The roads in Sierra Leone tell the story. There, the beginning of the diamond chain is also the best-paved stretch of road in the whole country. It runs between the towns of Bo and Kenema, in the heart of the country's eastern diamond fields. On Fridays and Saturdays, miners crowd into both towns to pick up supplies and negotiate with the dealers who are the next link in the diamond chain.
An American RadioWorks correspondent met with Rodney Michaels, one of those dealers. Rodney is Lebanese, like most of the diamond dealers in Sierra Leone. His great grandparents came here in the 1800s. He operates out of a tiny storefront. In his backroom office, there's an ancient air conditioner held together with duct tape and a fluorescent light pulled down low over a wooden table.
This afternoon, three men have brought in a diamond wrapped in a piece of paper. They put it on the table. Rodney takes out his glass, examines the stone and says "four eight for me."
What he means is that for this large stone 3.7 carats he will offer them $4,800 U.S. dollars. It may seem like a lot but at this stage of the diamond chain, a dozen or so people will take a cut even the paramount chief of the region.
At first, the men seem angry with Rodney's offer. One says, "I no like you!" Another has tears in his eyes. But finally, they shrug their shoulders, laugh, and accept the offer.
But the deal isn't done. Rodney says he won't buy the diamond unless they get a mining license. So they go, probably to find a miner with a license who will go in with them for a cut, of course. These men could be rebels but according to Rodney, RUF fighters are laying low these days.
"It's a very delicate situation and you have to be careful what you say. There was a time when the peace pact was signed, the rebels were allowed to come in and sell. But now," says Rodney, "you cannot buy a diamond from someone if they don't have mining license. They need documents. The rebels are not coming to Bo and Kenema and selling their diamonds. And even if they are it will be the very smallest goods. All the big diamonds are taken to Liberia and then god only knows."
According to United Nations (UN) reports, Liberia has been the main transit point for the rebel diamonds. It's easy to figure out, experts say, since Liberia produces almost no diamonds. Watchdog groups assert that until 1998, Liberia exported six million carats a year.
Next: Sierra Leone's Children