British imperialism fights to the death for the diamonds of Sierra Leone
New York Times
of 16 June reports that
a new study by the World Bank concludes that struggle for control of valuable commodities such as drugs and diamonds is more often the underlying cause of civil wars than political, ethnic or religious divisions
.” If the World Bank had taken out a subscription to
, it could undoubtedly have reached this self-evident conclusion sooner, much more cheaply and more accurately. At no extra cost it would discover that the struggle to control sources of wealth (in particular, nowadays, oil) is the underlying cause of war and civil war not just ‘more often’ but ‘almost always’. In addition, as a bonus, it would find that in each of these wars imperialist powers are implicated up to their necks. Sometimes a ‘civil war’ is a straightforward proxy war between rival imperialists. “
” the people of a third-world country are endeavouring to fight off one country’s imperialist stranglehold on their economy, while rival imperialist powers wait in the wings manoeuvring for an outcome which will enable them to do a deal with the leaders of a victorious war of national liberation.
To say, as the
New York Times
does, that the war in Sierra Leone is about diamonds is true, albeit only a partial truth. The war there is one fought primarily to break the neo-colonial stranglehold of British imperialism over the country’s politics and economics, in order to establish true independence – while at the same time the United States lurks in the background manipulating events in the expectation of rich pickings once the rival imperialist is out of the way – much as it has done, with varying degrees of success, in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.
Because of the national liberation struggle, it is some years now since British imperialist concerns have been able to collect their loot from Sierra Leone’s wealth in diamonds and other precious minerals – although its banks continue to extract loan interest, etc. British imperialism is desperate, however, to regain access to what it regards as its very own diamond riches. Peter Hain, the Foreign Office Minister, and erstwhile anti-apartheid campaigner, who apparently still believes
“Sierra Leone is a British colony” [The Times Online Special: Sierra Leone
, 23 May 2000, ‘Troops may be in Sierra Leone for months’], has declared:
“There will be no long term permanent solution to Sierra Leone unless stability and order is established in the diamond mining areas … and a proper mining regime established which sees the proceeds of those diamonds mined going through the Government”.
In its bid to recover control over the diamonds, British imperialism has launched a propaganda war of outlandish proportions against the forces of national liberation, in particularly the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) led by Foday Sankoh.
Are the RUF ‘savages’?
Pretending to have not the slightest interest in diamonds, other than preventing Sankoh from benefiting from them, British imperialism has caused its media to be filled with horror stories of mutilations, torture, drug-crazed soldiery, child combatants, rape, all of which are claimed to be fundamental policies of the RUF in a campaign of mindless terror unleashed on all and any Sierra Leoneans with any decency and civilised values.
Since by virtue of sheer repetition, these accusations against the RUF seem to have acquired the status of unquestioned truth, a few words need to be said to put the whole matter in a proper perspective. Above all, it is necessary to remember that Sierra Leone is a country that has since 1991 been racked by civil war between the forces of national liberation, on the one hand, and British imperialism and its various puppet regimes, on the other. War, by its very nature, is atrocious, and many people – combatants and non-combatants – suffer terrible injuries and death. This is as much so in Sierra Leone as anywhere else – perhaps even more so because of the ferocity of the war – the fierce determination of the national liberation forces to defeat British imperialism and the stubborn, and even stupid, determination of British imperialism to hang on – in the same way as it does in northern Ireland. The fact that British imperialism rarely sends its own troops to fight the war does not detract from the fact British imperialism is a major protagonist in this war, acting through its local puppets in Sierra Leone, and others such as the Nigerian regime.
In 1996, Professor Paul Richards, an anthropologist at University College, University of London, was rightly dismayed at the racist tendency that had, via media propaganda, penetrated supposedly ‘objective’ academic circles, of depicting Sierra Leonean combatants as crazed savages, and he pointed out in his book ‘Fighting for the Rain Forest’:
“There is little of any analytical value … in distinguishing between a cheap war based on killing with knives and cutlasses [as in Sierra Leone],
and expensive wars in which civilians are maimed or destroyed with sophisticated laser-guided weapons
[as in Iraq and, subsequently, Yugoslavia, where it was the ‘civilised’ imperialists who used these weapons]
. All war is terrible. It makes no sense to call one kind of war ‘barbaric’ when all that is meant is that it is cheap”
If barbaric methods have been used by the national liberation forces, then the same, or worse, has been done by the puppets. In fact, Richards, who is in no way a supporter of the RUF, decries the fact that the brutality of government forces inhibits any desire that followers of the RUF might have to desert and go over to its side, for fear of what might happen to them. Even the
(17 December 1998) admitted that the irregular forces which have been unwaveringly loyal to the puppet government, the kamajors,
“have committed excesses”.
