ABSTRACT

Diamonds originating from West Africa have been an issue of much debate and concern. They have supposedly both started and prolonged wars, and are also allegedly used by international terrorists to finance their activities (Global Witness 2005a). Sierra Leone is a mineral-rich country containing some of the world’s most valuable deposits of diamonds. Nevertheless, it is one of the world’s poorest countries (UNDP 2009). Rather than having contributed to national wealth, the diamond deposits have in fact come to be seen by many as part of the problem in Sierra Leone. They have been labelled as ‘conflict diamonds’ and ‘blood diamonds’ (see Hirsch 2001; Global Witness 2003; Global Witness 2005a), reflecting the international communities’ concern that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) smuggled stones out of the country to be either sold or traded for weapons and ammunition. Much less studied, however, are the living conditions of those actually mining these diamonds. This chapter aims to fill at least part of that research gap by focusing on the characteristics and living conditions of children and youth under 18 years of age involved in diamond-related activities in Kono District in Sierra Leone In some of the existing literature, young diamond diggers are pigeonholed

as unruly youths predisposed to criminal activities, whose perpetual search for quick wealth leads them also to join rebel movements (see Collier 2000; Smilie, Gberie and Hazleton 2000; Abdullah 1998, 2004). The field research that this chapter draws upon suggests that this is not necessarily the case. Instead, like Archibald and Richards (2002), we see the diamond diggers primarily as ordinary boys in search of an income. Indeed, the ordinary miner in Sierra Leone is neither a bandit, warlord, nor rebel or soldier, but a poor young man. Very few women or girls work as miners and, in general, smaller children do not mine either. The overall majority of those directly involved in mining are boys above the age of 14.1 However, as already indicated there are exceptions to this. The aforementioned Kaka is one. When I met him Kaka was living with

his uncle, but this was not a happy relationship as Kaka mostly had to sleep on the stairs of his uncle’s house as he was unwilling to conduct most of the housework that the uncle and his family demanded of him. Instead, he hung

around the nearby diamond field and the miners, trying to find somebody ‘to be for’. Kaka was quite big and strong for his age, but still too young and weak to be of much use in diamond mining, which here is basically tough physical work with spades and buckets. However, as he was quite an entrepreneur, with good social skills, some of the miners allowed him to do small services for them and gave him some money and some food in return (and it was also rumoured that some of them had told his uncle to go a little easy on the boy, that is, not beat him too often, too hard). Thus, what Kaka was really trying to organise was movement from one patron-client relationship (that is, with his uncle and the uncle’s family) to another social network that seen from his perspective looked to contain not only more opportunities, but also freedom. In our conversations Kaka talked a lot about how he wanted the ‘social recognition’ as a miner and what he would do when he found diamonds himself: youthful, mostly childish dreams about a motorbike, about living in the nearest city and buying the kind of American gangster rap clothes that some of the miners he idolised sometimes wore after work. Naïve dreams perhaps, but still they kept him going, made it possible to endure the hardship of his life and even provided him with ideas about how to manoeuvre within the social landscape he was forced to exist in. Kaka will most likely never achieve a formal education, but still at his young age he had already taken a few steps to attempt some sort of control of his lifeworld and livelihood opportunities. Most diamonds produced in Sierra Leone are of the alluvial type. These

can be found either by digging with a shovel into riverbeds or panning and sifting near the riverbed. The work is mostly seasonal, primarily taking place during the dry season. The boys and young men taking part in such activities are either casual labours, often hired on a day-to-day basis, or are organised based on relationships with a sponsor. The miners in the first category compete daily for employment and, if employed, are paid for a day’s work. In the latter case, the work is arranged differently. Because the search for diamonds typically takes a long time, miners receive provisional support from their sponsor in order to survive until diamonds are found. Thus, when the miner (or team of miners) eventually has a find, he/they must first pay back what is owned to his/their sponsor. Thereafter, the miners and the sponsor share the profit from the sale of the diamonds.