“Blood Diamond” and Africa

by F.

Last night we went to see Blood Diamond and were pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The director, Edward Zwick, tends to be somewhat sentimental (see, e.g., The Last Samurai), and there was some of that in Blood Diamond. But overall, it didn’t detract much.

The performances were really good. Leonardo DiCaprio was amazing. When we heard his accent in his first scene, I thought, “There is no way he’s going to be able to keep that up for 120 minutes.” But he did and it was convincing (to an American English speaker). Djimon Hounsou was pretty good. Jennifer Connelly, as usual, stank. What’s going on with the casting director—are you high? Why not Laura Linney, Kate Winslet—anyone whose face actually expressed emotion. Connelly’s face tends to look like a botoxed piece of rubber.

The plot is excellent, too. Really good story, quickly told, which reminds me again how good the average movie is. The editing was crisp.

I did wonder, though, how factually accurate the movie was. Clearly, conflict diamonds are a real issue, as is the De Beers cartel. They’ve gone on a propaganda offensive with their site DiamondFact.org. Unfortunately, the closing credits didn’t mention any sources for the movie. But it wouldn’t be hard to get to the bottom of the story, which I may do (and post about) later. The De Beers cartel, and the marketing of diamonds, is a fascinating—and absurd—story, from what I have read so far.

But beyond diamonds, the movie made me think generally about why Africa is so broken. Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford, has a book called The Bottom Billion, which will be published soon, I believe. He points out Africa’s three biggest problems:

  1. African economies don’t focus on low-cost manufacturing, an area in which they have a comparative advantage;
  2. Gains from African resource extraction haven’t been used to boost economic growth, partly because of corruption; and
  3. There are lots of wars.

So the next obvious question is, “What’s to be done?” First, trade preferences:

African exports need to be pump-primed over the entry threshold constituted by these competing agglomerations and this needs a temporary advantage over Asia in markets of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Both Europe and the US already provide this through programmes such as Everything-but-Arms (EBA) and the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa)…. Africa needs pan-OECD temporary preferential access for its labour-intensive manufactures, combining the best of EBA and Agoa.

Second, international standards to combat corruption:

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), launched in 2002, is a modest but useful beginning. Nigerian reformers promptly adopted EITI as their benchmark for change, but EITI remains severely limited in scope. Many international banks remain home to corrupt African money. There are no clear international standards for managing the savings decision out of windfalls, for procedures that award resource concessions, nor for transparency in public spending.

Third, peacekeeping and security forces:

Peacekeeping works, significantly reducing the alarmingly high risk of conflict reversion. So do security guarantees: for the 30 years that France provided them informally to its former colonies, their incidence of civil war was only a third of what might have been expected. Both peacekeeping and security guarantees should be conditional upon clear standards of governance that could be set by the African Union. The model is the provision of external security for Sierra Leone, about the most effective form of aid Europe has given to Africa.