In fact, the
of 6 June 2000 cites the
International Herald Tribune
(date unspecified) as having written that the kamajor army
“was infamous during the … civil war for atrocities against civilians”.
When it comes to atrocities of this kind, it is invariably the side which offers the people nothing of any benefit which has to resort to terror. In the case of Sierra Leone, this is the government side. In fact, when it comes to use of child soldiers, extremely embarrassing pictures appeared in British newspapers in May 2000 of Sierra Leone’s puppet government troops, including a child of 8 wielding a machine gun! This of course led to ‘assurances’ that this would never happen again, but the fact is that it is the government army that finds it hard to recruit and needs to resort to small children, not the RUF.
The RUF secures the loyalty of the people on the one hand by representing their interests and on the other by sharing their resources with the people, rather than simply milking them as the government does – on behalf of imperialism, which bleeds Sierra Leone dry through the good offices of the IMF and the World Bank.
The difference between life for ordinary people in government-controlled areas and life in RUF-controlled areas was summed up in an incident mentioned by Richards:
“One young girl, asked why she came to identify with the people who had seized her from her home [the RUF],
answered frankly: ‘they offered me a choice of shoes and dresses – I never had decent shoes before’”.
In addition, the RUF provides education and training. The schools in the liberated areas are modest and lacking in resources, but they are there, and they do provide education – something which is not readily available to the poor in the government-controlled areas. The people of Sierra Leone set a very high premium on education.
It is these seemingly small details that are the secret of the RUF success in winning the hearts and minds of the people of Sierra Leone, not brutality and mutilations.
British troops invade
On 7 May this year, the British government rushed a force to Sierra Leone, supposedly – according to Foreign Secretary Robin Cook – to secure a safe exit for British nationals living in the capital, Freetown, in the face of an alleged threatened advance on the city of RUF forces. This pretext was used because it was the only one which could just about pass muster as an excuse for the grossly illegal act of invading another country in order to interfere in its internal affairs. Even the lickspittle bourgeois press mocked openly at the transparency of Cook’s lies, and
carried a cartoon depicting Cook as Pinocchio, with his nose not only growing longer with every lie, but also taking on the shape of a ballistic missile. Curiously enough, most of the British residents of Freetown felt absolutely no need to avail themselves of the free flights home being offered on behalf of Her Majesty. The facts, as they say, don’t add up.
So, if the troops weren’t sent for the purposes alleged by the government, what were they doing there?
The situation in Sierra Leone
We covered the recent history of Sierra Leone in our article ‘Sierra Leone fights on against imperialist stranglehold’ in the Jan/Feb 1999 issue of
and do not intend to revisit it here, but merely to take up the story where the previous article left off. In January last year, the RUF, in alliance with the AFRC led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma, following a series of military victories, invaded the capital, Freetown. Although they were beaten back by a hastily reinforced ECOMOG contingent, US imperialism, which largely foots the bill for the futile effort of trying to extinguish the rebel forces, felt the need to prevail on Kabbah, and the British government, to agree to peace talks.
These peace talks duly took place at Lomé in Togo, and a peace accord was signed on 7 July 1999. Foday Sankoh, the head of the RUF, who had been held captive and sentenced to death by Kabbah’s government, was given an unconditional pardon and released. He was moreover appointed the country’s Vice President and cabinet member with special responsibility for the mining industry and post-war construction. He was also given the power to make further appointments to the cabinet of the new government of national unity. The agreement made provision for decommissioning on both sides. The 10-year war appeared to be over.
