Conflict diamonds are what originally sparked my idea for Exit Strategy in 2003. I had read an excellent report written by Global Witness titled For a Few Dollars More. The report detailed how al Qaeda moved into the diamond trade, using diamonds as a means to launder their funds.
While Exit Strategy is not specifically about Al Qaeda, it touches on the same theme of using diamonds to finance terrorist and organized crime activity. Global Witness has documented evidence of Al Qaeda's involvement in the conflict diamond trade since the 1990's, starting in Kenya and Tanzania, and then moving to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Hezbollah and similar organizations also use diamonds as a way to launder funds, particularly after 9/11.
Whether the commodity is diamonds or some other store of value, the theme is the same. A few rich and powerful people or organizations exploit a country, stripping its resources for their benefit, at the expense of the general population.
The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme was created in 2002 to counteract this exploitation, which is essentially diamond laundering. Global Witness was co-nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for its work on conflict diamonds.
Sadly, in late 2011, Global Witness withdrew its backing from the Kimberly Process, citing ongoing corruption and lack of accountability by governments and the diamond trade. Zimbabwe, a country known for corruption and human rights issues, was allowed to export diamonds under the Kimberly Process, despite corruption and the military's deep involvement in Zimbabwe's diamond trade, at the expense of the general population.
Whether timber in Cambodia (Khmer Rouge), Ivory Coast (cocoa), or Nigeria (oil), natural resources are prime targets for crime and corruption. What's ironic is that some of the wealthiest countries (in terms of natural resouces) have the lowest standards of living globally for 95% of their population.
In fact, you could argue that the vast majority of the population in these countries would have a safer, more affluent existence if these resources were less abundant. That's a pretty sad statement. Five percent of their population exploits that much from the remaining ninety-five percent.
It can happen in your country too. I'll talk more about this in future posts.