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The political history of Sierra Leone has been characterized by constant turnover of governments and frequent military coups. Political manipulation and mismanagement, ethnic politics and economic deprivations, political disenfranchisement, and the struggles for the diamond control have fueled political conflicts and civil war in Sierra Leone. Since independence in 1961, Sierra Leone has had numerous ethnic and political conflicts. Like many African countries, Sierra Leone is a multicultural country with some 17 ethnic groups that can broadly be divided into two main groupings: the Mende and the West Atlantic groups. A minor ethnic dispute ranging from a policy disagreement to an outright challenge to the central government can easily degenerate into armed struggle. The civil war (1991-2000) was eventually a struggle of various ethnic groups to control the country's diamond mines, which made Sierra Leone an arena for foreign intervention. The interplay of these factors paved the way for the tragedy that the world witnessed in Sierra Leone during the last decade.

But while by 1961, the power struggle between the right wing Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and the left wing All People's Congresss (APC) was evident, in order to understand the situation during the period, one has to start with the coup in 1968, when junior army officers installed the head of the APC, Siaka Stevens, as Prime Minister.

When Stevens first came to power, he quickly turned diamonds and the Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST) into a political problem, tacitly encouraging illegal mining. In 1971, President Stevens created the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC), which effectively nationalized the SLST. The new company was directly under the auspices of the prime minister and his trusted friend, Jamil Mohammed, a Lebanese businessman.

Stevens' accession to power was followed by charges of electoral fraud brought against SLPP parliamentarians. But it was APC-inspired violence that forced the SLPP to boycott election of the 1973, creating a de facto one-party system that allowed the APC to consolidate its control over government apparatus and to become increasing intolerant towards public dissent. The first major challenge to the APC came in 1974, when treason charges were brought against some military personnel and civilians for an attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister. Under questionable judicial dispensation, twenty two were given a death sentence but only eight were finally put to death. The second major political demonstration occurred in February 1977. Students organized nationwide protests that compelled the government to hold general elections. Although the SLPP participated under unfavorable conditions, the APC won only 15 of the 29 of the contested seats. At this point, the APC was bent on institutionalizing the one-party system of government, arguing that such a system would pave the way for socio-economic development that the country needed. But to the contrary, under the mantle of the APC, the state was unable to collect taxes and effectively allocated the limited resources beyond its domains. The first general election under the one-party system was also characterized by violence, especially in the Pujehun district where some frustrated citizen formed the "Ndoghorwusi", a guerrilla movement, and would subsequently culminate in the total break down of political institutions and structures with the outbreak of the civil war in 1991.

In 1984 already, the SLST had sold its remaining shares to Precious Meter Mining Company (PMMC), a company controlled by Mohammed. The new president of Sierra Leone, Joseph Momoh, not only continued his predecessor's policies but also entrusted Mohammed with greater control of the government. Legal exports of diamonds dropped from over two million carats in 1970 to 595,000 carats in 1980 and then to 48,000 in 1988. In fact, illegal trade in diamonds and mismanagement of diamond exploration were responsible for the successive drop in diamond production in Sierra Leone.

So in the end, the merging of politics, violence and personal interest secured access to resources distributed to party loyalists rather than the nation as a whole. Consequently, the decaying economic, social and political infrastructures needed urgent external assistance from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to redress the situation. Such help was often predicated to economic and political reforms in the requesting country. Reforms often brought with them enormous hardship. Therefore, it was not surprising that the foreign donors demanded that President Momoh restore the multiparty system. Additionally, international financial institutions compelled the government to carry out the structural readjustment program that brought the failing economy to its knees. The worsening economic and social conditions exasperated many disenfranchised groups and led to the intensification of rebel activities. The question was when rebellion would escalate into a civil war.

In March 1991, 100 fighters comprising of Sierra Leonean dissidents (mostly university students), Liberians loyal to Charles Taylor, and some mercenaries from Burkina Faso, invaded the eastern part of Sierra Leon at Bomaru and Kailahan districts. Another rebel group crossed the Mano River Bridge, linking Liberia and Sierra Leone, and launched a second attack in the Pujehan district. This marked the start of the civil war that would later consume thousands of lives, destroy the country's development prospects, and force the government to rely heavily on mercenaries and foreign troops to defend the country. The rebel attacks inside Sierra Leone was executed with the assistance of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front in retaliations for Sierra Leone's participation in the West African regional force, which was opposed to Taylor's military activities in Liberia.

