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Interactive: A Diamond's Journey: A diamond’s journey begins

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updated 6/26/2009 7:55:31 PM ET 2009-06-26T23:55:31

Once a consumer buys a diamond, it is the end of a long, winding road for a gem that may have been underground for millions of years and then passed through many hands on numerous continents – from Africa, to India, to Europe and beyond.

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In fact, an estimated 65 percent of the roughly 130 million carats mined annually across the world originate in Africa. Diamonds mined from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo
The sprawling Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with an estimated population of 62 million, has abundant natural resources – including some of the world’s biggest industrial diamond deposits. But little of the riches has trickled down to ordinary Congolese, who have a per capita GDP of $700.

DRC’s vast mineral resources, including diamonds, fueled a regional war that included Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Rwanda from 1998-2003 and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4 million people. DRC was also a key smuggling route for illicit diamonds during Angola’s long civil war.

DRC’s immense diamond deposits have incredible potential, but the country’s longstanding instability and history of corruption have discouraged foreign investment in the mining industry. Many miners still work in substandard conditions – the mining town of Mbuji Mayi has an estimated population of 3 million, but no running water.

In 2006, DRC held its first multiparty elections in four decades. International observers declared the election free and fair, and President Joseph Kabila was proclaimed the winner. The country is now a member of the Kimberley Process, but only time will tell if a more democratic and stable government can be established to improve the mining industry., Angola
One of the world’s poorest countries, Angola is still rebuilding its infrastructure after the end in 2002 of its 27-year civil war – which killed an estimated 1.5 million people and displaced as many as 4 million.

The illicit diamond industry is largely credited with funding the rebel group UNITA in its 27-year struggle for power – leading to the original use of the term “blood diamonds.”

Since the end of the war, oil revenue has fueled Angola’s economic recovery. Oil production and its supporting activities make up half of the GDP and 90 percent of exports. But Angola’s diamonds, said to be among the world’s best when measured by value per carat, are a key natural resource for the nation of 12 million. The country is now a member of the Kimberley Process that regulates the international trade of rough diamonds.

A side effect of Angola’s civil war has been De Beers’ exclusion from the diamond market there. During the war, De Beers would buy up whatever rough diamonds were on the market – including those from UNITA rebels. By indirectly supporting the rebels, De Beers incurred the ire of the Angolan government and no longer operates in the country.
, Tanzania and Sierra Leone Sierra Leone was ravaged by civil war from 1991 to 2002. An estimated 50,000 people were killed in the war, and more than 2 million people – a third of the population – were displaced. The most horrific aspect of the war was the rebels’ trademark of chopping off the hands or legs of their victims as a means to spread terror. The illicit diamond trade in Sierra Leone perpetuated the conflict – leading to the use of the term “blood diamonds” to describe diamonds from Sierra Leone.

Rapper Kanye West’s 2006 Grammy Award-winning song “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and the 2006 Leonardo DiCaprio movie “Blood Diamond” have drawn attention to the appalling conditions of the war, but the diamond industry is quick to emphasize that international regulations are now in place to make conflict diamonds a thing of the past.

Sierra Leone is hoping to make the legitimate diamond industry a cornerstone of the postwar economy. Alluvial diamond mining remains the major source of hard currency earnings and contributes nearly half of the country’s exports. The country joined the Kimberley Process in 2003 and exported $142 million worth of diamonds in 2005. have an estimated worth of approximately $8.4 billion annually. 

Africa’s diamond mining industry dates back to 1867, when diamonds were discovered near Kimberley, South Africa. Both gem-quality and industrial-quality diamonds are mined across sub-Saharan Africa today, employing millions of people.

The actual stones are millions of years old, created from carbon 90 miles or more below the earth’s surface under extreme heat and pressure. The diamond rocks are brought to the earth’s surface through volcanic eruptions of molten rock. These diamond-bearing “volcanic pipes” make up primary deposits called kimberlite. Secondary deposits, or alluvial deposits, are the result of the erosion of material from primary deposits and usually are found in rivers, streams and along shorelines.

That’s where a rough diamond’s travels pick up today – from the mine, to the marketplace, to the hand of a soon-to-be bride. Diamonds conjure up all kinds of images: from love, passion and eternal devotion, to war, tragedy and strife. One common thread is that every diamond has traveled a rough-shorn path, and each one tells a fascinating story ...

Sources: DeBeers, DiamondFacts.com, Wikipedia, National Geographic, Country Studies- South Africa, PBS Nature

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