When talking about diamonds’ origin, people usually connect diamonds with Africa. And it’s true – a lot of diamonds do come from Africa. The question is: Why does Africa have so many diamonds?
Well, simply put, Africa’s geological composition is the reason behind the abundance of these gorgeous gemstones.
However, a certain amount of diamonds that come from Africa have a dark history. Chances are you’ve heard about conflict diamonds, but what exactly are those?
In this article, we’ve covered answers to these – and many other – questions related to Africa’s diamonds. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
Geology: Why Is Africa Rich In Diamonds?
First off, for diamonds to form and travel closer to the Earth’s surface, there are several required conditions – and it would take a whole book to cover them all in detail.
But the point is: Africa is so rich in diamonds because it generally has the highest concentration of so-called volcanic pipes. These volcanic pipes are basically “Earth’s pores” containing certain types of rocks known as Kimberlite.
This rock transports the diamonds from the depths of the Earth’s mantle to the surface through eruptions that eject a column of overlaying material over the magma column in areas known as Cratons.
Are you managing to keep up so far? Anyway, these eruptions don’t form a substantial above-ground elevation like typical volcanoes do – picture it more like a mini volcano.
But diamonds don’t form in these rocks, though. For diamonds to form, you need another type of rock known as Lamproite and high pressure and temperature levels.
Now, the last Kimberlite eruption is believed to have taken place more than 25 million years ago. Some scientists note that most explosions occurred during the Cretaceous period – roughly 145 million to 65 million years ago.
Today, some of these eruption sights are submerged by the sea on the western coasts of Africa and are called Alluvial deposits.
With that being said, let’s cover the top five diamond mining countries in Africa.
Related Read: Diamond History: How They Form And How They’re Found
Botswana leads Africa’s list of diamond miners, including seven well-established mines such as Jwaneng (the world’s richest mine value-wise), Orapa (the world’s largest by area), Karowe, and Letlhakane.
The Jwaneng mine is owned by a partnership between the Botswana government and the famous De Beers company.
Diamonds contribute roughly around a quarter of Botswana’s GDP and count for more than half of its exports. De Beers controls virtually all sales of rough stones mined in Debswana through its diamond sorting and selling facility in Botswana’s capital Gaborone.
It’s reported that around 24 million carat weight of diamonds were produced during 2018 alone!
Diamonds were first discovered in Angola back in 1912.
However, a civil war founded by Angola’s diamond deposits lasted for many years, only coming to an end in 2002 and leaving most of Angola’s infrastructure damaged severely.
Catoca mine in Angola, controlled by Sociedade Mineira de Catoca, is a joint venture between a state-owned company Endiama, Chinese company Lev Leviev International, and Russia-based Alrosa.
The Lulo mine is another important mine in Angola, owned by Lucapa Diamond Company.
In 2018, the total amount of rough diamonds mined in Angola was about 8.4 million carats.
3. Democratic Republic Of Congo
DR Congo is the third-largest diamond-producing country in Africa, with most of the diamonds mined by smaller-scale artisanal miners.
The Forminiere Diamond mine and Bakwanga are two of Congo’s major mines. Sadly enough, political turmoil and corruption have cost Congo its wealth, with most diamonds mined here called “conflict diamonds” – which we will talk more about later on.
Most of the mines in Congo are established within rebel lands, where owners, unfortunately, often disregard human rights and labor laws.
It’s estimated that Congo produced 23.2 million carats in 2016.
4. South Africa
With the first diamond mine established by Cecil Rhodes back in 1888, diamond mining has been operating for more than 150 years in South Africa.
In 1905, the world’s biggest diamond was discovered in South Africa – the 3,016-carat Cullinan. This enormous stone was cut into nine pieces to decorate the British Crown Jewels.
Kimberley, Venetia, and Finsch diamond mines are some of the top mines in South Africa. The country’s diamond exports in 2016 were valued at more than $1.5 billion, with overall production exceeding 8.2 million carats.
Lastly, we have Namibia, fortified by Alexander Marine Mining, and Orange River Diamond Mines, owned by Namdeb.
More than half of the country’s foreign exchange is provided by diamond mining. However, recently its supplies of diamonds have become scarce, forcing Namibia to explore offshore mining.
Namdeb controls the land-based mines, while Debmarine Namibia handles the offshore mines. Profit margins have been reduced significantly, though, due to the additional costs of offshore operations.
Value is boosted by 13 manufacturing factories owned by Namdeb Holdings, which provide around 15% of diamond production.
In 2016, Namibia manufactured a total volume of almost 1.7 million carats of diamonds.
Related Read: Which Diamonds Are Famous In Africa?
What Are “Conflict Diamonds”?
Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, are stones that are mined in areas controlled by rebel forces that are in opposition to internationally recognized governments.
The rebels sell these stones, and the money is used to fund their military actions and purchase arms.
Conflict diamonds are often mined through the forced labor of not only men but also women and children. Furthermore, these diamonds are also stolen during shipment and seized by attacking the mining operations – and the attacks can often be on the scale of a large military operation.
The diamonds are then smuggled into the international diamond trade and sold.
Blood diamonds are often the primary source of rebel funding – but smugglers, arms merchants, and dishonest diamond sellers enable these actions.
Large sums of money are at stake – and bribes, threats, and violence are modes of operation. That’s why the term “blood diamonds” is used.
Even though many civil wars have now ended, violence in mines remains a serious problem – and many stones are still mined through severe human rights abuses.