Currently (July 2006) imprisoned in Den Haag where he faces a war crimes tribunal, Charles Taylor was born in 1948 to a family of American-Liberians, the elite group that grew out of the freed slaves who founded the country in the 19th century. For what are suspected to be political reasons - broadening his appeal to the indigenous African majority - Taylor added the African name "Ghankay" in later years, becoming Charles Ghankay Taylor.

Like many American-Liberians he studied in the United States. He returned home shortly after Master Sergeant Samuel Doe mounted Liberia's first successful coup d'état in 1980. Taylor landed a plum job in Doe's regime running the General Services Agency, a position that meant controlling much of Liberia's budget.

He later fell out with Doe, who accused him of embezzling almost $1m, and fled back to the US. Here he ended up in the Plymouth County House of Correction in Massachusetts, detained under a Liberian extradition warrant. Some reports say he managed to escape the prison by sawing through the bars; others that there was some collusion in his departure from Americans who wanted him to play the role he then proceeded to carve out for himself - overthrowing the corrupt, violent and generally disastrous regime of Samuel Doe. Taylor's rebellion succeeded partly because of Doe's incompetence. But it was also the fruit of Taylor's building of sometimes surprising alliances. His friends over the years have included the once-radical Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, the conservative former ruler of Ivory Coast Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the current President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, and a rogues' gallery of businessmen, local and foreign, prepared to flout UN disapproval to make money.

In the meantime President Momoh, enlisted the help of Guinea-Conakry and Nigeria, and dispatched his ill-equipped army to the border area but it was not long before the army was defeated. By this time it became apparent that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was behind the cross-border raids. RUF's leader was Foday Sankok, an ex-army sergeant, who was implicated in the military coup in the early 1970s. His plan was to oust the Momoh regime, which, in his view, was corrupt, tribal and lacked a popular mandate. But instead of waging a war against the government, the rebels employed brutal tactics to terrorize civilians to demonstrate the inability of the national government to protect its citizens. All together, the civil war was an outgrowth of ethnic conflict, the struggle for control of the diamond mines and the dubious behavior of neighbors. From the very beginning of the civil war in 1991, Liberia played the roles of banker, trainer and mentor to the rebels (RUF). The Liberian connection with the conflict and illicit diamonds had been a major problem to successive governments in Sierra Leone. Liberia's involvement was driven by pillage rather political concerns. As the war was in full gear, Liberia provided the RUF with outlets for illicit diamonds in return for supplying them with weapons. Between 1994 and 1998 Liberia's average diamond mining capacity was 100,000 to 150,000 carats of diamond. But, according to the records of Hoge Raad Voor Diamant (HRVD) in Antwerp (Belgium), Liberia, during the same period exported more than 31 million carats of diamonds to Belgium, with an annual average of more than six million carats a year. The export records of Cote d'Ivoire indicated that it exported an average of more than 1.5 million carats to Belgium even though its small diamond mines were closed in the mid-1980s. On the other hand, the government of Sierra Leone reported its diamond exports in 1998 at a mere 8,500 carats, although HRVD registered its import figures at 770,000 during the same period.

The diamond export data on Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, and other neighbors is in conflict with the diamond production capacities of these countries. Such blatant discrepancies between diamond production capacity and their export support the assertion that these countries were participants in the illicit diamond trade. In the early 1990s, the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) continued its predecessor's search for new investors. The military government received bidding from small mining firms, which included Diamond Works, Rex Diamonds and AmCan Minerals. Diamond Works and Rex Diamonds had interests that extended beyond the mining operation and were heavily involved in the internal politics of Sierra Leone.

The government of Liberia and Burkina Faso did gunrunning for the rebels in Sierra Leone. Taylor and private businessmen around him used covert sanction-busting apparatus that included the arming of the RUF. The United Nations Security Council report indicates that there is conclusive evidence to show that Burkina Faso, Liberia, and Niger were the "supply lines" of arms to the RUF.

The report also indicated that weapons supplied by these governments had been diverted for use in the civil war in Sierra Leone. In March 1999, for example, sixty-eight tons of weapons and ammunition, consisting of 715 boxes of weapons and cartridges, 408 boxes of cartridge powder, anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles and rocket propelled grenades and launchers, were delivered to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Documents provided by the Ukraine government to the UN Sanctions Committee indicated that a Gibraltar company, Chartered Engineering and Technical Company Limited, acting on behalf of the Burkina Faso government, purchased weapons from Ukraine. The end-user certificate issued by the Ukraine government showed that the state-owned company, Ukrspetsexport, was the agent responsible for the shipment.

