Global Policy Forum

Liberia; Meaningless UN Sanctions


By Tom Kamara

The Perspective/ Africa News
July 7, 2000

Atlanta - At last, the United Nations Security Council has done what it should have done long ago - outlaw diamonds coming from Sierra Leone through Liberia. But even as the UN was acting against blood diamonds, there was fresh evidence that Charles Taylor was supplying the RUF with more mercenaries, weapons and ammunition.

The BBC, quoting intelligence sources, reported one day after the sanctions that over 200 Liberian troops had escorted trucks of weapons designated for the rebels. The reports also revealed that a lady representing Taylor was sending gems to Monrovia on a regular basis in return for more weapons supply.

Although the sanctions are timely, the exclusion of Liberia, the source of Sierra Leone's horrors, is a reminder of the difficulties ahead in barring blood diamonds which are used as instruments of terror. The truth is that without the Liberian corridor for supply of weapons and mercenaries, and without the rebels' access to the diamond mines, the basis of the war would be severely eroded. And already, the criminal masterminds in Monrovia and their Sierra Leone comrades must be at work designing means of circumventing the sanctions, just as Angola's rebel UNITA has successfully done over the years. There is just too much to let go, and with criminals' increasing political influence in West Africa, the UN's task is a daunting one.

The British had unsuccessfully pushed for Liberia's inclusion in the sanctions, but sadly, obstacles emerged between London and Washington regarding punishing Charles Taylor's Liberia as the conduit for Sierra Leone's "killer diamonds" from which he and his lieutenants are benefiting. London lost its bid for a just punishment against America's unclear intentions when it comes to its former backyard, a pattern so visible since the country's woes began in 1989 when it lost its importance as an appendage during the Cold War. We now have to monitor the stage for determining if Taylor, who exported 31 million carats of Sierra Leone diamonds compared to 1500 which Freetown itself exported, made over $500 million by 1995 from the diamonds, will adhere to the sanctions and let his diamond colonies go. Indications are that he will not.

In another move to kill the sanctions even before they were imposed, Mali rushed to defend Liberia, abstaining on the UN vote because Taylor's criminal enclave was mentioned in the document as the outlet for stones that continue cause havoc in this world's poorest nation. Strangely, the Malians believe because Taylor has freed UN hostages, hostages taken in the first place upon his orders as the real force behind the rebels, he should be rewarded by excluding him from the sanctions. What a farce! What a bare face dance with criminality! What we see here is a naked appeasement of criminals that will only prolong the anarchy in West Africa and thus institutionalize criminality as a way of life. By making excuses for Taylor and his fellow criminals fueling the Sierra Leone war, West Africa has endorsed its own destruction. The epidemic is destined to spread.

If links were the bases for holding Taylor's Liberia responsible for Sierra Leone's terror, they can be found, among others, RUF manifesto: "We do not deny the fact that some of those who volunteered to join our cause were veterans of the Liberian civil war but majority were of Sierra Leonean parentage. We entered Sierra Leone through Liberia", the rebels admit, at least being more honest than West Africa's shameless politicians who themselves see no moral wrong in criminal enterprises.

To the normal mind, it is difficult understanding the imposition of sanctions against diamonds in Sierra Leone while Liberia, the gateway for the smuggled diamonds that have created a living hell for that country's 5.6 million people in disarray, is untouched by the proposed sanctions. To punish Sierra Leone and pardon Liberia is to create better conditions for more smuggling and therefore more war, along with more amputations.

In simple terms, the Americans and compromised African politicians are saying, "Fine, it is illegal to buy the diamonds on Sierra Leone soil. But if you can chase them in Liberia, it is perfectly legal". With this position, there could be no better way of legitimizing Liberia's status as the most dangerous criminal state in West Africa. Already, an indication of Liberia's criminal entrenchment is the listing of the country as the only African state among 35 countries threatened with OECD sanctions for dubious tax systems. Liberia has launched a British-based website advertising "lucrative" tax benefits, passports for money and citizenship for sale. In Poland, the Liberian embassy was implicated in a number of criminal activities, including a passport racket and sale of consular ships that led to a gang-style execution of a well-known Polish gangster. All this point to the country as an entrenched criminal enclave, where money laundering, drug trafficking, gunrunning, and an unabated onslaught on the environment for fast cash have replaced normal economic activities.