Many of the world’s diamonds are collected using practices that exploit workers. Often, diamond miners in Africa earn less than a dollar a day, causing poverty and community-wide suffering.
And to add to it, miners work in hazardous conditions, usually without training, proper tools, and safety equipment.
Because of poor planning and regulation, diamond mining has caused immense environmental devastation, severely damaging land and water. Irresponsible mining has resulted in soil erosion and deforestation.
And in extreme conditions, diamond mining can lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems.
Related Read: Why Is Africa So Poor When They Have Diamonds?
What Is The “Kimberley Process”?
The flow of blood diamonds has originated mainly from Angola, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Liberia. The United Nations and other similar groups are working to stop the entry of blood diamonds into the worldwide diamond trade.
Their approach was to establish a government certification procedure called the “Kimberley Process.” This procedure requires each country to certify that diamond exports are manufactured through legitimate mining and sales activity.
All rough diamonds exported from these countries are to be accompanied by certificates which state that the diamonds were mined, sold, and exported through legitimate channels.
The certification process counts in all rough diamonds through every step of their movement – from mine to retail sale. Retail customers purchasing a cut diamond are encouraged to request a sales receipt stating that their stone originated from a conflict-free source.
Flaws In The Kimberley Process
This process claims to have solved conflict diamonds problems. However, it systematically ignores human rights abuses, environmental degradation, and worker exploitation.
The Kimberley process doesn’t require diamonds to be traced to their original mine, allowing smuggled rough diamonds to get “conflict-free” certification and enter the worldwide diamond trade.
Jewelers that offer “conflict-free” stones are limiting themselves to the definition of the Kimberley Process – which defines blood diamonds as rough diamonds used to finance military operations against governments.
This definition leaves out the numerous gems that are tainted by human rights abuses, violence, environmental degradation, poverty, and other issues.
What Can Companies Do?
Companies involved in diamond trading must check their supply chains to ensure that they don’t facilitate the diamond trade linked to human rights abuses, environmental degradation, or other harms.
It’s also up to them to ensure that these stones don’t enter worldwide markets.
What Can Consumers Do?
As for consumers, they should let jewelers know they care by asking a few essential questions.
Consumers should ask to see how the jewelers know they are sourcing diamonds responsibly and ask to see their human rights due-diligence report because, again, the Kimberley process certificate alone doesn’t guarantee anything.
How Much Do Blood Diamonds Cost?
No one can know for sure what conflict diamonds cost since they are sold on the black market; therefore, sales aren’t recorded. No country in the world allows selling conflict diamonds – not legally, anyway.
If we had to guess, though, we’d say that like most black market products, such as stolen items and knock-offs, those blood diamonds are probably selling for 10% of the actual price.
Tanzanite: The New Diamond?
Diamonds aren’t the only gems to come out of Africa’s mines. You’ll also find tanzanite mines located in an area of Merelani Hills, near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Tanzanite, a deep blue gemstone, is found in the African country Tanzania – the name tanzanite reflects the stone’s limited geographic origin. That said, “Tanzanite” is a trading name that Tiffany & Co. first used for gem-quality minerals named zoisite with a blue color.
Even though most of the word’s popular gemstones have been known and used for quite some time, tanzanite wasn’t discovered in commercial quantities until very recently in the 60s. Since then, tanzanite has become the second most popular blue gemstone – second only to sapphire.
What Causes Tanzanite’s Color?
Small amounts of vanadium within the zoisite are what causes the blue color of tanzanite. When vanadium-bearing zoisite is heated, the oxidation state changes, leading to – or enhancing – the blue color.
How Large Are Tanzanite Gems?
As with all other gemstones, small tanzanite stones are more abundant than bigger ones. Most faceted tanzanites are under 5 carats in weight.
Small gemstones are usually cut into calibrated sizes for commercial jewelry – and tanzanites with top-grade color are the most valuable and typically go into the custom or designer jewelry.
Larger stones with exceptional color are scarce and are usually owned by collectors, investors, and museums.
It’s worth noting that the size of tanzanite impacts its color: If you have two gemstones of equal saturation, the bigger one will have a richer color.
Why? The distance that light travels through it influences its perceived color.
In addition to its beauty, tanzanite requires special care due to some of its properties. Tanzanite is best suited for pendants, earrings, and other jewelry that won’t encounter impact or abrasion.
Therefore, it’s less suitable for rings.
Hardness describes the material’s resistance to scratching – and tanzanite has a hardness of 6.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. That’s low enough that the stone is vulnerable to being damaged during your everyday wear.
Toughness refers to material resistance to breakage. And again, tanzanite has one direction of perfect cleavage that could lead to the gem being chipped or broken if it suffers a sharp impact.
Why does Africa have so many diamonds?
As we explained, the reason for the abundance of diamonds in Africa would be the continent’s geological composition. Africa is rich in so-called “volcano pipes” that transfer diamonds from the depth of the Earth’s mantle to its surface.
Some of Africa’s countries with the most diamonds include Angola, DR Congo, and South Africa, all of which suffered civil wars and rebels funded by the blood diamonds. These blood diamonds, also known as “conflict diamonds,” are used to fund military operations and arms for the rebels.
Apart from diamonds, Africa is known for another extraordinary gem called tanzanite – which, true to its name, is mined in the country of Tanzania. And that’s where our story about Africa’s gems comes to an end.