However, as we warned in our article of Jan/Feb 1999,
“If the RUF is admitted to peace negotiations … those who negotiate with them should be under no illusion that people who have fought a 7-year guerrilla war in the most arduous conditions are going to be satisfied with any formula that keeps in place the imperialist stranglehold over the country’s economy.”
This made the RUF, at least as it is presently constituted, a thorn in the side of imperialism, both US and British. This has to be remembered in trying to read between lines to unravel the truth in the news reports about events in Sierra Leone that appear in our ‘free’ press.
Since imperialism has every intention of keeping its stranglehold over the country’s economy, the long-term prospects for peace were never good and in effect peace has failed to materialise. Lomé proved to be only a truce, during which both sides manoeuvred for position. A possible early warning of imperialism’s lack of commitment to this peace is perhaps the fact that the flow of aid needed to consolidate the peace, and in particular to secure the merger of guerrilla trooops into the Sierra Leonean army, was not forthcoming. There was also a major shortfall in the refugee aid that might normally have been expected.
Nevertheless, the most important event of this truce was the defection of Johnny Paul Koroma and part of the AFRC (Armed Forces Revolutionary Council) to the government side, a real coup for imperialism.
Differences began to show up between the RUF and the AFRC long before the ink was dry on the Lomé accord. Johnny-Paul Koroma did not appear at Lomé, and claims that this was due to the fact that he was prevented from doing so by RUF member Sam Bockarie physically restraining him – a charge denied by the RUF. His failure to appear at Lomé, whatever the reason for it, left him conveniently free to criticise its terms and claim that the AFRC had been ‘marginalised’ to the advantage of the RUF.
In early August, according to Agence France Presse (AFP) of 3 September 1999,
“AFRC members abducted for one week some 40 UN personnel, aid workers and journalists, saying their interests had not been taken into account in the new peace deal.”
The hostages included five British UN military observers, Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers, UN humanitarian workers and journalists. Strangely enough, this incident of hostage-taking attracted little outcry or indignation from the ‘international community’, and, according to
Scotland on Sunday
‘Sierra Leone rebels to swap hostages for aid’ on 8 August,
“the president of Sierra Leone pressed international aid groups to provide aid to the rebels in order to secure the release of the hostages…”
AFP, however, on 7 August, in ‘Sierra Leone rebels close to releasing hostages’, claimed that the hostage takers were demanding the release of their leader, Koroma, whom they insisted was being held by the RUF, a charge the RUF denied.
At the end of August or beginning of September, the AFRC took hostage a journalist, three senior rebel commanders (Dennis Mingo, Mike Lamine and Johnny Rey) and two AFRC members considered ‘traitors’ to their organisation (Amadu Sesay and Borbor Santigie Kanu). They freed the journalist so that he could convey a message from themselves to the government to the effect that
“AFRC was ‘ready to join President Kabbah to fight them (the rebels)’
but that if the head of state ‘was working with RUF’s leader Foday Sankoh’, then the AFRC would attack the capital alone.’”
(AFP,‘S Leone’s ex-junta vows force if demands not met’, 6 September 1999). Again no outcry from the international community at this flagrant breach of the Lomé accord, and no evacuation plans for the British residents of Freetown either. Although Sankoh had condemned both incidents of hostage-taking and demanded their immediate release, the foreign ministers of the 7 west African states that make up ECOWAS managed to blame the RUF for the abductions of the UN personnel, issuing a statement which included the following:
While the government of Sierra Leone has freed all political prisoners and granted amnesty to the RUF, the gesture has not been fully reciprocated by the RUF”
. They also noted that the
“presence of Corporal Foday Sankoh in Freetown will represent a boost to implementation of the agreement and therefore appealed to Sankoh to immediately relocate to Freetown”
(see AFP, ‘Sierra Leone rebels close to releasing hostages’, 7 August 1999).
Foday Sankoh, seeing which way the wind was blowing, publicly expressed his disapproval of the way the AFRC had conducted itself during the assault on Freetown:
“They were responsible for the atrocities, the amputations in January if you remember”,
he is quoted as saying by AFP on 3 September (‘S Leone Rebel leader rebuffs junta demands’). As a result he considered Koroma unfit for a government post, though he
“’could aspire to an ambassadorial post,’ Sankoh said”
). He also indicated that he would ‘not necessarily’ be offering a post to Sam Bockarie.
