Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Stones of Contention
A History of Africa’s Diamonds

By Todd Cleveland

“Teachers of African and world history will welcome the lucid style and topical introduction to historical issues. …Unlike the now dime-a-dozen summaries of African history, this book marshals a great deal of evidence, contains much substance, and provides some interesting perspectives. The temptation might be to consume the book at a single sitting. This would be a pity, for the tastiest morsels, in particular primary sources that relate labor experiences on colonial mines, should be savored.”

American Historical Review

“Todd Cleveland captures this long and important history in a lucid narrative that combines the big story of geopolitics and global economy with individual life stories and testimonies of representatives of the colonial states and mining companies as well as the voices of African labourers. The book is an easy read and very suitable for students, who will profit from the further reading suggestions.”

International Review of Social History

“As Cleveland’s book makes clear, a combination of high value and low volume makes the stones a destabilizing resource, and the concept of ‘blood diamonds’ has become a familiar trope in African affairs. But this concise history of the African diamond trade, which began with the discovery of a diamond in South Africa in 1867, evinces a more nuanced understanding of its impact on the continent.”

Foreign Affairs

“In Stones of Contention, Cleveland (Augustana College) skillfully mines previous scholarship to provide readers with a short synthesis of the political, economic, and social history of Africa’s important diamond industry…. Summing up: recommended.”


Africa supplies the majority of the world’s diamonds, yet consumers generally know little about the origins and history of these precious stones beyond sensationalized media accounts of so-called blood diamonds.

Stones of Contention explores the major developments in the remarkable history of Africa’s diamonds, from the earliest stirrings of international interest in the continent’s mineral wealth in the first millennium A.D. to the present day. In the European colonial period, the discovery of diamonds in South Africa ushered in an era of unprecedented greed during which monopolistic enterprises exploited both the mineral resources and the indigenous workforce. In the aftermath of World War II, the governments of newly independent African states, both democratic and despotic, joined industry giant De Beers and other corporations to oversee and profit from mining activity on the continent.

The book also considers the experiences of a wide array of Africans—from informal artisanal miners, company mineworkers, and indigenous authorities to armed rebels, mining executives, and premiers of mineral-rich states—and their relationships to the stones that have the power to bring both wealth and misery. With photos and maps, Stones of Contention illustrates the scope and complexity of the African diamond trade as well as its impact on individuals and societies.

Todd Cleveland is an associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas. His books include these Ohio University Press titles: Sports in Africa, Past and Present (2020), Following the Ball: The Migration of African Soccer Players across the Portuguese Colonial Empire, 1949–1975 (2018), Diamonds in the Rough: Corporate Paternalism and African Professionalism on the Mines of Colonial Angola, 1917–1975 (2015), and Stones of Contention: A History of Africa’s Diamonds (2014).   More info →

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • One: An Introduction to Africa’s Diamonds
  • Two: Africa’s Mineral Wealth
    Material and Mythical
  • Three: From Illusion to Reality
    The Kimberley Discoveries, the Diamond “Rush,” and the “Wild West” in Africa
  • Four: Consolidation and Control
    The Birth and Growth of the Cartel
  • Five: Creating “New Kimberleys” Elsewhere in Africa
  • Six: The Experiences of African Workers on Colonial-Era Mines
  • Seven: A Resource Curse
    “Blood Diamonds,” State Oppression, and Violence
  • Eight: Mineral Assets
    Diamonds and the Development of Democratic States
  • Nine: Africa’s Diamonds
    A Rough Past with a Brighter Future
  • Study Guide and Selected Readings
    Digging Deeper
  • Notes
  • Index

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Retail price: $29.95, T.
Release date: June 2014
240 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: May 2014
240 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Stones of Contention

“Cleveland begins by asking a question that was posed to him: ‘Would you ever purchase an African diamond knowing what you know now?’ In this introduction to the industry, he strives to give readers sufficient facts to answer that question themselves by making sense of a global commodity shrouded in secrecy and the illusions of marketing…. Cleveland’s work is necessarily accessible and important, as diamonds will continue to play a prominent role in world events.”

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“Cleveland's vivid and concise prose brings to life the tragedies suffered by miners and how despots accrued their bloody wealth.”

Foreword Reviews

“Todd Cleveland has written a novel approach to African history. Rather than present yet another account whose organizing focus is by country, region, or colonizer(s), he has presented an interesting, thoughtful, and well-written undergraduate textbook whose integrating theme is a key resource—diamonds…. Resource exploitation is a vital aspect of Africa’s past and present, and Cleveland’s study of the history of diamonds provides a neat introduction to the continent’s narrative.”

Canadian Journal of Africa Studies

Stones of Contention is the best introduction to the history of diamond-mining in Africa — short and easy-to-read.”

Stephen Ellis, Professor of Youth, Sport, and Reconciliation, Faculty of Social Sciences, Vrije University

“…Cleveland renders a sweeping look at colonists, industry titans, despots, and everyday mires in this look at the local and global context of what have come to be known as blood diamonds.”


“A useful, lucid account of this sometimes dark and disturbing trade.”

Matthew Hart, author of Diamond: The History of a Cold-Blooded Love Affair

“Todd Cleveland expertly mines the social, political and economic history of Africa’s diamond industry, explaining the phenomenon of ‘blood diamonds,’ the regulatory efforts of the past decade and a growing sense of optimism that these ‘stones of contention’ may, at long last, contribute to meaningful development.”

Ian Smillie, author of Blood on the Stone: Greed, Corruption and War in the Global Diamond Trade and Diamonds

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