- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2000

President Clinton seems not to have learned to handle a failed state like Sierra Leone. For the second time, he is sending the Rev. Jesse Jackson, "my special envoy to democracy in Africa," to help negotiate a halt to the violence. Jesse Jackson has played a role in helping to establish a phony peace in Sierra Leone. The peace Mr. Jackson helped to negotiate, with the support of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, restored the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. Part of the deal was that the person most responsible for atrocities in Sierra Leone, the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, was given amnesty so he and three of his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) thugs, could join the government.

One wonders why the United States and Britain were so eager to be involved in what seems to be a strategically irrelevant kleptocracy in West Africa. The real reason for the intervention by the two Western parties is not human rights, but diamonds. Robert Block wrote in the Wall Street Journal May 12: "Washington and London have spearheaded efforts for several months to break the financial power base of the RUF, which controls the country's eastern diamond-producing areas, and trying to centralize the diamond trade." Sierra Leone exported $66 million worth of diamonds in 1998, and only $31 million in 1999.

According to DeBeers Consolidated Mines, Mr. Sankoh's RUF is responsible for the missing diamonds, which are sold on the black market. The so-called rebel is in collusion with President Charles Taylor of neighboring Liberia, his long-time ally in trafficking in illegal diamonds. Mr. Sankoh is the chief murderer and kleptocrat of Sierra Leone, a cashiered corporal from the Sierra Leone Army, who sustains his military with money from the stolen diamonds.

Multiple events led up to the Sierra Leone tragedy. The impotence of the United Nations to deal with the kleptocracy and the U.S.-Britain "peace on the cheap"; all revolving around the diamonds. The tragedy began when the U.S.-U.N. assumed that a peace treaty and a government that includes the thug leader could last. In March 1998 a Kabbah government returned to power with the help of a West African intervention force that got the junta and the rebels to flee the capital, Freetown.

However, when the West African Force left, between December 1998 and January 1999, up to 5,000 people were killed in a major rebel offensive. In came our saviors, the United Nations peacekeepers, an 11,000-member force. Unprofessional and run by Third World U.N. members, without proper training, equipment, motivation or central command, the peacekeeping force has failed miserably. The U.N. must learn a hard lesson from this fiasco. It never was given a mandate to intervene in interstate civil war conflicts, which is the case here. The U.N. Charter mandates that it can only intervene in conflicts between states. Unless there is a major reform in the anachronistic United Nations, it had better not send haphazard forces that only enhance the slaughter.

Good intentions or an impotent and unmandated United Nations cannot bring an end to kleptocracy, failed states, Africa's games, or wars financed by stolen diamonds. The illicit diamond trade goes beyond Sierra Leone and Liberia. It finances both the government and the opposition in the Congo, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

Take the case, for instance, of our former ally, Jonas Savimbi, who was supported by the United States and White South Africa against the Angolan Marxist government. At the end of the Cold War, with a black government in South Africa, the two states abandoned Mr. Savimbi. But he is doing much better now as a diamond mercenary, amassing close to $2 billion many more dollars than he got from his Western allies and has become the master in the territory of failed state of Angola, according to an April 6 report in the New York Times. President Laurent Kabila, the kleptocrat in charge of Congo that replaced the former kleptocrat President Mobuto with the help of the United States, also has his hands in the diamond till. Congo is more complex than and now will be hostage to Sierra Leone.

Mr. Holbrooke is now going to meddle with four failed states, and I hardly believe that without a serious American-NATO-West African Force you could take power away from the diamond kleptocrats. Mr. Holbrooke is expected to stabilize the government of Mr. Kabila. Thus, the U.S. and U.N. will be hostage to another diamond thief.

President Clinton, genuflecting during his grand tour of Africa for sins that were not only America's but mostly those of European imperialists, spoke of "caring" for the continent. He spoke of a new African era. When asked by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to have American troops join peacekeeping forces in Sierra Leone, Mr. Clinton was only willing to provide troops to other countries.

The administration is aware of the re-emergence of warlordism in Sierra Leone, which is reminicent of the failed Somalia operation. No Richard Holbrooke or Jesse Jackson can restore peace and order in kleptocratic Western, sub-Saharan and Central Africa.

Only 10,000-20,000 American troops moving from Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti, where they have not done very well, may still do better with African kleptocrats. But there is a serious difference between Serb, Albanian and Bosnian nationalists, who are fierce. You cannot buy them as you can the African kleptocrats. Only money will restore peace with the African kleptocrats, since we are not planning to send our ground troops.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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