Whilst the RUF in Sierra Leone have been provided with former Soviet surface-to-air missiles, at the height of the Angolan war over twenty Ilyushin aircraft could be found landing on one airstrip each evening, each loaded with military hardware.

Whilst pressure groups, such as Global Witness, the UN and other diamond industry regulatory bodies try to introduce an ethical dimension into the trade, the dealers themselves fear their efforts will undermine consumer demand because of the diamond’s link with limbless children in West Africa. Provenance certificates, supposedly implying that this and that diamond has no blood on it have been suggested, but such a move would require the cooperation of bankers, brokers and buyers in Tel Aviv, Antwerp and Bombay – the three main diamond centres - and indeed the governments of several countries, including Liberia, who are only too happy to overlook the fact that a few hundred carats true cost is a child hobbling along on crutches and provide forged documents.

As Herbert Rowe, a political scientist specialising in African affairs at Georgetown University in Washington noted: “Even in the Cold War, superpowers did not allow the wholesale ripping up of the economy, the use of children as soldiers and attacks upon relief groups” (Guardian, 14th May, 2000). He is of course referring to countries like Sierra Leone, now the poorest country on earth and whose population has enjoyed no health or education system for 10 years, as a direct result of the mayhem that has been set loose because of the greed for the profits that diamonds bring.

Further anti-diamond trade measures have included a boycott of diamonds. But the truth is that – although the trade brings so much misery in its wake – the average piece of diamond-ladened jewellery on display in the local high street has only a 4 per cent chance of having an illicit source and that the diamond most likely originated in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa or the Russian Federation. Further, any such embargo would hit innocent diamond producing and cutting countries such as Botswana and India, the latter with a diamond industry employing 800,000.

The fact that only 4 per cent of the diamonds that adorn our loved ones are bloodstained and that this 4 per cent has caused so much chaos and upset throughout Africa suggests, more than anything, the intrinsic danger of the incentive to make a profit at any cost. All the controls it is possible to impose upon the diamond trade would not distract one iota from the fact that, at whatever human cost, if there are profits to be made from the trade then profits will be made. This is the essential nature of capitalism, even in its more overt and legal forms. If profits can be made, no matter how small, they will be made and to hell with anyone who stands in the way.

The task is not to try to regulate the diamond trade more efficiently, but to end the system that makes the diamond the commodity it is; to banish forever the system that conditions us into thinking that wearing a shiny stone brings status and respect. Since this journals inception 95 years ago, we have consistently reported the wars and conflicts, the misery and sufferings our class has endured in the name of the profits derived from mineral wealth and its possession by an elite. We expect, for the foreseeable future, to carry on in this tradition until our class truly wakes up.



Rarely are constitutions changed so quickly. On June 10th, the corpse of President Hafez al-Assad had hardly cooled when the powers that be in Syria changed the age at which ministers are allowed to hold office from 40 to 34, thus enabling his son Bashar to be named as perhaps the sole presidential candidate in a referendum to be held within 90 days.

As is the norm when a president dies, the condolences and tributes flow in. Whilst Israel newspaper Yedioth Abronoth could announce they were “not too sorry over Assad’s death…we are happy”, the Western line was that he had been ‘a great statesman’, and whilst Hafez al-Assad was remembered as ‘the Lion of Damascus’, the obstinate stance he maintained in the Middle East peace process and the missed opportunities he notched up over thirty years of autocratic rule were enough to earn himself the title ‘the Donkey of Damascus’.

All things considered, Hassad was no first-rate statesman. Never democratically elected, he came to power during a bloodless coup d’etat in 1970, was the leader of a quasi-military dictatorship, with a corrupt Ba’athist political faction – religiously an Alawite minority elite who dominated all aspects of Syrian society - whilst overseeing a parlous command economy and a country noted for internal repression and scant civil rights.

