13 March 2018

Sierra Leone: Waiting for Benefits From Sierra Leone's Giant 'Peace Diamond'

A year ago, a 709-carat diamond was unearthed outside a remote village in eastern Sierra Leone. DW's Abu-Bakarr Jalloh reports on how little villagers there have benefited from the find.

In most remote villages in Africa, a swarm of children rush to meet any foreign car or motorbike that pulls up in their domicile. They are often quickly followed by curious, and friendly, village elders who bombard the visitors with questions.

Our arrival in the small village of Koryardu in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono region was different. Here, villagers were quick to let us know we weren't very welcome.

"Many journalists have been here but we still don't have any benefit from our diamond," murmured teacher Jeremiah Kombah as soon as I introduced myself as a journalist visiting to investigate the sale of the "peace diamond".

One of the world's biggest uncut diamonds, the egg-sized gem was sold at auction for $6.5 million in December 2017 (the price was disappointing as it was expected to sell for more). The stone was given the name "peace diamond" to distinguish it from the blood diamonds that fueled Sierra Leone's horrendous decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002.

Hope for improvement

Pastor Emmanuel Momoh, who found the diamond and gave it to the government, said he did so to cut out the middlemen and benefit the community. While forty percent of the sale price goes to the finders, the other sixty percent is supposed to be used for development projects in the region, especially in Koryardu.

Until now, the villagers have seen nothing of this.

"This diamond is our own bona fide property," said a visibly angry Kombah, one of three primary school teachers in Koryardu.

"For those of you in America who took that diamond and ate it, we ask our Father God in heaven to destroy you. I know you are the people that have destroyed that diamond," he said.

From his position on his front porch, Koryardu village Chief Kombah Nyandemoh watched with indifference as I talk to people in his community. Complaining of severe pain on his upper thigh, he refused to get up from his seat.

"I did not even get anything from that diamond because they said I had no licenses for my site," said the chief, who is in his late 40s. "My people were happy because they thought I would be rich but we were later very disappointed. We felt really bad."

Blood diamonds destroyed the region

The dusty mining settlement of about 200 inhabitants lies one hour away by car from Koidu, the capital of the diamond-rich district of Kono. The wealth of this region has been a curse to its people - and to the country. Some 500,000 people were killed and many more maimed in Sierra Leone in fighting over control of the country's diamond wealth.

So when a year ago, a group of miners struck fortune and found a 709-carat diamond in a half-broken shifter, the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma was understandably eager to use the gem to change Sierra Leone's reputation for blood diamonds.

At the time, the government was also embroiled in corruption allegations after the accountant general revealed that nearly $14 million was missing from the country's Ebola Fund. Elections were looming and the ruling All People's Congress was determined to be reelected (even though Kormoma was ineligible to stand). The peace diamonds was a way for the government to be seen delivering on transparency and development.

The government promised to sell the diamond at auction in a transparent manner, reward the finders and give the village its own health facility, new school, water, electricity and paved road.

Villagers in Koryardu still waiting

"The government wants people to bring their diamonds forward to discourage smuggling," said Paramount Chief Paul Garba Saquee V of Tankoro Chiefdom, which includes Koryardu village. He was the one who took Pastor Monah to the president after the pastor showed up at the chief's house with the gemstone.

"If they don't do anything for the community, who is going to bring their diamond forward next time?" Saquee asked.

It's been more than a one month since Koryadu inhabitants were instructed to make-ready the site where a hospital was to be constructed. They used their meager resources to fell trees.

And they waited.

The only visit the villagers received were government officials accompanied by Chinese workmen and bulldozers, they said.

"They came here and told us to show them where we would want the hospital," Chief Nyandemoh sadly told me. "It's over a month now and they told us it won't even take more than a month. We are still waiting," he said.

Sierra Leone

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