“Le DDII a un programme ambitieux qui, si réussi, pourrait être très important pour les vies des centaines de milliers de mineurs arisanaux de diamant en Afrique.”

Baudouin Ihéta Musombo, Ministry of Mines, DRC

The Issues

A large number of actors:

A huge number of people, mostly young men, work in the alluvial diamond fields of Africa. In Sierra Leone there may be as many as 120,000. In the Congo, the government estimates 700,000. In Angola, despite the expulsion of illicit Congolese diggers, there may still be 150,000. Taken together with diggers in Guinea, Ghana and elsewhere, there are probably a million African artisanal alluvial diamond diggers. There are perhaps another 200,000 in Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela. The number of artisanal alluvial diamond miners can be placed conservatively at a million; it may actually be half again as high. As in other types of mining, there are more people involved in informal diamond mining than there are in the formal sector.

Despite its size and importance, the informal diamond mining sector is characterized by deep poverty and other social ill:

Almost all artisanal miners are unregistered, unregulated and unprotected. Most work for nothing except what they are lucky enough to find. Their work is dirty, hard, sometimes dangerous, and it produces little more than a couple of hundred dollars a year for most diggers. In fact, the competitive scramble in a largely informal economy only serves to drive prices down at the pit level, creating a lucrative business for middlemen.

Children are widely involved; residents of the mining areas complain of environmental degradation, water pollution, and the influx of a migrant labour force with high rates of prostitution and HIV/AIDS. Family and societal violence follow. And most alluvial diamond diggers lead hard, insecure, dangerous and unhealthy lives. With average earnings of less than a dollar a day they fall squarely into the broad category of "absolute poverty".

The Artisanal Mining Poverty Trap

The informal diamond mining sector is a breeding ground for insecurity:

In addition to the standard kinds of insecurity that result from poverty, underemployment and overcrowding, the unregulated diamond mining areas of Sierra Leone, Angola, the DRC and elsewhere present other security challenges. Attempts by government to deal with illegal miners have often resulted in violence. And the mining areas have attracted more than young men looking for diamonds. They have attracted unscrupulous buyers, money launderers, weapons and drug traffickers, and rebel armies. Without better regulation and development, these threats remain. Mineral resources respect no boundaries.

* UNDP: United Nations Development Programme - "Artisanal Mining for Sustainable Livelihoods", 1999

The importance of artisanal diamond mining to the overall economy of several countries:

Despite the low levels of revenue generated for governments from artisanal alluvial diamond mining, the Antwerp value of such diamonds may be as high as a billion dollars annually. This generates income for at least a million artisanal diggers or more, and their families. It also generates investment in the local economy. It can therefore be extremely important from a survival and a development perspective.

The importance of artisanal diamond mining to the diamond industry at large:

Artisanal miners produce between ten and fifteen per cent of the diamonds that go into the jewellery shops of London, Tokyo, Paris and New York. They are an important part of the diamond industry.

Successful investments could yield important dividends:

Given the number of people involved, and given the half century of destabilization fostered by unregulated informal diamond economies, any successful investment could yield major dividends for miners, governments, the general population of diamond producing countries and the industry. Real change could reduce the chaos and instability that the diamond fields spawn. At a minimum, diamonds could produce decent incomes for hundreds of thousands of families, rather than unsafe, unhealthy, badly-paid piecework.

The Millennium Development Goals