Whatever one believes, the Clinton administration "African" position, if it remains unchanged, will be the beginning of end of the effectiveness of sanctions as a method of halting the flow of diamonds from rebels into Taylor's pockets. It is like telling Sierra Leoneans, "You deserve to die to satisfy Taylor's and his friends' tastes, key among them members of Congressional Black Caucus and civil right leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson, and South African neo-Nazis now at home in Liberia, thus ascertaining British claims, according to The Economist magazine, that:

"Liberia is regarded in Washington as the preserve of the black American lobby, and Bill Clinton's officials will not invade it - particularly since Jesse Jackson, a prominent African-American, is Mr. Clinton's special envoy to Africa. Mr. Jackson is also a close friend of Mr. Taylor...

London points out that from the diamond fields, the threads of the conflict lead over the border. The RUF smuggles diamonds into neighbouring Liberia, where President Charles Taylor, who helped launch the RUF, is swapping them for weapons and ammunition. Mr. Taylor denies this. But, as the British point out, the closer government forces get to the diamond areas, the more active he has become in supporting the RUF".

The Economist sums up the divide between the two powerful Western allies in this strange scramble in Africa: "Britain wants to put a stop to this, and has called for an international ban on diamonds from Liberia as well as from Sierra Leone. But it has no embassy or influence in Liberia. This week John Prescott, Britain's deputy prime minister, was dispatched to the regional superpower, Nigeria, to try to persuade President Olusegun Obasanjo to put pressure on Mr. Taylor. And Britain managed to persuade the European Union to suspend Euro50m ($48m) of aid to Liberia...

Yet, when Britain turned to America, the country with the most influence in Liberia, it was rebuffed. Liberia was founded in 1821 by American slaves seeking freedom, and retains close links with the United States. But Madeleine Albright, America's secretary of state, recently told Britain bluntly that America could do nothing to help and would not back a ban on Liberian diamonds

Dismayed by the lack of American co-operation, British officials admit privately that they intend to seek help from an unlikely quarter: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi. Colonel Qaddafi once nurtured both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Sankoh, among other African radicals, but has recently shown himself willing to behave a bit more helpfully. Britain now wants to put that to the test. It is finding that 'going the distance' in Sierra Leone is taking it down some strange paths."

Discounting such facts is difficult, realizing the fact that the prevailing position of the Democrats is to "leave Africa to our friends in the Black Congressional Caucus. That is their little backyard." Therefore, the interests of some members of the Black Caucus and their allies such as the Rev. Jackson, is decisive in determining the Clinton Administration Africa policy, even if such interests are tied around dancing with criminals on the continent and thus encouraging, exacerbating, political and economic dislocations with ghastly consequences for the continent's masses of impoverished people seeking salvation from warlords and criminals now backed by international allies.

Despite global verdict that Taylor is in fact the oxygen for Sierra Leone's ongoing war, the Rev. Jackson disagrees. "If Charles Taylor can talk to the (RUF) Commanders and they hear that, that would be positive. It would be different if (Taylor was) encouraging the fighting. But he's not", the Baptist clergyman said. Comparing Sankoh with Nelson Mandela, he said the voice of the ruthless rebel leader "was the voice of the RUF", and "a positive one The support that he needs to turn the RUF into a political organization is deserved," he said of a man who has instituted gruesome amputations of civilians for political power and stolen, according to The New York Times, about $10 million in his position awarded to him in return for peace as chair of the country's diamond mines.

West Africans, now faced with the fact that criminal syndicates are entrenching themselves in the region's economies and politics, must resign themselves to the fact that the position of the Administration on Africa, will be seen through the eyes of men like Rev. Jackson who, the belief goes, holds the key the African-American votes as the elections approach. Already, top Democrats like Donald Payne, with close links to Taylor through various connections, have shown their tenacity to back Taylor despite abundant evidence that Liberia is now transformed into a criminal state. Rev. Jackson has made it clear his tenacious determination in backing the Taylors of Africa when he announced in Monrovia that he "will not rest" until Liberia take its "rightful place" among respected nations.

