Diamond Rush in Sierra Leone

If I had opened my eyes wider a few weeks ago, I could have gone down in history as the lucky finder of one of Sierra Leone’s largest diamonds. But it turned out differently.

Üblicherweise werden in Sierra Leone Diamanten von ihren Findern in Hinterhöfen verkauft, in denen sonst Autos oder Geld gewaschen wird / © Foto: Georg Berg
Usually in Sierra Leone diamonds are sold by their finders in backyards, where otherwise cars or money are washed / © Photo: Georg Berg
Auch hinter Tankstellen findet Diamanten-Handel statt / © Foto: Georg Berg
Diamond trading also takes place behind gas stations / © Photo: Georg Berg

Pastor Emmanuel Momoh from Koidu has a side job. In the eastern province of Sierra Leone, he searches for diamonds and has been able to supplement his salary only slightly. Two weeks ago, however, he could not believe his eyes. In the muddy broth of the Woyie River, he recognizes a larger chunk that looks brown and would remind us of amber.

Momoh’s diamond, at 706 carats, is the second largest diamond found in Sierra Leone after the 1972 Star of Sierra Leone. Only nine larger diamonds have been found worldwide to date.

Hit list of large diamonds

The top diamond is the 3107 carat Cullinan found in South Africa in 1905. Several jewelry diamonds have been cut from it, two of which belong to the English crown jewels.

A find from Botswana made it to second place on the sparkling hit list two years ago. The Lesedi La Rona puts 1111 carats on the fine scales. It overtook the third-place Excelsior diamond, which weighs 995 carats and was found in South Africa in 1893.

In fourth place on the world’s best list is the Star of Sierra Leone, followed by Incomparable, which was found in Congo in 1980 and weighs 890 carats. In India, the then heaviest diamond weighing 797.5 carats was found in 1650. Today, the Grand Mogul ranks 6th in the top ten.

Still ahead of the latest find from Sierra Leone in 7th place are Golden Jubilee, 755 carats (South Africa 1985) followed by President Vargas, 726.8 carats (Brazil 1938) and Jonker, 726 carats (South Africa 1934).

The now youngest large diamond is held in the hand days later by the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, who is pleased that the pastor did not try to sell the gemstone through dark channels like many others. In this way, the poor country, which experienced a ten-year civil war at the beginning of the century because of its diamonds, can finally collect much-needed taxes.

Wirklich heimlich findet der Rohdiamantenhandel nicht statt ... / © Foto: Georg Berg
Really secretly the raw diamond trade does not take place … / © Photo: Georg Berg
... zumal die Handelsbüros gut bewacht sind / © Foto: Georg Berg
… especially since the trading offices are well guarded / © Photo: Georg Berg

Pastor Emmanuel Momoh, who recovered the diamond from the river with his bare hands, receives a share of the publicly known sale proceeds. The auction, set for April 5, 2017 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is expected to raise a seven-figure euro amount, depending on the purity of the diamond.

In Sierra Leone ist das eine aufwändige Werbung und man kann annehmen, dass viel Geld dahinter steht / © Foto: Georg Berg
In Sierra Leone, this is lavish advertising and one can assume that there is a lot of money behind it / © Photo: Georg Berg

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

Marilyn Monroe portrays diamonds in a friendly way in her song. In reality, however, they are often the subject of dirty deals.

On my journey through Sierra Leone, I noticed diamond dealers’ stores in several towns. What business is done behind discreet facades and what clandestine paths the found diamonds then take can only be conjectured. In any case, according to the Kimberley Process, only the government of Sierra Leone is allowed to issue certificates for rough diamonds. This is to stop the illegal export that has financed rebel organizations in the past. The well-known Hollywood movie Blood Diamonds, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Djimon Hounsou, brought this part of Sierra Leone’s history home to us drastically. When the civil war ended in 2002, more than 100,000 people had lost their lives and many are still maimed today.

Solche Satellitenschüsseln lassen auf internationale Handelsbeziehungen schließen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Satellite dishes like these indicate international trade relations / © Photo: Georg Berg

Strict baggage controls for travelers

Anyone leaving Sierra Leone must be prepared for detailed luggage checks, during which diamonds are meticulously searched for, and not only in hand luggage. I first noticed after my return at Brussels airport that the lock of a suitcase had been broken and the contents must have been completely searched. Even the rubber fastener that closes the charging socket of my drone remote control had been ripped out. Probably because it’s a popular hiding place for diamond smugglers.

Für die Zukunft des Rohdiamantenhandels, sollte das Verhalten des glücklichen Finders ein gutes Beispiel sein / © Foto: Georg Berg
For the future of the rough diamond trade, the behavior of the lucky finder should be a good example / © Photo: Georg Berg

In any case, Pastor Emmanuel Momoh wants to point out the responsibility with his action, for which he has collected a lot of ridicule in the social media of Sierra Leone: The finder and also society should get something from the proceeds.

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