Stones of Contention: A History of Africa's Diamonds

In This Review

Stones of Contention: A History of Africa's Diamonds
By Todd Cleveland
Ohio University Press, 2014
240 pp. $26.95

Africa produces more than half of the world’s diamonds. As Cleveland’s book makes clear, a combination of high value and low volume makes the stones a destabilizing resource, and the concept of “blood diamonds” has become a familiar trope in African affairs. But this concise history of the African diamond trade, which began with the discovery of a diamond in South Africa in 1867, evinces a more nuanced understanding of its impact on the continent. An excellent chapter on Botswana, the single largest producer of diamonds, makes clear that in some circumstances, the precious stones can be a force for economic development and state building, if a government converts its diamond revenues into productive investments in education, health, and infrastructure—as Botswana’s has done. The book also includes a fascinating chapter on the history of De Beers, the South African diamond company that, according to Cleveland, has long exerted tight control over global prices by stockpiling uncut diamonds and limiting the number available on the market at any given time.

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