In addition, the end-certificate explicitly stated that Burkina Faso was the final destination of the shipment. However, Burkina Faso and Liberia had put in place covert and illegal arrangements to divert the shipment through Liberia to the RUF. This operation was successfully carried out. An examination of the military inventory of Burkina Faso by Jane's Infantry Weapons and the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance revealed that Burkina Faso had only used NATO-standard weaponry for its armed forces and had no known armaments from the former Soviet Republics.

This evidence unravels the complex operations surrounding the weapons purchase by Burkina Faso from the Ukraine. These reports also unmask Burkina Faso's role in diverting the weapons to the rebels in Sierra Leone. In addition to Liberia and Burkina Faso, the United Nations Security Council Report implicated Gambia, Guinea, and nationals from Belgium, Israel, Kenya, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Tajikistan, Ukraine and the United States in some of the illegal transactions vis-à-vis the war in Sierra Leone.

The report illuminated the fact that citizen of these countries in one way or another acted in complicity with an international criminal operation that was masterminded by Charles Taylor. Initially, President Momoh of Sierra Leone requested military assistance from London to shore up his army to fight terrorism and to improve communication and intelligence capacities. However, the British government turned him down. By January 1992, the RUF strategy had shifted from terrorizing citizens to attacking economic targets. It carried out a series of daring operations in the diamond mines in the southeastern region of the country. Two months later, they successfully attacked government convoys. Because of the military's failure to contain the rebellion and a fear of a coup, Momoh fled the country. In May 1992, junior officers, led by Captain Valentine Strasser, took over the government and promised to negotiate a peaceful solution with the rebels. Their efforts were thwarted by the unreasonable expectations of the RUF. Consequently, Strasser decided to replace military men with civilians in his cabinet, hoping they would be more likely to restore calm. The army successfully dislodged the rebels from its holding on the alluvial diamond mines in southeast Sierra Leone.

The intensification of the fighting and the RUF advances on the capital forced the government to seek external assistance. In March 1995, Strasser hired South Africa's Executive Outcomes (EO) to assist in pushing the rebels back from the outskirts of Freetown. By the end of the year, Executive Outcomes forces had expanded its operations into the rural areas of Sierra Leone and ended the rebel stronghold in the diamond areas. They also began to cooperate with the Kamajors, a local militia, which had defended the area in the absence of government forces. The assistance provided by Executive Outcomes helped the Kamajors to become a viable political and military force in Sierra Leone. The government offenses were successful. RUF had suffered huge casualties and had sought peace talks with the government. Under pressure from the British and French governments, elections were scheduled in February 1996.

In the seeming disruptive style of the army in Sierra Leone, Brigadier General Julius Maada-Bio overthrew the Strasser regime and proceeded with the elections. Following the second round of voting in the presidential elections, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, leader of the southern-based Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), was elected president. Few months later, he was criticized for keeping foreign troops in the country. His decision to use the Kamajors as presidential guards was not popular with the army. The RUF indicated that it would only recognize the newly elected government only after the withdrawal of the Executive Outcome forces from Sierra Leone. In the meantime, International Alert, the London-based human rights group, made many attempts to organize talks between the government and the rebel group. In November 1996, a peace agreement was finally signed in Abidjan. One of the provisions of this agreement called for the withdrawal of Executive Outcomes by January 1997.

With the withdrawal of Executive Outcome and the establishment of a unity government, including the RUF, one would expect that the final road to peace was eminent. Such a thought was impracticable because of the indecision of Kabbah. His move to reduce the army under a plan drawn by British military advisers, his heavy reliance on the Kamajor militia for presidential protection, and his drift away for the SLPP alienated several factions in the country. An atmosphere of mistrust and misgivings prevailed, paving the way for another coup against the democratically elected government. The 1997 coup led to a total break down in institutions, structures and operation of government. Conspiracy and force replaced the rule of law; serious human rights violations by the RUF and government forces were pervasive. The United Nations, the Organization for African Unity (OAU), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOW AS) tried to resolve the political conflict in Sierra Leone. Their efforts centered on condemnation of the military coup, isolation of the ruling military junta (the AFRC), and the reinstatement of Kabbah's government.

In 1995, a UN special envoy was sent to Sierra Leone to help mediate a peace deal between the government and the RUF. The effort yielded no dividend. Faced with a deteriorating situation, the UN Security Council issued a series condemnations and called on international financial institutions and UN member states to provide assistance to neighbouring countries in the region to deal with the massive influx of refugees from Sierra Leone. Additionally, in August 1997, the Security Council imposed oil, arms and travel embargoes on Sierra Leone in order to increase pressure on the Junta to relinquish power. It also authorized the West Africa Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG) to enforce the sanctions, which would stay in place until the Kabbah government was restored.

