An African church minister who supplements his meagre stipend by scrabbling for minerals in the artisanal mines of eastern Sierra Leone has discovered one of the largest diamonds ever found.

The 709-carat stone was extracted this week by Emmanuel Momoh, a pastor in one of the myriad churches that ministers to the mining communities of Kono district, the diamond centre that became the crucible of Sierra Leone’s blood-soaked civil war.

It is believed to be the 13th largest uncut diamond ever to be pulled from the ground, industry analysts said.

The stone is to be auctioned, the Sierra Leonean government announced yesterday, although its value cannot be determined until its quality is assessed. An 813-carat diamond was sold at closed auction in London last month for £51m.

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.

That the discovery was instead made by one of the thousands of ordinary men and boys who toil bare-chested under the relentless equatorial sun — a man of the cloth, no less — will be taken by many as an answer to the fervent prayers whispered daily in Kono’s churches.

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.

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.

The exploitation in Kono during the war was given a fictional treatment in “Blood Diamond”, a film starring the Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of Sierra Leone, promised that the auction of the diamond would be transparent and praised Mr Momoh “for not smuggling the diamond out of the country”. He also promised that Mr Momoh would be rewarded.

Although big, the 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.

Credit: Uk Telegraph


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