Naomi Campbell exposes the diamond industry’s role in African wars

When international supermodel Naomi Campbell took the witness stand Friday in the trial against Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor, Western media outlets showered unprecedented attention on this largely ignored war crimes trial.

For the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia, Naomi Campbell’s association with this whole affair is of little consequence. But it is a cruel reminder of another stark fact: In the years of war that engulfed both countries, not only were thousands of innocent lives lost and people maimed, not only were women and girls raped or made sex slaves, not only were children conscripted to fight, but the people’s resources also were stolen out from under them and never returned.

The diamond industry has given almost nothing back to Sierra Leone, despite the critical role diamonds played in the war. The same is true for segments of the timber industry that profited from the deforestation of Liberia during the war.

The supermodel, perhaps unintentionally, said it best when she described the gift she received at that dinner in South Africa. She called them “dirty little stones” unfamiliar to her because she was used to seeing diamonds “shiny and in a box.” Campbell’s comment spoke not only of her relative naïvety, but of the troubling nexus between Western economies and some of the world’s worst resource-based conflicts and most corrupt regimes, particularly in Africa.

Commentators in the West typically point to the corruption and human rights abuses of African leaders, as if this happens in isolation. But it is a two-way street. In nearly every armed conflict or instance of a highly corrupt regime coupled with some desired resource, a network of outsiders extending from organized criminal networks to reputable financial institutions facilitates and exacerbates some of the world’s worst abuses.

This is not simply about a few unsavory businessmen willing to make back-room deals. It is also about major international financial institutions that exercise little due-diligence as they oppose stricter transparency regulations. It’s about major corporations that transact with shell companies representing criminal networks, or that make payments to off-budget bank accounts. In short, it involves the “see no evil” approach by some of the world’s largest mineral extraction, oil and financial institutions.

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0 Comments

  • Zaidi

    Reply Reply August 12, 2010

    When will we, as a people, start taking responsibility for our misdeeds? Why do we continue this knee jerk reaction in blaming “The West” for all our ills? Ms. Campbell knew what she was receiving and knew where it was coming from. Leave the spinning of the truth to CNN and FOX!!!

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