Inside the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Diamond Mines by TIME

Photographer Lynsey Addario was on assignment for TIME in the DRC

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, almost all diamond mining is done by hand.

It’s a labor-intensive process that requires hauling away layers of dirt and rock, sometimes 50 feet deep, to expose ancient beds of gravel where the crystals are found. Miners then wash and sift that gravel one shovelful at a time in search of tiny glints of light that might be a diamond. If they are lucky, a peppercorn-size crystal could fetch them a few dollars, once the mine owner gets his take. In New York’s diamond district such a gem, cut and polished, would be worth several hundred dollars. Lynsey Addario and I journeyed to the heart of Congo’s diamond mining district in August to report on an $81.4 billion industry that links the miners of Tshikapa with the glittering salesrooms of the world’s jewelry retailers.

It was an arduous trip, one that required an internal flight on an airline that has been blacklisted by the European Union for its shaky safety record, followed by long 4×4 drives on red dirt tracks down to the mining sites. Sometimes we had to take motorbikes, or boats, to reach the mines. Some of the richest gravel beds can be found at the bottom of the rivers that snake through the region. There, miners siphon gravel from deep under water using pumps mounted on rickety pontoons.

In January, the provincial government banned child labor in Tshikapa’s diamond mines, but with few other options for income, along with a lack of schools, many children, like 15-year-old Mbuyi Mwanza, have no choice but to work in the mines. Mwanza wants to grow up to be a nurse, but for the moment he is more concerned about feeding his family. His father, who is blind, cannot work. Stories like this abound in the region, but one organization is hoping to make a difference. The Diamond Development Initiative (DDI), along with diamond jewelry retailer Brilliant Earth, has set up a pilot program for young students at risk of sacrificing their education to work in the mines. Right now there are only two Brilliant Mobile Schools, as they are called, in Tshikapa, and demand is high. DDI hopes to build more, if they can raise more funds. In the meantime the children of Lungudi village look on with envy as the Brilliant students, dressed in school uniforms, take classes in science, French, history and math in the tented classroom.

Tshikapa, population 600,000, betrays nothing of the wealth that lies beneath the ground. None of the roads are paved, not even the airport runway. The local hospital often turns patients away because it can’t afford to treat them for free, and they can’t afford to pay. According to the mayor, at least half the population has abandoned agriculture in favor of mining, leaving fields fallow and keeping the cost of basic food items high. Hundreds of miners die every year in drowning accidents and tunnel collapses that are seldom reported, because they happen so often. In the mining village of Kamabue, the local pastor tells the story of how a few years ago more than 60 miners searching an underwater grotto for diamonds in the nearby river were killed when the walls collapsed. He often urges his congregation to stay away from mining, but what is the point, he asks. There are few alternatives.
Sixty-one-year-old Daniel Tunuanga got his lucky break as a miner 40 years ago, when he and his partner found a 4.6 carat diamond. They never returned to the mines. Instead, they sold the stone and opened up their own diamond buying business. It’s not a lucrative job, says Tunuanga, but it’s still better than digging.

Within days of news breaking of the murder of Cecil the lion, a global petition calling for justice for the cat – said to be the largest lion in Hwange National Park– has garnered over 300 000 signatures. International media has diligently reported the latest news on the situation with updates on the American dentist, Walter Palmer, who is responsible for the trophy hunt coming in thick and fast. Additionally, #CeciltheLion has trended on Twitter, with #JeSuisCecil also featuring prominently.For many Zimbabweans, international focus on Cecil stands in stark contrast to the barely audible attention paid to Itai Dzamara, a local anti-state activist who has been missing for over four months. Or to the precarious status of unregulated local street vendors as police mount a crackdown on their activities. Or to Sangulani Chikumbutso, a high-school dropout who has become the first Zimbabwean to design and manufacture a hybrid helicopter and electric vehicle. It is the deepest irony that in a time when the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to gain traction in highlighting the differential scales used to value human lives, the world should cast its eye on Zimbabwe for its wildlife, with no thought or concern for its people.

TW: war, death

On Aug. 13, 2004, more than 150 Congolese refugees were slaughtered in a brutal massacre at the Gatumba Refugee Camp in Burundi. Ten years later survivors are rebuilding their lives in the U.S. and using their newfound freedom of speech to advocate for an end to the cycle of violence in the region.


Artist turns Ghana’s symbol of scarcity into political art

In Ghana yellow gallon containers occupy a central position as a signal of shortage. Under President Kufuor, the yellow gallon container became necessary for storing water under the serious shortages that characterised his term. Currently, under the leadership of President Mahama, the gallons have become a symbol of fuel shortage.

Acutely aware of his surroundings and the prevalence of the gallons in Ghanaian communities, artist Serge Attukwei Clottey began to reimagine the use of these objects as part of an artistic movement. He is using the yellow oil, to grapple with issues surrounding the environmental, politics and culture in Ghana through a concept that the artist calls Afrogallonism.


Detained for a dream: Inhumane treatment in Malawi’s prisons

Hundreds of African foreign nationals are detained in Malawi’s central prisons for months on end while trying to make the challenging journey to South Africa.

Xenophobic violence against African foreign nationals and a recent government clampdown on undocumented migrants does not extinguish the alluring glimmer of hope that South Africa represents, particularly to desperate people facing unliveable conditions in impoverished countries. The journey south is fraught with extreme challenges, including detention for months on end. In Malawi’s Maula Central Prison, in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, nearly 300 foreigners, mostly Ethiopians, are incarcerated as illegal migrants.

A young boy leaning on a wall turns to me: “My dream is to reach South Africa; this is what I have worked towards for years. I knew it would be difficult, but I never thought I’d end up here. I thought Africans were all brothers. But here … here it seems different.” He stares at me – as if questioning for the first time what he had always thought to be true.



For Women’s Month we are profiling inspiring  women who are making a difference in Africa. In keeping with the theme of #makeithappen we’re bringing you one woman a day for the entire month – innovators, creatives, entrepreneurs and influencers. Today we get to know Ivorian photographer, Joana Choumali. In her recent series, titled Hââbré, the Last Generation, she documents the last generation of African citizens with the disappearing practice of facial scarification.

(Read the rest of the interview here…)