From the Pit to the Market: Politics and the Diamond Economy in Sierra Leone by Diane Frost (review)
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Reviewed by
Diane Frost. From the Pit to the Market: Politics and the Diamond Economy in Sierra Leone. Suffolk, UK: James Currey, 2012. xxi + 226 pp. ISBN 978-1-84701-060-5, $34.95 (cloth);

Diane Frost's From the Pit to the Market is a wide-ranging account of Sierra Leone's diamonds, past and present. The narrative takes readers from the country's mining centers to the global market for stones, regularly contextualizing the nation and its mineral resources in much broader, regional, and international processes. As such, Frost deftly navigates a remarkable amount of source material—including colonial archives and contemporary development reports from an array of international agencies—from which she crafts an accessible, if dense, text that offers utility to a number of different groups of readers.

At the onset, Frost indicates that the book will examine the "social, economic and political role that diamonds have played in Sierra Leone's development" (1) since their discovery during the British colonial period in the 1930s. To this end, she centers on diamonds as she takes the reader through the history of the colony-cum-independent nation. Readers will likely be at least somewhat familiar with the diamond-fueled violence that prompted the Hollywood film Blood Diamonds, as well as a variety of other popular culture contributions. In From the Pit, Frost expertly traces back through time to the origins of the conflict, residing in "more complex and deep-rooted historical, socio-economic and political factors" (1). In fact, this is one the book's core arguments. [End Page 460]

Frost's other framing argument resides beyond the conclusion of the country's brutal civil war, as she contends: "Sierra Leone has become the victim of resource predation as afar as diamonds are concerned as the search for valuable minerals or scarce resources continues unabated" (1). She subsequently paints a compelling picture of local elites and multinational mining companies colluding to enrich themselves while indifferently impoverishing the nation's populace and draining its finite mineral resources.

The book is organized into two parts, with the first focusing on different facets of Sierra Leone's diamond industry, past and present. The second places the nation's contemporary diamond industry in a global context to consider, for example, how these stones reach the market (both through legal and illicit means); the efficacy, or lack thereof, of the Kimberley Process (instituted to stem the flow of "blood" or "conflict" diamonds); and the ways in which international exploitative practices and policies adversely affect so many (even those individuals at the very bottom of the "diamond chain." Each part features a series of chapters that are well organized both topically and in terms of their respective lengths.

Frost is at her best when mining the secondary-source literature in order to examine, for example, debates regarding the origins and impetuses for Sierra Leone's protracted, horrific civil conflict in the 1990s and 2000s. She is seemingly equally as comfortable distilling United Nations and governmental reports into manageable bites so that the reader can better understand the ongoing, if oversimplified, debates regarding whether mineral resources constitute a "blessing or a curse" (13). Given her willingness to engage with these various source materials, it is difficult to associate the book with a particular discipline, which I would argue is actually one of the text's many strengths. Frost is a sociologist but one could imagine a political scientist or even a policy wonk eagerly consuming this work as well.

Frost's efforts to capture the voices of individuals involved in the contemporary mining and selling of diamonds in Sierra Leone should be applauded. The oral testimony she gathered illuminates aspects of this story that reports issued by international governing bodies routinely elide. However, Frost seems uncomfortable, and even defensive, deploying this oral evidence. At one point, she avers that this type of evidence is "not 'typical' in the objective, scientific sense" (121), implying that its analytical value is somehow inferior to the explanatory value of written forms of evidence. At another point, she places the word evidence in quotation marks when referring to the oral testimony she has gathered, which casts doubt...