A pastor has just found the second largest diamond mined in Sierra Leone weighing 709 carats. The diamond is the talk of town and of course the stories abound. My mother said to me her neighbour claimed the diamond was the size of a football, which I immediately dismissed as fiction. Her neighbour also believed it to be the largest diamond ever found here which she believed would somehow mean an end to Sierra Leone's woes as a nation. This is also untrue - the largest weighed 969 carats and was found in 1972. The truth is that finds of this nature and the expected wealth they can produce are not alone a solve for problems. Finally, after debunking all of the reported diamond myths my mother asked me "So they have found a large diamond. How come we remain poor?"
My country like many other West African states has been blessed with great natural resources. We have iron ore, bauxite, arable land, rutile, gold and of course diamonds. However, the sad reality is that these resources have often proven to be the source of more trouble than good.
The diamond find not only highlights the tremendous blessing Sierra Leone has as a nation, but also how much more we need to do to realise the full potential of that blessing. Lack of real investment in our young people, our human resources and skills training means again that the diamond will likely leave Sierra Leone in raw form with no value added or jobs created, just like the rutile, and iron ore we export. The Africa we see contrasts with the vision Kwame Nkrumah painted, Sir Milton negotiated and Patrice Lumumba gave his life for.
"Mining can account for an important share of output and export earnings, but often contributes relatively little to budget revenues and job creation[.]" per Keynote Address by Christine Lagarde. I am excited that my nation has produced the 4th largest diamond in the world and that this pastor has found a diamond of some global significance. Yet it breaks my heart that as we approach 56 years of independence we are still unable to add real value to a diamond found. Our only way out of this mire is our most precious resource, our young people. We need to rethink our strategy for growth and development, we must give priority to improving the educational infrastructure and drive more investment to our young people. This way if there is another find 45 years later and it must leave our nation, we have skilled people who can add value to it, before it leaves.