So long as the AFRC and RUF were in dispute, there were two main objectives that could not be achieved: disarmament of the revolutionary forces and the transfer of important RUF leaders to Freetown. At this point, Liberia’s Charles Taylor, after furious diplomatic lobbying in New York, brokered three days of talks in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, which took place at the end of September. At these talks a reconciliation was apparently effected, with agreement that there should be an addendum to the Lomé agreement that would
“guarantee his men
full reintegration into the army”
(AFP, 3 October 1999, ‘Sierra Leone rebels pledge to rebuild war-torn country’) and which provided for retrospective salaries to be paid to AFRC men for the time spent fighting in the bush (they were all ex-members of the Sierra Leone armed forces).
Thus it was that by 3 October Sankoh was in Freetown, holding a press conference side by side with Koroma, announcing that the AFRC and RUF would merge to form an ‘alliance of peace’.
“Sankoh called Kabbah and Koroma ‘his brothers’ …
At long last, all the fighting forces of this country will be left to rebuild this country,’ he said, adding that he hoped the RUF and AFRC would begin building homes, dams, fish farms, markets and new industries.”
(AFP, 3 October 1999,
Trouble was, however, soon to re-emerge.
Fighting broke out later in October among men of the AFRC and RUF around Makeni, a town which controls access to Sierra Leone’s diamond fields, and it seems likely that this was instigated by Johnny-Paul Koroma trying to move in on RUF positions, though he himself says the opposite was the case. In any event, Koroma’s men were thoroughly trounced and disappeared into the bush.
At around the same time, Sankoh announced the allocation of the government positions within his gift. These were four ministries: trade and industry; land, housing and central planning; energy and power; and tourism and culture. In addition, four deputy ministerial positions were also allocated to the RUF-AFRC alliance. Although Sankoh was scrupulous in allocating to AFRC people their fair share of the positions, he offered nothing to Koroma, who did not agree, in any event, with two of the three offers made to his own people (see AFP, ‘Leader of S Leone ex-junta says cabinet problems to be resolved’, 22 October 1999).
It seems likely that by this time British imperialism had satisfied itself that the breach between Sankoh and Koroma was irreparable. The time had come to scupper the Lomé agreement.
Under this agreement, however, ECOMOG troops, which had mostly proved ineffective at protecting the Kabbah regime, were due to be replaced by UNAMSIL (the United Nations Assistance Mission for Sierra Leone) ‘peacekeeping’ troops, of whom British imperialism had high hopes. As a result, nothing much happened until the changeover had been effected, though much local publicity was given to Koroma’s constant demands that the RUF should be required to disarm immediately. In April 2000, with UNAMSIL duly installed, its troops advanced into the diamond mining areas to secure the disarming of the RUF. In view of the earlier scuffles with the AFRC, however, the RUF was not going to be hustled into decommissioning without proper safeguards. It not only refused to comply but also, in early May, surrounded the UNAMSIL troops and took 500 of them hostage. The time was now ripe for British imperialism to mount its armed invasion.
The capture of Foday Sankoh
On 8 May, a demonstration was engineered outside the home of Foday Sankoh in Freetown. Clearly Sankoh is very unlikely to have been responsible for inflaming the situation since, at very least, he and so many other RUF leaders would hardly have remained in Freetown as hostages to the enemy if the RUF had planned to flout the peace agreement, rather than merely responded to provocation. The lack of interest among UK nationals in Freetown in taking up the offer of evacuation adds strength to the surmise that there was, and is, no reason to think that the RUF had any intention of advancing on Freetown, but that it had merely moved to protect itself against attack. After managing to disappear for 10 days, Sankoh was eventually captured by government forces, shot in the leg, stripped naked, beaten up and otherwise humiliated, before being handed over to the British troops. They in turn handed him over to the Kabbah government, who are keeping him, along with other RUF leaders who had come to Freetown to take up government posts, in prison. These include Trade and Industry minister, Mike Lamin, Energy and Works minister, Pallo Bangura, and Land and Environment minister, Peter Vardy, as well as RUF general secretary, Momoh Rogers and its spokesman, Eldred Collins, and two RUF colonels. An attempt by former AFRC men to free Sankoh failed. That Sankoh is still alive at the time of going to press indicates that attempts will be made to use him as a bargaining counter in the puppet government’s negotiations with the RUF, should these reopen. In the meantime, however, the RUF continues to make headway in consolidating its positions, as indeed it did even during the presence of British troops. Besides its successful offensive against Lunsar in early June, it has launched attacks of Port Loko, and on 17 June it was attacking Masiaka, only 28 miles east of Freetown.
