From Director Pete Moi Conteh:
A few years ago when I made ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ I was asked to write some words to introduce the film, here’s what I came up with:
For me the contrast between the perception of diamonds as a girl's best friend, the ultimate gift of undying love; and the reality of the diamond pipeline: stones extracted from the dirt, diggers paid in cups of rice, served as an initial stimulus for this project. On a more personal level, as a born Sierra Leonean, the recent end of the country's civil war, afforded me the opportunity to travel to the diamondiferous areas where the conflict had been concentrated.
The ten years of civil war were primarily a struggle between rebel forces, loosely organised under the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and those loyal to the government. The RUF funded their campaign by seizing control of the diamond-producing districts of Kono and Tongo fields; thus linking any investigation into the gem trade in Sierra Leone to the recently halted conflict. I was curious to discover the exact role of diamonds in the civil war, how the gems were mined, who was buying the illicitly mined 'blood diamonds,' and how they were smuggled from Sierra Leone into the global market.
I see the resulting film as an anthropologically informed current affairs program. Revealing the murky world of the diamond pipeline in Sierra Leone, 'Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes' focuses on how gems are mined, sold and exported from the country. It is also an exploration of the appalling conditions in which the diamonds are mined. During the recent civil war armed-militia forced people to dig for diamonds using guns paid for with the very stones they were mining for, in conditions that could and did claim lives.
In the diamond mines of Koidu, northeastern Sierra Leone, involvement in diamond mining is a way of life for many; children and adults labour long hours digging, 'tripping' and sifting through muddy gravel. This harshness is not unusual in this impoverished part of the world; exploitation and child labour are a way of life, but dreams of sudden wealth inure people to the daily hardship. Gems mined here are bought and sold by dealers in Bo, Kenema and Freetown before being smuggled and sold into the international diamond pipeline.
The strong characters I met through contacts and fixers I had already established bring this story to life. From Ali Fofanah working in terrible conditions for a pittance in alluvial mines around Koidu, to dealers such as Idris - a diamond 'exporter' plying his trade in Sierra Leone. Over the course of two months I intimately followed and filmed these people, learning about the lives of diggers and gem-dealers. This experience of in-depth research and my heritage meant I had intimate access to the diamond-trade and the cultures surrounding it in Sierra Leone; 'Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes' reveals an unseen side to the global trade in diamonds, documenting the everyday lives of diggers, dealers and exporters.
Reviewing the film today, seven years later, it strikes me how little things have changed in Sierra Leone. As the country enters its fifty-first year of independence, civil war, ‘blood diamonds’ and war tribunals are still topics most people associate with this part of the world. With Charles Taylor recently found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during his time as president of neighboring Liberia, it seems Sierra Leoneans, at home and abroad may start to feel able to utilise the country’s resources to build the infrastructure necessary to develop the country.
As is usual when watching something made a while ago, each over-exposed sequence, each dropped frame makes you wish you’d spent those few extra minutes on location or in edit to correct these perceived errors. On one hand they point to the incomplete nature of the filmmakers skills, on the other – a point of view I’m starting to come round to – these inconsistencies match the corrupt nature of topic, the diamond trade itself.