In the perennial game of Middle Eastern politics, Hassad upset as many Arab states as he won friends, whilst siding with both superpowers as needs dictated. As well as Israel, neighbouring Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Turkey came to view Hassad’s Syria as a thorn in the side of Middle Eastern peace. His implacable position on the US brokered round of talks resulted in constant hold-ups with the present round of discussions having been on the back burner since January, with Syria demanding land at the foot of Golan and access to Lake Galilee. Whilst Israel might have contemplated such a move, it was widely viewed in Israel to be part of a wider Syrian game plan to get Israel to withdraw beyond the 1967 borders, and in this respect Israel could no more sell the idea of a Golan withdrawal to its people than Hassad could coerce the Alawite elite into accepting they had no hopes of retrieving this strategic gem.

What path Bashar heads down remains to be seen. Up until now he has held no official party post, though he has been delegated policy briefs such as Lebanon and the rooting out of high-ranking corruption. Whilst he can generally depend upon the support of the military, it is probable his anti-corruption drive against those in power – the chief culprits being those loyal to his father – will make him enemies. Studying ophthalmology in Britain before he was called back to Syria to begin his grooming for leadership, he is said to be ‘modest, considerate and intelligent’, keen on new technology and with ideas on reform and political change, such as more representative forms of government, that will undoubtedly sicken Syria’s old guard - an elite made up of the security services, the army and the Ba’athist party hierarchy.

And it remains to be seen just how much of his father’s baggage Bashar will inherit.Hafez was after all a staunch anti-zionist, still maintaining 35,000 troops in Lebanon - in which he held sway over the guerrilla movement Hizbullah - after the Israeli withdrawal, reluctant to concede Israel an inch, cautious about investing in new civil and military technology or to reform the country’s clannish hierarchy.

Bashar, though, comes with the full backing of British Foreign Minister Peter Haines – which perhaps amounts to little, bearing in mind Britain’s track record on giving its support to bloodstained dictators for 30 years - and with hopes in Washington that he can make some headway in the Middle East peace process and in time for the US Presidential elections in which the Clinton clique will be aiming to present some foreign policy success to US voters.

Waiting in the wings - though at a distance - is uncle Rifaat, younger brother to Hafez and the former vice-president; the same disgraced vice-president who once ordered the bombardment of the town of Hama (a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood haven) killing 40,000 inhabitants and who attempted a coup d’etat when Hafez was ill in 1983. Presently in exile in France with an entourage of 30 bodyguards and threatened with arrest the moment he enters Syria with presidential ambitions, Rifaat has a fortune of $2 - $4 billion, looks after 100 companies, controls two newspapers and is therefore more than capable of buying many strategically placed allies. Rifaat maintains that Bashar’s ascension to the throne of Syrian power will be ‘illegal’ and many anticipate he will mount some challenge.

The chances are, however, that Bashar will be the sole presidential candidate, if for no other reason than his father’s Alawite cronies will close ranks to ease his political ascendancy and safeguard their own interests. And whilst some equate his reformist ambitions with an Israeli/Syrian peace, it does seem unlikely that in the foreseeable future he will advocate the concessions that Middle Eastern peace is claimed to necessitate. If politics is difficult to predict in the West, then it is nigh on impossible to make any forecast as to how events will unfold in this part of the world, where the number of competing factions is only matched by the number of religions, where there are numerous strategic and mineral interests to be fought over and in which the West continue to manoeuvre their pawns as if playing on a gigantic chess board

Of course, as socialists, we side with no leaders or any Middle Eastern faction, taking no sides in their wars over territory; for we have the insight to see where disagreements over resources, such as oil and water, and artificial borders lead and in whose interests such conflicts are waged. Our thoughts lie with the exploited majority of the Middle East – the common folk – who continue to pay the price of power politics, and eagerly await the day when they have the chance, along with their counterparts the world over, to at last vote for themselves and, more, in their own interests, a world devoid of Assads, Saddams and Ayaltollahs and the misery their games bring.