Five weeks after landing its troops in Sierra Leone, Britain withdrew them, leaving behind only “
some British troops and support staff”
“are to remain in the country for six to eight weeks to help establish a UK military advisory training team. That team will stay in Sierra Leone for the longer term providing advice and training to President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah’s government as it seeks to transform its rag-tag army into a professional fighting force”
16 June 2000, ‘Royal Marines pull out of Sierra Leone’). The British bourgeois media had imagined that British troops would be in Sierra Leone much longer, and were warning against ‘mission creep’, i.e., getting sucked into an unwinnable conflict as the US did in Vietnam. Yet two weeks ahead of schedule most of the British troops pulled out without noticeably achieving anything, unless they did in fact save Freetown from a rebel advance, as they claim.
One can only surmise that the British withdrew because on arrival they discovered that the split between Koroma and the RUF had not succeeded in significantly reducing the RUF’s fighting capability and they were not going to be able to direct a successful advance into the mining areas that would dislodge the rebels from there, certainly not in the near future. That being the case, the British left, after having set up various schemes that they hope will enable the government forces and UNAMSIL to weaken the RUF sufficiently for a successful assault to be made at some future date.
Can British imperialism succeed in defeating the RUF through its proxies?
The prospects for British success in re-acquiring control of the mining region are small. The puppet government’s strongest card is that it is holding a number of important RUF leaders, which may adversely affect the RUF’s effectiveness. On the other hand, the fighting forces at British imperialism’s disposal are a motley crew: (a) the Sierra Leone Army (SLA); (b) the kamajors; (c) what remains of Johnny-Paul Koroma’s supporters (the ‘West side boys’); and (d) UNAMSIL. All of those represent a headache for British imperialism.
(a) The SLA
We can gauge the quality of these forces with the kind assistance of Peter Hain, who explained on behalf of his imperialist government a Whitehall decision not to allow Brigadier David Richards to head up the SLA on the basis that
“the idea of sending a British officer to head an army that did not exist in any formal sense was ‘crazy’”
Times Online Special: Sierra Leone,
23 May 2000,
). The actual composition of the SLA is described by
of 16 June 2000 (
“an uneasy coalition of private armies and guerrilla groups, some of which had previously been fighting one another in the country’s decade-long civil war. Many are poorly trained and equipped and until recently their ranks included child soldiers.”
of 19 June 2000 (‘Gun battle sparks panic in Freetown’) states that
“The SLA, born of last year’s peace accords, is still in its infancy. The British are training 1,000 new recruits but many of its officers are either inexperienced or tainted by a history of human rights abuses.”
“It is also possible that the government forces will disintegrate as they reach the diamond areas, even before they have to fight. During the nine years of civil war, many soldiers, including some from a West African peacekeeping force and foreign mercenaries, have settled in and dug for diamonds, making territorial deals with the rebels or even joining them”
(‘Staying on’, the
17 June 2000).
Mention has already been made of the brutal habits of the kamajors. If the
of 21 May is to be believed,
“… Britain is backing a militia whose members believe that their lucky charms make them bulletproof”.