But what baffles the mind about African-Americans' marriage with the Liberian regime (beyond the new battle cry of a nebulous common ancestry) is that despite evidence of Taylor's links with neo-Nazis and fascists elements, men like Payne and Jackson remain steadfast in his defense. How African-Americans, themselves victims of racism which still plagues American society, renowned anti-racist activists, and declared white supremacists who organized the death of so many African patriots in South African, icons like Steve Biko, Chris Hani, among the hundreds, have become comrades in Africa tells us something about today's politics and its financial dimensions. The London-based publication Africa Confidential recently unearthed more evidence of how known racists have converged in Africa to shift their plunder since the South Africa terrain is now less profitable and more problematical:

"The RUF has been in continuous control of Kono since November 1998, when it attacked in flying columns (highly mobile guerrilla units) in tactics developed by ex-South African Defence Force Colonel Fred Rindle. Along with other tactical specialists drawn from the apartheid SADF (Rindle was a liaison officer for P.W. Botha's regime and Jonas Savimbi's rebels in Angola) Rindle trained and equipped the RUF units to operate alongside Liberian and Burkinabe fighters...

Rindle, who can be seen occasionally in Monrovia's Mamba Point Hotel and styles himself as a mining engineer, won Taylor's confidence with the devastatingly successful 1998-99 offensive. The RUF and allies retook all of Kono District, before moving rapidly towards Freetown, where they took the West African peacekeeping force, the Economic Commission of West African States Monitoring Group (Ecomog) by surprise. By 8 January 1999, RUF soldiers were giving interviews to the BBC on satellite telephones from central Freetown: that invasion left more than 6,000 people dead and thousands more mutilated in less than a week...

From the frenetic military activity, the arms shipments to rebel- held Kono and the radio rhetoric from Monrovia officials, another major Liberian military operation is in train. Irritatingly for Taylor's government, Kabbah's government and the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone now get good aerial reconnaissance reports of activity across the border. There is also far more human intelligence available from former Sierra Leone Army (SLA) soldiers who fought alongside the RUF and from some recent operations behind the rebel lines, we hear. All this clearly shows trucks loaded with weapons, food and medicine going from Liberia into Sierra Leone along the three major RUF supply routes. One report suggests that a helicopter lent to Taylor by Libya's Col. Moammar el Gadaffi to ferry UN hostages back to safety (500 were captured by the RUF at the beginning of May) had been used to resupply RUF forces

Taylor's ambivalent role - negotiator and 'liberator' of the UN hostages and godfather-quartermaster of the RUF - has put him under greater Western scrutiny. In November 1998, the United States State Department's Director for West Africa, Ambassador Howard Jeter, earned Taylor's opprobrium by publicly stating that there was unambiguous intelligence that the Liberian government was backing the RUF. This was later repeated by both the Nigerian and Ghanaian governments following the RUF's blitz on Freetown. The US Embassy in Monrovia, criticized by some Liberians for being soft on Taylor, insists there is no reason to change Jeter's assessment".

And yet Rev. Jackson's personal "intelligence" tells him that "Taylor is not encouraging the fighting". But the truth is that without Liberia and its neo-Nazi allies etc., the RUF as a fighting force is finished. The rebels need arms, ammunitions, fuel, food, medicine, communications and an open corridor to retreat to for effectiveness. Cutoff in the jungle without supply routes and Liberian leadership, these poorly trained rag-tag child soldiers are nothing to be afraid of. Thus the war in Sierra Leone must be seen as an extension of the Liberian war and to apply sanctions leaving out Liberia is to encourage the horrors.

It was US Secretary of State Madeline Albright who said for peace to prevail in Sierra Leone, justice must be seen to be done. Her refusal to back sanctions against Liberia is a contradiction of that belief. In the end however, Africans must end this dependence on America and the West for solutions to their nightmares. Concerted efforts must be made to engage the criminals masquerading as politicians and only through this can we talk of an African solution to African problems. The alternative is that interest groups such as the America's Black Congressional Caucus, with no real interest in Africa's problems, will sit in their safe homes and determine our future. Such a future, if nothing is done, is a future determined for us by the Taylors, and Sankohs of Africa in cohort with the Jackson of America and international criminals interested in diamonds for guns. To let that happen is to sell our birthrights.

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