Sierra Leone angry about Hollywood portrayal in 'Blood Diamond'
The West African country is concerned that the blockbuster hit will hurt its economy by scaring customers away from its diamonds.
FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE — During Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, drugged-up militias fought each other for control of the West African county's diamond mines.
The war officially ended in 2002, but the new Hollywood blockbuster "Blood Diamond" – starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a diamond-smuggling mercenary – portrays how the international trade in "conflict diamonds" fueled the fighting.
The Sierra Leonean government is furious, saying that Hollywood's portrayal of Sierra Leone could catapult the country back into the international spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
They fear the movie, filmed in South Africa and Mozambique, but depicting Sierra Leone as a country at war, will prompt diamond buyers to look elsewhere for their gems.
"The situation portrayed in the film is not the current situation. It is history," says Director of Mines, Alimany Wurie.
In the 1990s, rebel groups exchanged diamonds for guns in one of Africa's bloodiest conflicts. Their trademark punishment of indiscriminately hacking off the limbs of innocent civilians ensured that gems emerging from this war-torn country were branded as "blood diamonds."
Sierra Leone's government says its membership of the Kimberley Process – an international certification scheme set up in 2003 to end the trade in "conflict diamonds" – is an acknowledgement of how far the country has gone to clean up its image. The Kimberley Process tracks the diamonds from pit to shelf creating confidence in the buyer that the origin of any diamond is known, and is conflict free.
"Yes, Sierra Leone has made some progress since joining the Kimberley Process," says Mr. Abu Brima, National Coordinator of the Campaign for Just Mining, a group monitoring Sierra Leone's mining sector. "But the Kimberley Process is just one minute aspect of the mining industry. Smuggling is still rampant – the borders between Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia are so porous – and control of diamond production has been ignored. The conditions of miners have not been taken into account and land degradation and destruction is completely out of control. These are areas the Kimberley Process certainly has no power to deal with."
Sierra Leone's government says it pleaded with the filmmakers to recognize the progress made since the war.
"We asked them to say at the end of the film that the country is now peaceful, the war has ended, and there are no more blood diamonds," says Mr. Wurie. "But Hollywood did not listen."