For brief, fleeting moments almost every decade now, the rich world tends to embrace Africa as a pet project. Africa as the object of the fantasies of the West is an old pathology, and it is not limited to the entertainment industry--though Hollywood has represented its most crude and egregious form in recent decades.
By the end of 2006, Africa became "suddenly hot" to the entertainment industry, to use the appropriately frivolous words of The New York Times. Before the end of the year, the continent somehow managed to attract the interest of big-name stars--and therefore big media--beginning with Bono, then Clay Aiken, Jessica Simpson, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Madonna, and a few others.
Ed Zwick, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly took the pathology a step higher (or lower), coming from nowhere and seeming to adopt a whole country, Sierra Leone. Their Blood Diamond, a film that purports to recreate the horrors that befell Sierra Leone mainly in 1990s, came out just before Christmas.
The producers of this film claim that the intention is to save Sierra Leone (and countries like it) from the predatory degradation of diamond hunters and their wretched native allies who pressgang children into their militia and commit unspeakable atrocities.
There was a time, a few years back, when films like Blood Diamond would have been most welcome, not least by the long-suffering people of Sierra Leone.
The diamond-fuelled war in the country began in 1991, but scarcely got a mention in most of the world's media until 1999, after RUF fighters attacked and nearly destroyed Freetown, the country's capital. Their campaign was distinguished by gratuitous attacks on civilians, including the crude mutilations of women and children.
It is nearly five years since the war ended, and the country is planning to conduct its second democratic elections, in July. Sierra Leone's economy has registered marked improvement: growth for the past two years has been at 7%. Its critical diamond industry, while still problematic, is much improved.
In 2006, after rigorous application of the international control system, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), Sierra Leone officially exported over $140m worth of diamonds, about the same as in the previous year, and doubling that for 2004. In 1999, at the height of the war, official export was slightly more than $1m.
That diamonds, universal symbol of love, can actually be...