ROCK ISLAND — Augustana's resident expert on African history examined the violent origins of diamond mining during his talk "Is That Blood on Your Diamond?" on Wednesday at Cool Beanz Coffeehouse, 1325 30th St., Rock Island.|
Assistant Professor of History Todd Cleveland's lecture on blood diamonds was attended by about 20 college students and young professionals. It was part of the coffee shop's Class Uncorked lecture series, which features short and informal talks by Augustana professors.
Mr. Cleveland said his longest trip to Africa was a two-year stay in Angola in the early 2000s, at a time when the country was recovering from civil war. The history of the country was marred by violence and forced labor, usually targeting black African villagers, and placed the country among the worst offenders in the production of blood diamonds, he said.
"The diamond industry is historically opaque," Mr. Cleveland said. "There's very little transparency."
Industry leaders, such as De Beers, grew concerned about being labeled as "shadowy" organizations responsible for the reports of human rights violations gaining worldwide attention in the '90s, he said.
The diamond mining industry partnered with the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations in the early 2000s to create the Kimberley Process. The certification process aimed to prevent "conflict diamonds" — those mined in a war zone to finance military efforts — from entering the diamond market, Mr. Cleveland said.
Mr. Cleveland said some watchdog organizations criticize the process for providing too many loopholes for blood diamonds to wind up on the market. Critics add the United Nation's definition of "conflict diamonds" is too narrow, as it allows the trade of minerals mined in Zimbabwe that are tied to human rights violations.
This makes it difficult to say with certainty which diamonds are associated with bloodshed or financing insurgent military groups, even if they are certified, the historian said. "It may not be legitimately characterized as a 'conflict diamond.'"
"I'm not here to tell you not to buy a diamond," Mr. Cleveland said, adding mining is more tightly regulated in other parts of the world.
Countries such as Russia, Brazil and Australia are a few diamond-producing countries that are not experiencing the residual effects colonization had on many African countries in which villagers have been forced into labor.
"It sort of depends on where your diamonds come from," he added.
Cool Beanz owner Annette Zapolis said she was pleased with the reception of the second Class Uncorked lecture. She added she hopes future talks will spark new interests, as the series draws inspiration from the online collection of video think-pieces, TED Talks.
Cool Beanz plans to host its third Class Uncorked lecture on March 26, with a talk themed "In search of Traditional Irish Music" by Adam Kaul, associate professor of Anthropology at Augustana.
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