A Pastor in Sierra Leone has discovered one of the largest diamonds ever found and has turned it over to the government, saying he hopes it helps to boost recent development in his impoverished nation.
Pastor Momoh supplements his meagre stipend by scrabbling for minerals in the artisanal mines of eastern Sierra Leone where he discovered the largest uncut diamond ever found in more than four decades in the West African country. However, it is not yet very clear how the pastor came across the diamond.
According to industry analysts, it is believed to be the 13th largest uncut diamond ever to be pulled from the ground and the second largest diamond found in Sierra Leone. In 1972, the 968.9-carat Star of Sierra Leone was found by miners and sold for about $2.5 million.
Speaking to the media, Pastor Momoh said he turned in the diamond because he was touched by the development being undertaken in Kono District, where the gem was found. He cited road construction and improvements to electricity after almost 30 years of blackouts. In his words:
“I believe the government can do more, especially at a time when the country is undergoing some economic challenges.”
Presidential spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay said Pastor Emmanuel Momoh found the 706-carat alluvial diamond in Yakadu village in Sierra Leone’s diamond-rich east, and presented it to President Ernest Bai Koroma on Wednesday.
President Ernest Bai Koroma expressed appreciation that there was no attempt to smuggle the gem out of the country, and encouraged others to emulate the pastor’s example. He promised the diamond would be sold to the highest bidder and whatever is due to the owner and government would be distributed accordingly.
Bayraytay said the diamond has not yet been valued and has been placed in the Bank of Sierra Leone. He disclosed that the president has given “clear instructions to the Ministry of Mines that the evaluation, sale and distribution of the proceeds must be done in the most transparent manner.”
However big Pastor Momoh’s discovery is, his 706-carat alluvial diamond is still dwarfed by the 3,106-carat Cullinan Diamond discovered in South Africa in 1905 and never matched since. It was later cut into several gems, two of which have been set into the Crown Jewels.
That such a discovery was made by one of the thousands of ordinary men and boys who toil bare-chested under the relentless equatorial sun — a pastor in one of the myriad churches — will be taken by many as an answer to the fervent prayers whispered daily in Kono’s churches.
By rights, the stone should have been found by one of the internationally-financed companies operating in the Kono diamond fields. With their huge Caterpillar bulldozers, dredges and industrial water pumps, the big firms certainly had the technological advantage.
With the virtuous vicar then handing the stone to the authorities, it may also strike many as an act of propitiation, a moment when Sierra Leone symbolically distanced itself from the diamond-driven bloodlust of its 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002.
Kono district, is the diamond centre that became the crucible of Sierra Leone’s blood-soaked civil war. Tens of thousands of enslaved Sierra Leoneans spent much of that brutal decade hunched over hand shovels in the mud, forced to dig for diamonds to fund a rebellion mounted by a Liberian-backed warlord, Foday Sankoh.
Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front punished those who resisted it by cutting off limbs, ears and genitals or gouging out eyeballs. More than 100,000 people were killed and tens of thousands more were maimed before military intervention by Britain in 2000 turned the tide of the war in the government’s favour.
The exploitation in Kono during the war was given a fictional treatment in “Blood Diamond”, a film starring the Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio.