This man of the cloth juggles saving souls and alluvial mining.
He honourably handed the diamond to President Ernest Bai Koroma. That is not how things used to be in this west African country, during its long civil war fuelled by conflict diamonds. It was not “as in Americabling-bling, but bling-bang!”
These were some of the quips from the lead character in a 2006 flick, Blood Diamonds. The character is a soldier-turned-diamond-smuggler Danny Archer, played by Leonardo di Caprio.
After years of moonlighting as a mercenary diamond merchant for all sorts of corrupt army generals and dodgy dealers, he muses: “Will God ever forgive us for what we have done to each other? Then I look around and I realise, God left this place a long time ago.”
Perhaps it was the case of leave of absence, Danny! Since the return to civilian rule in 2004, Sierra Leone has held at least 4 democratic elections and mounted an aggressive recovery plan.
The current head of state, a former insurance business executive, has managed to continue the rebuilding, attract younger more professional politicians and investors to restore the infrastructure and exploit the resources – which were evidently not depleted during the era of conflict diamonds.
We are talking 706carat gems still up for grabs for alluvial miners – who are willing to hand over their finds to the authorities.
Koroma has promised this spectacular diamond will be auctioned transparently. I believe him. He thanked Paramount Chief Paul N Saquee V of Tankoro, where the diamond was found, and his people for resisting the temptation to smuggle the stone out of Sierra Leone, as probably still happens in other instances.
That is a sign of public confidence in the new order; and that is one active ingredient in reversing or undoing the resource curse.
The game was different in the era of conflict diamonds, as the world saw in Blood Diamonds. Back then, it was every alluvial miner for himself.
Archer at one point was forced to work with Solomon Vandy (portrayed by Djimon Hounsou) – who was desperate to rescue his son from the clutches of warlord and child-soldier commander Captain Poison.
Vandy, like the current pastor Momoh, had found a massive stone and hidden it from Poison. Archer helped him to search for the diamond, with Poison and his child soldiers in pursuit.
Vandy wanted the stashed diamond as his only chance of escaping from Poison, while Archer saw it as his retirement plan; he already had buyers in Cape Town.
Poison promised to destroy Vandy’s family unless he surrendered the diamond.
In between smuggling diamonds and buying weapons, Poison was busy recruiting child soldiers and amputating the arms of those unwilling or unfit to fight his dirty war.
He justified his human rights violations with the words: “You think I am a devil, but only because I have lived in hell.”
That was the Sierra Leone of the 1990s.
Between 1991 and 2000, after former army corporal Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front had ousted President Joseph Saidu Momoh, civil war followed, pushed the country to the brink of extermination. Later in 2014, an outbreak of Ebola rattled the country and region, but was contained.
That is why this small gesture by the pastor in declaring diamonds to the authorities is critical in post-conflict Sierra Leone.
The world, and investors in Sierra Leone’s mining industry – like Trustco Holdings – need to believe there are systems in place to promote transparent mining.
The country is a long way from even quantifying its true mineral potential, but at least this is a great start. May it sustain it long enough to turn the corner, beyond Koroma’s second term!
Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business and anchor of Power Hour, Monday to Thursday, on Power FM; and weekly columnist for Sunday Independent - Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica.