Shaming and Redeeming Africa
By Tom Kamara
Presenting a convincing case on Liberia's Charles Taylor and his ally Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore's complicity in fueling West Africa's misery, US UN Ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, laments that he hopes Africans do not evoke the "neocolonialist" weapon in reaction to the World's findings on the despicable nature of some of their leaders, criminals plunging their people in hell for diamonds and personal wealth.
"We should have been saying these things a year ago,"
he said. "We need to move past perceptions based on race.
This is not about race. This is very difficult for the Africans,
because it means there has to be a candid admission that some
of the African leadership has failed its people," The New
York Times quoted Holbrooke.
The American Ambassador to the UN continued, "The Governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso, including through the actions of their presidents, are fueling the war in Sierra Leone and profiting from the arms-for-diamonds trade.
I recognize full well that this kind of candor and this kind of explicit statement is not always welcome at the United Nations and does cause controversy. And I know that both delegations will ask for the right-of-reply in order to say that we are perpetrating an injustice on their countries. Perhaps some of the countries of Africa will criticize us for breaking the taboo of naming specific names and specific people by title who are involved in this dreadful event. But I think, Mr. Chairman, that in this regard our government and our country feels that candor is required, and here we support the kind of stand that Ambassador Fowler of Canada took in regard to UNITA sanctions in Angola. Ambassador Fowler named names and some countries, such as Bulgaria, took a subsequent hard look at their export regimes and showed a commitment to fix the problems. Other countries, including Burkina Faso, have raised the specter of linguistic-based conspiracies and other forms of denial. But I believe, Mr. Chairman, that the evidence is much too strong to be denied.
The United States intends to support measures against both Burkina Faso and Liberia unless they cease their support for the war in Sierra Leone. It's certainly true that some members of the Council may seek to dilute these measures or even consider vetoing such steps, but we urge them to reconsider".
What a shame! What an indictment! Which rational, thinking Africans, victims of misrule now forced to live with mass murderers and thieves as presidents, would question this genuine assessment of the Continent's political leadership? Yes, many Africans, victimized by centuries of racism, are understandably quick to jump on the race card when reacting to claims by whites. But this is one instance when men like Holbrooke stand on the moral high grounds unchallenged to help Africans redeem themselves from bandits and serial killers.
On the other hand, Mr. Taylor has made an offer to clear his "good" name in court. He told Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering that even a "condemned man deserves his day in court". This means that Taylor is willing to appear before the UN tribunal to answer charges against him. This opportunity should not elude the UN and the Liberian President. After all, trying Sankoh without trying his creators is a grave travesty of justice. And those who evoke the sovereignty card (since Taylor is a sovereign leader) to exclude the man from trial must think of Saddam Hussein, Milosovic, Panama's jailed leader Noriega, Chile's Pinochet and many other leaders who have faced justice for crimes beyond their territorial confines.
In any case, contrary to Holbrooke's fears of using the race card in defense of criminals like Taylor and pal Compaore, respectable Africans regret that it took so long for more humane and conscientious American voices to begin sounding. Had such trumpets began humming years ago, perhaps West Africa would have been saved from its current horrors and many children in Sierra Leone and Liberia would have lived. But no! The World was forced to listen to the other American voices, voices of Taylor's buddies and allies in the Black Congressional Caucus and the religious, Civil Rights Establishment of men like the Rev. Jesse Jackson who, knowingly, painted a false picture of what was evolving in that part of the forgotten World. To the minds of these people, personal ties supercede probity and demands for justice. It didn't matter to them that West Africa was being transformed into a criminal enclave in which neo-Nazis and drug barons have replaced entrepreneurs. They saw Taylor as a modern "Continental leader" who listened to Mozart and played tennis, therefore acquiring the badly needed trappings of "civilization" to qualify him for American support. What mattered to these tainted voices of doom was that their friend was in charge of this criminal empire fanning the flames of catastrophe for helpless millions.
But the painful truth as propounded by Holbrooke is that unless Africa is sanitized of the Taylors and Compaores in its political development, the seeds of death and poverty will continue to be fertilized. Relief agencies will remain de facto governments. The United Nations will be confronted with a bottomless pit in raising funds to feed the ever multiplying numbers of hungry refugees and displaced people produced by such individuals. Africa will remain a beggar continent. This is why humane and rational voices from afar must be accepted on the basis of their truthfulness and not from which skin color they come. Of course, racism makes one a racist, just as tribalism makes one a tribalist. But the evidence given to us by Holbrooke and others must convince Africans of the disease men like Taylor and Compaore are spreading and the need to stop them. The humiliation and curse is that after bitter struggles for independence, against racism, Africa can produce the Taylors and Compaores as political leaders. This, in itself, is a testament of the political sorrows covering the Continent in recent years, negating all the gains of independence and bitter liberation struggles.
Thus, Africa's current catastrophe is far from being a question of race in terms of the prejudices that mar perceptions of whites regarding Africans. It is now, more than ever, a question of the very survival of the African race. With the Taylors and Compaores fomenting ties with international criminal syndicates to implant the seeds of anarchy and therefore poverty on an already poor continent, the African race is on its knee begging for salvation from anywhere, as can be seen in the thousands of peacekeeping forces sent around the Continent instead of teachers, doctors, etc., and hundreds of well-paid relief workers replacing agriculturists. This brings another dimension and question to Africa's tragedy. What can Europe and America do about the hundreds of their citizens flocking to Africa in the service of the Savimbis, Taylors and Compaores? Should they not be treated like drug smugglers, which in many cases they are? The presence and activities of one American or European arms trafficker, illicit diamond dealer, logging merchant, his or her activities, lead to the production of hundreds of refugees and thousands of displaced people, not to mention the economic and social malaise left behind as they fly with millions of dollars back to Europe or America.
Combating men who cutoff children's limbs for wealth, destroy schools, hospitals, water and electricity plants to gain political power, without finding ways to handle their "advisors" and "technicians" from Europe and America poses immense difficulties. But voices like Holbrooke's provide a glimpse of hope that all is not lost, that there is a positive aspect of our global humanity as emphasized by that that great son of Africa, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who believes Good has overcome Evil in our world. Hitler was defeated. So was Apartheid, he reasoned, giving us hope for a brighter future. Humane global sons such as Holbrooke will be vindicated no matter how criminals inject the virus of race to win sympathy in their destructive schemes for crude personal wealth.
In Africa's struggle against poverty and self-destruction, race is increasingly becoming a non-factor because money is a powerful binding and adhesive force setting many agendas and dismantling borders. After all, it is that son of African decent, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who gave the world a different and distorted picture of what is happening in West Africa, contrasting the views of men like Holbrooke. While the World concludes that Sankoh was dangerous to Sierra Leone, this Baptist preacher, a disciple of Martin Luther King, believes the man is a "positive" factor in ending the country's nightmare even if his trademarks are theft and child amputations. Jackson believes this man, who makes his living by hacking off the limbs of children or recruiting them into his rebel army of loot and plunder, is a "Mandela". But between Holbrooke and Jackson, victims of these atrocities have no problem deciding which voice to hear.
And yet, Liberia's Foreign Minister, Monie Captan, contends Holbrooke has opted to champion justice because he wants to be Secretary of State in the next Democratic Administration. "Mr. Captan said Mr. Taylor was working for peace in Sierra Leone. In an interview, he accused Mr. Holbrooke of making accusations against Mr Taylor to advance his campaign to become secretary of state if Vice President Al Gore wins the presidency", reported The New York Times. The truth is that if Africans were voters in American elections, Holbrooke would in no doubt become Secretary of State because with men like him at the top, their weak voices could be heard.
To understand the arguments of men like Captan, one must understand the character of Africa's new breed of politicians. Like nearly all Taylor's lieutenants, this man of Syrian descent served every imaginable armed faction and brutal regimes before and during the Liberian Civil War, beginning with a lower level position under the Samuel Doe's military junta. . During the war, he switched loyalty frequently dependent on his perceived or real benefits, finally joining Taylor the winner. Insiders believe that all along, he was actually working for Taylor the warlord, while he aligned himself with Taylor's enemies in order to get and pass on information that would land him the position of foreign minister. Many of Taylor's men and women come from a dubious past. His Economic Advisor, Emmanuel Shaw, is persona non grata in South Africa where he tried to steal millions of dollars from the ANC Government using false contracts. It is such men that Africa must fear, not white skins like Holbrooke.
Therefore, the emergence of men like Taylor and Compaore on the political scene, men well schooled in the street gang life of Paris and New York, poses a different set of challenges to Africans, for politics is no longer about the contest of ideas, vision, but a domain occupied by suave criminals. These men are the very antithesis of Africa's past and misunderstood heroes - the Nkrumahs, Nyereres, Lumumbas, etc. Men like Taylor and Compaore are interested in politics as a vehicle for promoting and protecting their criminal enclaves, not as means for lifting societies from decay. So, to deal with Africa's current political malaise, it is important to understand the minds of these so-called African leaders that Holbrooke is justifiably indicting. To know them, the mind must be switched to Al Capone or Billy the Kid, if not Jeffery Darmer or Charles Manston.
But Mr Holbrooke's fears of applying the race card in defense of Evil are not unjustified when one considers the refusal of the Government of Mali to back UN sanctions against Sierra Leone diamonds because Liberia was mentioned.
In addition, during the recent OAU meeting in Togo, one of the countries whose president Eyadema is listed as fueling the war in Angola for diamonds, these African leaders ignored the paralysis of the Continent consumed in wars and crime and decided to discuss unifying the disintegrating Continent under the amorphous, utopian idea of an "African Union". Hardly any mention was made of the multiplicity of civil wars on the Continent, the grip of criminals on its politics, and the non-ending production of refugees. With Libyan petro dollars, they instead celebrated the "birth" of an Africa Union that will never be under the prevailing conditions. Moreover, shameless West African leaders even vowed to lobby the UN for lifting its embargo on Liberia as a way of ending the Sierra Leone war. Their logic dictated that the more arms Taylor gets and sends to the RUF, the faster the war ends.
Key African leaders have remained silent on the unfolding horrors and have continued to play duplicitous roles. When Nigeria was transformed into a democracy, many hoped that it would use its great weight to set standards. But instead, ties between Nigeria and men like Taylor have been strengthened despite clear evidence that this man is a danger to the region. Nigeria's President Obasanjo has made Monrovia his virtual second home, with Liberian press occasionally reporting that he backs Taylor's policy is Sierra Leone. Armed with such endorsement, Taylor has repeatedly insisted on an "African solution" to end the Sierra Leone war, a "solution" that "ended" the Liberian war and made him president despite his appalling human rights record.
South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela, expected to add his great moral weight in dealing with criminal African politicians, has instead chosen to throw his venom on the Americans and the British, accusing them of "appointing" themselves "world policemen." He forgets the fact that over all, a policeman is better than a gangster since the former is answerable to someone. Since then, Taylor and the RUF have made South Africa their favorite spot for selling diamonds, recruiting trainers, and having occasional medical checkups to keep them in shape for waging more wars.
Not surprisingly, Libya's Gaddafi has warned the West to "leave us a alone" because values of westerners are different from those of Africans. But it is the "values" of Gaddafi's graduates, values such as the amputation of children limbs, the disembowelment of women's bellies to determine the gender of the child so honored by Taylor's rebel NPFL, that make his Africans really different from others.
Now, as African voices remain silent over the gradual death of the Continent, others are beginning to speak. And what are they telling us? They are saying the roots of our misery lies within us, a judgment difficult to challenge when the facts today are dissected. Says Holbrooke:
"Taylor is Milosevic in Africa with diamonds" (He) is fueling the conflict in Sierra Leone for his own benefit. He is threatening to destabilize western Africa, and there is deep division in the region about how to deal with him," reported The New York Times.
The paper, quoting a British diplomat during a hearing at the United Nations on the role of diamonds in the Sierra Leone war, reported that, "Mr. Taylor had personally taken command of rebel forces fighting there against United Nations peacekeepers and that he has in recent weeks sent arms to the rebels and taken smuggled diamonds in payment.
"In effect, President Taylor has been directing strategy meetings of the rebels," said the diplomat, Stephen Pattison.
"Mr. Pattison also made unusually specific allegations against President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, saying that in return for diamonds Captain Compaore has sent mercenaries from Burkina Faso to fight with rebels in Sierra Leone against United Nations peacekeepers. Captain Compaore has repeatedly allowed airports in Burkina Faso to be used for supplying the rebels with arms bought in Ukraine, Mr. Pattison added.
Nevertheless, despite repeated allegations by reputable individuals
and institutions, Taylor's strategy, all along, has been to create
doubts in the minds of others regarding his theft of Sierra Leone
diamonds and backing of the RUF rebels. In this, he has consistently
demanded proof. The more proof is given, the more he demands proof.
In other words, "It's your word against mine. Yes, I did
it. But you can't prove it". At his meeting with US Under
Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, he
staged the show, demanding more evidence. Says the New York Times:
"That proof was not supplied. But an American official said today that evidence included photographs of trucks that were carrying arms and supplies to Sierra Leone and electronic surveillance that showed Mr. Taylor as he met commanders of the rebels, the Revolutionary United Front."
"In his testimony today, Mr. Pattison said Mr. Taylor had recently ordered an increase of diamond production in rebel-held areas of Sierra Leone. "Taylor has assured the R.U.F. of his support and of increased military aid," he said. "This has included supplies of arms, ammunition, fuel, food and medicine. These are regularly transported across the Liberian border in trucks and occasionally in helicopters."
"His Government has been enriched from the sale of illicit diamonds and one of the most bloody and mutilating wars ever to stain the African continent'. Britain also regarded the actions of Burkina Faso as "completely unacceptable", added Mr Peter Hain the British Foreign Office Minister.
The paper extensively gives us bits about the proof Taylor wants:
"Peter Hain, the Foreign Office minister, warned after talks yesterday with Septimus Kai Kai, a Sierra Leone government representative, that Liberia and Burkina Faso faced international sanctions unless they stopped trading in illegal diamonds. "There is a very clear relationship between President Taylor of Monrovia and the RUF' he said. A special UN panel is investigating West African diamond smuggling today and will report to the Security Council.
After the peacekeepers were taken hostage in May, the Security Council banned trading in Sierra Leone diamonds until a certification procedure could be established. The diamond industry - led by De Beers, the world's largest trader - has moved to tighten trading and toward branding diamonds to make provenance clear.
Human rights groups have said, however, that there is no way of knowing whether the industry can police itself. In March, a scathing United Nations report condemned the central diamond clearinghouse in Antwerp, Belgium, for "extremely lax controls" in handling banned diamonds sold by rebels in Angola.
Mr. Holbrooke said the Clinton administration now supported the creation of a system for global certificates of origin. It is not clear how such a system would work.
The United Nations embargo on Sierra Leone diamonds does not ban the sale of diamonds exported from Liberia. Industry experts said most of Liberia's exports originated in Sierra Leone. An American official said that Liberia itself had the capacity to mine $10 million of diamonds a year, but that last year it exported $300 million worth of the stones.
Mr. Pattison said Burkina Faso had become a major player in exporting smuggled diamonds from Sierra Leone. He said the best recent estimate is that in return for arms and other supplies 60 percent of rebel-mined diamonds were moving from Liberia and 40 percent from Burkina Faso.
Mr. Holbrooke said Washington hoped to persuade American consumers to demand certificates of origin that could prove that they are not taking home "blood diamonds" from Africa. "I hope," Mr. Holbrooke said, "that people buying a beautiful stone will start asking questions and be sure not to buy unless they see a certificate of origin.
American consumers have shown little interest in the provenance of the stones, industry experts and shop owners said. Sales of diamond jewelry jumped 11 percent last year, and De Beers had record worldwide sales of
more than $5 billion.
President Compaore of Burkina Faso was also singled out in March for violating a United Nations embargo in 1998 to stop Angola rebels from using diamonds to pay for their war. That report said Captain Compaore had sent fuel to the rebels and received "substantial contributions" for his political campaigns. A representative of Captain Compaore's government dismissed the charges.
Anticipating that some African countries will respond to his accusations as neocolonialism, Mr. Holbrooke emphasized that he was not making a universal condemnation of African leadership".
One can only say that Africans who question the rising voices against Africa's criminal politicians are the Continent's problem, not these voices.
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