Moreover, the puppet Kabbah is far from sure of the kamajors’ loyalty:
Although the Kamajors are the only faction to have remained consistently loyal to the government, the beleaguered President Kabbah is suspicious of their fanatical allegiance to Chief Norman and has blocked efforts to send them extra arms”
21 May, ‘Magic is a powerful weapon in Sierra Leone’).
(c) The ‘West side boys’
Similar problems of indiscipline and brutality exist as regards the West side boys, as the rump of the disbanded AFRC – the men who stayed loyal to Koroma – now call themselves. Consequent upon a successful RUF attack on Lunsar in early June (when the SLA
“withdrew claiming it had run out of ammunition”
according to the
of 4 June),
“Two soldiers were killed and three wounded fighting at Lunsar Saturday
between soldiers of the new Sierra Leone Army [SLA] and the ex-SLA ‘West Side Boys’ loyal to Johnny-Paul Koroma, military sources told Reuters. A diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web on Sunday that the fighting appeared to relate to field promotions given to the new SLA while some ex-SLA soldiers were mysteriously dropped from the list. He added that the SLA at Port Loko ‘seemed to have disbanded’ Friday and Saturday”
(Sierra Leone News web site, 18 June 2000). Incidentally, Koroma is no longer officially in command of this force. He has supposedly returned to civilian life to take up the post of Chairman of the National Committee for Peace and Reconciliation [hard to imagine a more suitable candidate!] and become a born-again Christian. Is this an image designed to appeal to US imperialism, adopted to enhance his candidature for the Presidency? If so he may well be disappointed – see further below.
As for the UN forces, the troops being used hail mostly from third-world countries and quite often their hearts simply are not in it. This is perhaps explains the ease with which the RUF was able to take the 500 UN troops, mostly Zambians, hostage in May. The
of 16 June 2000 reports in ‘British exit opens way for rebels’:
About 200 Zambians surrendered to just 20 rebels, handing over 13 armoured vehicles subsequently used in RUF assaults. A few days later, Jordanian peacekeepers fled long before the RUF reached their positions.”
This in part may be explained by the fact that UN troops in Sierra Leone are not necessarily paid, as is exposed by the
of 18 June, ‘Countries pocket UN pay intended for Sierra Leone peacekeepers’:
Nigerian troops who form the backbone of the troubled United Nations peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone have not been paid for four months as their government has pocketed UN contributions intended for the soldiers.
Troops from other countries serving in Sierra Leone – including Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, Bangladesh and Jordan – have also not been receiving the full £675-per-head monthly stipend that the UN has handed over for them.”
The only UN troops apparently which have been at all effective have been the Indian troops who, according to the
“at least are willing to resist rebel attacks”
. This does not prevent army officers from African countries from resenting the fact that it is an Indian, Major-General Vijay Jetley, who is in overall command of the UNAMSIL mission, and from demanding the overall commander should be from one of the African states.
According to the
of 10 June,
“Bad blood between the UN’s different national contingents – which range, say insiders, from good to bad to hopeless – had not helped. The Nigerians, who supply the most soldiers, and who lost 700 men in saving Freetown from the rebels in an earlier battle for the city, would like to have military command of the UN force, as well as running its civilian side”.
In addition the
supplies the interesting information that
“There is a dark suspicion that the Nigerians supplied the force’s Indian commander with misinformation, exaggerating the imminence of the danger to Freetown.”
In other words, as suggested earlier in this article, there was no danger to Freetown from the RUF, which confined itself to taking measures to protect itself against a provocation.
‘Going the distance’
All then that the British are able to do is to provision these rag-tag troops with modern weaponry (apparently, according to the
Times on line special: Sierra Leone
of 16 May, the embargo on supplying armaments to the government side in the conflict in Sierra Leone has been ‘agreed’ to be lifted – though we are not told when or by whom).
However, besides the very questionable quality of the troops fighting on the puppet government side in this conflict, are small details such as the fact that the RUF is still holding important hostages, although most of the 500 troops encircled and taken hostage at the beginning of May have been released unharmed. Still under effective RUF detention, however, is a paratroops’ officer, Major Andrew Harrison, who, instead of being allowed to return to Freetown with the other hostages, was handed over to a beleaguered UN garrison in Kailahun, in the RUF-controlled south-east of the country, where well over 200 UN troops have been encircled by the RUF and are unable to move. In addition the RUF is holding 23 Indian peacekeepers at Quivar.
