The Curse of Diamonds and Destabilization
November 2, 2000
President Clinton, barring Liberian officials and their families from entering the United States, made it clear that the United States was taking the action because Liberia has not shown any indication of change towards Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF). In all fairness to the Liberian President Charles Taylor, he has long made up his mind on his plans for Sierra Leone and therefore the entire region. Meeting the US Thomas Pickering delegation in Monrovia on the issue, he said:
"We refuse to accept and reject efforts on the part of any nation to muffle this country, or engage in arm-twisting without facts in an attempt to subdue this nation. The days when Washington picked up the telephone and gave instructions to Liberia are over. We want to ask those that purport to have evidence to please bring them forward."
This unequivocal defiance meant that Taylor was determined to continue arming the RUF in return for diamonds no matter how loud Clinton and other world leaders shouted. Mr. Taylor is convinced that time is his best ally in the Sierra Leone war. Just as he won in Liberia using time as his best ally, so he believes victory is his in Sierra Leone.
Furthermore, American Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Susan Rice, appearing before Senate Committee in October noted that:
"Currently, Sierra Leone is divided. Effective government control is limited to Freetown and the Lungi peninsula and other areas in the South -- thanks mainly to the presence of troops from the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the United Kingdom in those areas. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) continues to launch numerous small-scale attacks. UNAMSIL patrols roads between its peninsular bases and its positions at Kenema, Bo, and Daru. There appears at present to be an uneasy tactical pause in RUF military operations.
"But as long as the conflict continues, there is a risk that it will spill over even more dramatically into neighboring countries and create more instability and human suffering. Liberia has been involved in this conflict almost from the beginning, and now Guinea is victim to cross-border incursions by RUF elements and their allies. This has led to increased domestic instability within Guinea, which is already hosting nearly half a million refugees from both Sierra Leone and Liberia. An estimated 5,000 of these refugees have crossed into Guinea since renewed violence erupted in May".
Here lies the calamity inherent in permitting Taylor to emerge victorious in Sierra Leone. It is the lack of knowledge of the oxygen sustaining the war, but what is required for triumph of good over evil. With the RUF firmly controlling much of Sierra Leone and playing for time, another country, Guinea, has been added to the region's woes. And the fallacy is that somehow, peace talks, summits, assurances can satisfy Taylor's thirst for anarchy on which he survives. They will not, and once this fact is accepted, a solution to end chaos in the region and begin the tough tasks of resettling thousands of refugees, reconstructions can begin.
To move from analysis to deeds and let justice be done as a safety valve against a repeat of such horrors waged for personal wealth, the US visa restrictions against Liberian officials should be followed by stronger indications of disgust against the pariahs. Among the urgent steps needed are:
1. the freezing of their bank accounts,
2. deportation of their families from the safe havens of America, Europe and other countries so that they can experience their created horrors, and
3. eventually, trial before a world tribunal for crimes against the children of Sierra Leone and others.
For years, it was clear that the Liberian President has been targeting Guinea in his scheme of anarchy. Guinean dissidents have been roaming around Liberia, undergoing training, in readiness for their adventure which is now unfolding. Immediately after warning that he would export its war with dissidents in the north to Guinea so that the ECOWAS and the international community can fix it", Guinea came under attack from two fronts---Liberia and Sierra Leone. With his firm control over the RUF, Taylor is convinced of bringing Guinea to its knees. The hit and run attacks are already leaving the footprints of disintegration. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more made homeless. Here again, we believe Taylor is simply playing for time. He has already formed a rebel group, based in Liberia, to compete for political power in Conakry. Sooner rather than later, as the attacks intensify, there will be calls for a "negotiated settlement." Guinea will then enter Liberia and Sierra Leone's club of misery to Taylor's delight.
Three years of Charles Taylor's presidency in Liberia have confirmed one indisputable truth: West Africa is plagued with destabilizing regime that, if nothing is done, will transform the entire region into an ocean of refugees and a bastion of criminal gangs. Criminal scrambles for Sierra Leone's diamonds, now investigated by a United Nations team, have attracted mercenaries anxious to reap the benefits of chaos. Vibrations from the drums of disintegration, already heard in Cote d'Ivoire, and Guinea, are likely to intensify with multiplying effects.
We believe that the longer West Africa and the world in general watch as this criminal empire spreads, the more ghastly its consequences for the region. What has become clear is that Liberians, by themselves, are grossly incapable of freeing themselves from the clutches of tyranny in which they find themselves. Cries for justice are heard in the wilderness with no likelihood of a reprieve from within. Liberia's Opposition is too weak, destitute, fragmented, and opportunistic to lead change. Opposition leaders capable of leading change have been barred from entering the country through bogus treason charges. Thus if nothing is done, the terrain is clear for entrenchment of a tyrannical gang through terror and intimidation.
What is now indisputable is the fact that those who elevated known criminals to political power, for whatever reasons, must share responsibility for the innocent people killed daily and the spread of the terror since their "democratically elected" Government. They cannot claim ignorance in erecting this plague because all the pieces of evidence were there to see. For seven years, Taylor led one of the most brutal thugs of modern time. The RUF, formed and trained, under his watchful command, is convinced that just as its springboard, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, succeeded in wresting power despite its horrendous of genocide and plunder, it too, would succeed. And with continuous backing from Liberia, it too, is buying time.
To believe that Taylor, as President of Liberia, will see Sierra Leone governed without the RUF is to misjudge the horrors ahead of West Africa. With Guinea now in chaos, Taylor needs the RUF more than ever before. He needs the diamonds! He needs the drugged youths to defend the diamond mines. He needs them as a buffer army.
We believe the choices facing the world community in dealing with the unfolding crisis in West Africa are grim. Living with a destabilizing and thieving neighbor is a nightmare. The curse of diamonds, the lust for power, and the hypocrisy and corrupt nature of leading West African countries have led to this nightmare. We can only hope that others more reputable know the extent of what lies ahead. It is no longer an "African problem" that requires an "African solution." It is a problem that requires international solution.