Worse than the movie
Seconds into the movie Blood Diamond, I was transported to the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. It filled me with nostalgia for the city of my birth and despair for what it later became.
I grew up a proud Sierra Leonean, a resident of the “Athens of Africa.” But the good days did not last. There was deep-seated corruption in every level of public service. The democracy of my childhood became a dictatorship.
By 1991, rebels recruited from Liberia attempted to overthrow the All People’s Congress regime. In November 1992, Kono, the capital of diamonds, fell. The intensity of war was felt in Freetown. Streets, stadiums, open places and vacant buildings were flooded by displaced persons.
I traveled to rebel territory in 1996 as a Sierra Leone Red Cross employee, transporting food and medical supplies. (How the rebels distributed these supplies is another story.) During the trip, we saw towns and villages completely charred. No signs of life, not even an occasional flock of chickens.
The rebels entered Freetown in May of 1997. Anyone who could afford it fled for their lives. The rebels’ greatest weapon was ruthless attack. I saw drug-crazed, AK47-toting child soldiers killing and maiming their own people.
Beside them, I also saw the shadows of greedy, ruthless warmongers who benefited from this war, men and women with hands drenched in blood. They were not just the diamond cartels, Danny Archer or Captain Poison of Blood Diamond, but also Sierra Leoneans who collaborated with the rebels. I believe they lost their souls, their God-given ability to fight for what is right.
There were brave Sierra Leoneans, men and women of integrity who lost their lives, ending up in poverty or maimed for life because they fought the rebels. They will be remembered.
Today, the guns are silent in Sierra Leone. As I go safely to bed each night in Sacramento, where such events happen only in the movies, I am relieved that there is peace in my native country. It comforts me that, in 2002, the United Nations recognized the role of diamonds in financing wars and supported the Kimberley Process Certification System, which prohibits diamond trade with conflict regions. I am heartened that Sacramentans I meet are resolved that they want nothing to do with tainted diamonds.