Geopolitics

African Blood Diamonds For Sale On Facebook And WhatsApp

African Blood Diamonds For Sale On Facebook And WhatsApp
Joan Tilouine

They don't hide in the abyss of the Dark Web. From Bangui, Beirut, Bordeaux or elsewhere, they use social media to promote their products and services. They are blood diamond community managers from the Central African Republic, traffickers of gems that cannot be legally exported and that are for sale on Facebook and Whatsapp.

One of them, Sader, says he lives in Beirut. He drives a large 4x4 and loves dollars, cigars and Hezbollah propaganda videos. On his Facebook page, he posts pictures of gold bars on a scale showing 10 kilograms, and a multitude of diamonds spread out on trays.

In a WhatsApp conversation with an investigator from the NGO Global Witness pretending to be a buyer, Sader talks about his trafficking:

"I have three stones in Kinshasa. If you come with me to Cameroon and you take the plane tickets I reserved for you, they will come here tomorrow to my place in Lebanon and then they go back to Cameroon from where I'm bringing the pink 11 carat pink diamond for 450,000 euros. If you want, I can send you pictures. Do you agree in principle?"

— Who are those guys?

— They're my teams, they come and go. You know, we, in Africa, create a kind of a work family, a collective. There are people in the mines, people in Europe, people in offices (...). They are part of a chain, we work with them. Most of them are in France. Their parents live in Cameroon. And that's how it is. We have a whole chain. You understand?

— Yeah, I understand. All the diamonds come from the Central African Republic then?

— Yes, all of them. If you want, I can send you the picture right away. (...) You pay 3,500 euros (...). They come here, to Lebanon, and then go to Cameroon and then bring the pink to your place, in Belgium, wherever you are.

— I have to talk to my partner about it…

— You have to be quick. (...) You have to say yes or no now, you can't make me wait (...). Apart from the pink, I have a gorgeous batch of white and yellow five-carat gems and more coming right out of the Central Africa Republic. If you want to enter the game, it has to be now.

— And there's no risk of getting caught at the airport?

— Never. They were in Brussels yesterday; now they're home in Bordeaux. They're French, Belgians, of African descent.

— And what about the Kimberley Process?

— There's no problem with Kimberley. With or without it, we bring them where we want.

An array of illicit items being sold on Facebook– Photo: via Facebook

Sader sounds at ease and relaxed, if somewhat in a hurry to complete the transaction. This is despite the fact that he is offering to traffic diamonds that are forbidden for export; gems that bypass the Kimberley Process, the international regulation for certifying rough diamonds that made it possible, in June 2015, to lift part of the embargo on the Central African Republic. This easing of the rules applies only to certain zones. But Sader does not care and posts his gems on Facebook.

Financing armed militias

Like many other diamond traffickers in the Central African Republic, embargo or not, "with our without Kimberley," Sader buys and exports stones found in the soil of the country, which has been at war for the past four years. Before the fall of President François Bozizé, overthrown in March 2013 by a coalition of Séléka rebels, the diamond economy, with a production over a million carats a year, fed almost a quarter of the country's population, directly or indirectly.

The illegal exploitation of this resource has helped finance armed groups. According to UN experts, 140,000 carats have illegally left the Central African Republic between May 2013 and the end of 2014. And the Séléka have rushed to control diamond regions, leaving some of its generals, like Omar Younous, in charge of working mines and exporting stones to Dubai, Qatar, Sudan and China.

Sader has offices in Antwerp, Belgium, and in Sierra Leone, but Facebook has become his new vitrine for attracting buyers and traders, and sometimes for meeting future partners who could be interested in "putting down 500,000 euros' to work with him in international diamond trafficking.

Of the seven dealers Global Witness contacted, including five Central Africans, only two said they abided fully by the Kimberley Process, according to a recently published report, "A Game of Stones." Others brag about sending packages, the largest of which exceeded 900 carats, to Brazil, France, China, Israel, Lebanon, Sierra Leone or South Africa.

"These online tools give them the ability to quickly create a network of partners to bring Central African diamonds to the international market," Aliaume Leroy, a campaign leader for Global Witness, says. "Establishing this supply chain used to take a long time, but today, with social media, it only takes a few seconds."

Ahead of the game

Facebook has repeatedly emerged as a popular platform for African criminals. In Nigeria, you can buy barrels of oil of questionable provenance, but probably coming from stock stolen by armed groups from the Niger Delta or the region's many refineries, on closed Facebook groups. In Libya, arms dealers offer any caliber of weapon on Facebook, like RPGs, handguns, automatic weapons and even ground-to-air missiles, according to a 2016 study by the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey.

Blood diamonds being offered for sale on Facebook – Photo: via. Facebook

These digital showrooms keep cyber-diamond-dealers ahead of the game. The selling techniques for Central African gems have taken governments and international organizations by surprise, but the routes themselves have not really changed, as one dealer explains:

"We pick up all the diamonds on the rebels' side (...) because they are even cheaper there (...). There's often a rebel chief there, he welcomes the traffickers (...)."

Then the stones are sent to Cameroon by land or air. Some traffickers offer logistical services between the two countries. Global Witness, who conducted investigations in Cameroon in 2014, recalls being assured, "We'll send people by motorbike, for example, to Berberati (a city in the West less than 100 kilometers from the border) to pick up the diamonds and then deliver them to you." In Cameroon, these diamonds are "naturalized" as Cameroonian, and thereby become "legitimate" on the international market.

Global Witness has advised the Central African authorities to confiscate diamond stocks and develop reliable tracking systems with Kimberley Process agents, and to call for the Special Criminal Court to investigate diamond trafficking with the help of the International Criminal Court.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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