Another ‘small’ difficulty is that with the collapse of the Lomé agreement, the UN has no legitimate right to remain in Sierra Leone at all, as a UN official admitted to the
of 9 June, while at the same time pronouncing that the UN intended to stay. Another difficulty is that the UN troops are supposed to be ‘peacekeeping’ – they are not there to go on to the attack to overrun territory held by the rebels. Of course, with the illegal bombing of Yugoslavia, it has to be admitted that international ‘law and order’ has irretrievably broken down. Imperialism more and more openly flouts it and appears to have ceased to care what anybody thinks – if indeed it ever did. Mark Huband in ‘UN forces in Sierra Leone work on their tarnished image’,
9 June 2000, quotes Oluyemi Adeniji, UN special representative in Sierra Leone, proving that he is now ‘on message’:
One of the big lessons of the past month has been that we should not be too rigid in the over-arching peacekeeping role of Unamsil”
, i.e., we won’t just defend, we’ll go on the attack. The whole point of our being here, after all, is to get our hands on the diamonds! And according to the
of 16 June, ‘British exit opens the way for rebels’:
British officials say that Gen Jetley has now been persuaded by them and by UN headquarters in New York that self-defence can still permit peacekeepers to take the initiative against any rebel threat to UN forces or civilians”.
The US and Liberia
It is generally considered that Charles Taylor of Liberia works closely with US imperialism and promotes US imperialist interests. He has, however, also consistently supported the RUF and was reputedly instrumental in setting it up, at a time when the government of Sierra Leone was working with ECOMOG against his rebel movement. His regime also, it seems, helps with the sale of diamonds coming from the rebel-held areas:
Liberia has been exporting sixty times the carats its own marginal mines can produce. Official exports from Sierra Leone over the last two years collapsed to $30m while in Liberia they shot up to $340m”
10 May 2000, ‘Turmoil in Sierra Leone’).
In the meantime, Liberia seems to be doing what it can to assist the RUF. It has moved troops to the border with Sierra Leone, on the pretext that Liberian rebels in Sierra Leone are threatening an invasion, forcing Kabbah to move the kamajors to the border to counter the Liberian military build-up. It would seem a fair assumption that
“Taylor might just be aiming at diverting government’s attention from the prosecution of the war so that the rebels would continue to occupy the diamond fields”,
a Sierra Leonean political science lecturer is quoted as saying. “
The idea is get our government
send more troops in the border line and overstretch its military capacity against the rebels”
BBC Monitoring Reports,
21 June 2000).
Is there any way that US imperialist interests and the activities of the Liberian regime are reconcilable? It has to be admitted that what would most suit US imperialism in Sierra Leone is a victory for the kind of rebels who would refuse to accept the property rights of former British and South African owners of Sierra Leone’s mining interests, but who would be prepared to offer some kind of concessions to American companies. And of course, most important, they would need to guarantee to continue to support the flow of tribute to imperialist banks, just as Kabbah does. It seems likely that the most appropriate candidate for this might at one time have been Johnny-Paul Koroma, but his support in the country would appear to have been drastically reduced in the latest debacle. A search is apparently going on for a new leader for the RUF who, unlike Foday Sankoh, is not ‘discredited’, i.e., has not demonstrated his unwillingness to serve imperialist interests. Although Sam Bockarie’s name has not been mentioned in this connection, as far as we are aware, he has been in Liberia for several weeks now – although this could conceivably be against his own wishes.
Quite apart from any interest in moving in on the diamond fields, US imperialism may well be worrying about the ability of the Kabbah regime even to safeguard payment of tribute to its banks and feel it is time to find a more secure way of protecting these interests.
Robin Cook has failed to get US support for his proposal to black trade in Sierra Leonean diamonds – which in any event seems an impracticable proposition. The only progress Cook has been able to make in his campaign to keep the moribund Kabbah regime going is to persuade the European Union to suspend aid worth $47.6 million to Liberia.
All in all, the outlook for British imperialism is none too sparkling in Sierra Leone. As the
of 10 June 2000 says:
Britain has trained many Sierra Leonean soldiers in the past but most of them, finding no decent government or state to serve, either mounted a coup, joined the rebels or simply used their training for banditry.”
All in all, hyena Cook’s determination to ‘go the distance’ looks like a distinctly lost cause.