Reporter Discusses Dark Side of Diamonds

National Geographic News
February 12, 2003

It's the time of the year when lovers are thinking of spoiling their partners with chocolates, flowers, and—for the really appreciated—diamonds.

The precious, sparkling stone forged in the heat of the Earth has long been a symbol of love. But how many people who buy them at great price and sport them on fingers and necks realize that there is a dark side to diamonds? That in some parts of the world diamonds are wrestled from the ground in dangerous conditions by some of the world's poorest people? That the tiny size and relative anonymity of diamonds can make them the ideal means to fund war, terrorism, and criminal syndicates?

In a National Geographic Special Diamonds of War that premiered on U.S. television this week, reporter Dominic Cunningham-Reid went from the streets of Manhattan to the diamond exchanges of Antwerp to the war-ravaged hills of Sierra Leone, investigating the history, culture and global politics that drive the diamond industry.

Cunningham-Reid documented the consequences of a civil war fueled by the diamond black market and revealed the harsh lives of those who risk life and limb to mine the precious fragments of carbon.

National Geographic News interviewed Cunningham-Reid about the documentary.

You were born in Kenya and have covered conflicts all over the continent. How did being a native African help you cover the blood diamond story in Sierra Leone?

My life in Africa and my experiences on the continent have taught me how to deal with people.

One learns to expect the unexpected and how to deal with potentially very dangerous situations, sometimes by verbally disarming people who might have bad intentions using a unique blend of humor found in Africa.

I knew Sierra Leone at its most brutal period in history, and, despite the fact that the war is over, there is still bad blood underneath. In our travels on the diamond story, I constantly relied on my instincts. Humor is the best weapon for safe travel in Africa, and understanding what humor to employ is the key, even in places at war. There is no doubt this helped us on our journey in Sierra Leone.

Today, how is Sierra Leone rebuilding after its brutal ten-year civil war?

Sierra Leone has had a free and fair election and is in the process of rebuilding its infrastructure with the help of the international community. On the street, however, opportunities for employment and a future remain slim.

Continued on Next Page >>




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