The government of Sierra Leone rejected a $7.8 million bid for one of the world’s largest diamond, discovered in the West African country in March by a 39-year-old preacher, Emmanuel Momoh.
Proceeds from the sale of the egg-sized stone will be a welcome injection into an economy battered by Ebola and struggling with high unemployment, corruption and poor infrastructure.
Momoh, who is also an artisanal miner, hopes it sells for a better price so he can use his cut to build a church in his hometown.
Part of the returns from the sale of one of the world’s largest diamonds will go towards building a church in Sierra Leone’s eastern Kono region, where it was found by Reverend Emmanuel Momoh.
The 39-year-old preacher and licensed artisanal miner said his cut belongs to the Lord.
“First of all, I will pay tithes to God in appreciation and then I will take the rest of the money that belongs to me to help to build the work of God,” he said.
But Momoh’s plans must remain on hold for a while longer after the much-anticipated auction for the 706-carat gem fizzled on Thursday, when the government of Sierra Leone rejected a $7.8 million bid for the egg-sized stone, saying it failed to meet its own valuation.
The diamond – one of the largest uncut stones ever discovered was handed over to President Ernest Bai Koroma by a local chief on behalf of Momoh.
Koroma thanked the chief who acted as an intermediary for not smuggling it out of the country.
Diamonds fuelled a decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone that ended in 2002 in which 50,000 people were killed. Rebels forced civilians in the east to mine the stones and bought weapons with the proceeds, leading to the term ‘blood diamonds’.
The country has been peaceful since the war, with three successful democratic elections.
The United Nations lifted a ban on diamond exports from Sierra Leone in 2003, but the sector remains plagued by smuggling.
“We are not politicians. We are religious people. But we see the effort, the impact of the government in our lands. I think there is no reason for us not to appreciate their efforts. So if we get any good things from our village, diamonds or whatever goods, we need to bring it to them,” said Momoh, whose decision to hand over the diamond to the government was met with surprise by many.
“We can go meet them and talk to them. But there is good effort and we should show that we appreciate everything that they do in our land, Kono district Sierra Leoneans hope Momoh’s find will bring some positive developments to an economy battered by Ebola and a collapse in iron ore prices.”
Sierra Leone’s gross national income per capita stood at 620 US dollars in 2015, according to World Bank data. High unemployment, corruption, and poor infrastructure persist in spite of progress and reforms.
Diamonds and agriculture form the backbone of Sierra Leone’s economy, which is expected to grow 5 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, as it continues to recover from the 2014 to 2016 Ebola epidemic that killed nearly 4,000 people.
“With all the wealth coming from Kono, we don’t see anything. So we want the government to try to at least build a polytechnic school or any university,” said one Freetown resident.
“I want the government to create good infrastructure, to create some schools, medical hospitals, and to empower the youth because the youth are suffering,” said another.
Despite its size, Momoh’s diamond is considerably smaller than the Cullinan diamond, which was found in South Africa in 1905. That 3,106-carat stone was cut into several polished gems and the two largest pieces are part of Britain’s crown jewels.
A 1,111-carat diamond was unearthed in a Botswana mine in 2015.