Moreover, the OAU authorized the ECOW AS to restore the Kabbah regime. The West African organization used a three-pronged approach to end the military rule:
(1) to impose sanctions against the military regime in Sierra Leone;
(2) to support for the ECOMOG forces to enforce the ban; and
(3) to maintain a dialogue with the junta. This approach culminated in the signing of a peace plan between ECOW AS and the junta in Conakry, Guinea, in October 1997. The plan called for the restoration of the Kabbah government by April 22, 1998, a deal that the junta proceeded to disregard.

After the violent removal of the junta from power, the UN lifted the sanctions in March 1998. In July, the Security Council established the UN Mission of Observers in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) to monitor demobilization and disarmament of former combatants and to train and restructure the police force. UNOMSIL did not have the chance to finish the job. Its personnel were withdrawn in January 1999 because of the deteriorating situation in Sierra Leone. In February 1999, the African Women's Committee on Peace and Development issued a statement condemning the human right abuses in Sierra Leone and endorsed the efforts of the Kabbah government to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The civil war illustrates a dangerous interplay of internal and external forces. Governments did not use diamond revenues to develop the country economically and to provide basic services to its citizens. Instead, they used these revenues to enrich themselves and to consolidate their control over the state through patronage. This corruption caused popular resentment and led to the outbreak of ethnic violence. It is not surprising that control of diamond mines were at the heart of the conflict in Sierra Leone. Diamond exports are the main source of foreign exchange earnings. However, the smuggling of diamonds has been a lucrative business for some people in the diamond-rich areas. Diamonds are as good as cash. They are durable; they are easy to conceal and exchange for currency around the world.

The smuggling of diamonds has been a major source of conflict among various ethnic groups. Successive governments failed to regulate the exploitation of diamonds largely because of the quest for personal enrichment, mismanagement, and ethnic politics among politicians, military leaders and the citizens. Their failure to manage the export of diamonds has inevitably been seen by various factions inside and outside as a tacit approval to engage in illicit diamond trade.

Ethnic rivalry and political instability in Sierra Leone were exploited by neighbouring states, which saw opportunities to benefit financially from the civil war. Liberia, Burkina Faso, Niger encouraged and supported the RUF. During the war, they became major centers for massive diamond-related criminal activities, with connections to guns, drugs and money laundering. Liberia was the main conduit for smuggled diamonds out of Sierra Leone and the mastermind behind all the weapons supplied to the RUE Burkina Faso also acted was involved in the illegal exchange of conflict diamonds for weapons with the rebels.

Sierra Leone's civil war destroyed the social fabric, weakened the economy and left administrative structures and institutions in a decaying state. An effective solution to address the conditions created by the war cannot be arrived at until the factors that created climate for hostilities are addressed. There is a need to rebuild state institutions and to install good governance. The military, whose frequent intervention in politics has caused instability in the country, should stay out of politics and return to performing his military duties. It will be useful to put the military under civilian control. International assistance is imperative to develop system in which the rule of law is supreme, not the power of the barrel. Without such assistance there is a greater probability that the country's security could once again deteriorate into another disaster that might threaten the whole region.

The case of Sierra Leone also illustrates the high cost of illicit diamond trade as can be seen in the killings of innocent civilians, the destabilizing of weak governments, and the adverse impact on the global security system. Although the illicit trade in diamond had been going on for decades, it is the bloody war in Sierra Leone and other African countries that elevated the problem to the forefront of international discourse and action. Additionally, there was a growing concern that that continued involvement in the sale of diamonds originating from war zones could threaten the integrity of the diamond industry and undermine consumer confidence. These factors were instrumental in the decision by the international community to address the issue of conflict diamonds. The international condemnation of the illicit trade forced the diamond industry to re-examine its trading practices.

Finally by end 1999, the Clinton administration promoted a partnership among legitimate diamond-producing states, diamond consuming and marketing nations, and the diamond industry. The U.S.-led initiatives led De Beers Consolidated Mines of South Africa, (that control over 85 percent of the world's diamond production and marketing) to announce in February 2000 that it would no longer buy any diamonds from regions controlled by armed groups that are opposed to legitimate governments.

During a May 2000 conference in Kimberly, South Africa, the U.S., Britain, South Africa, Belgium, African diamond producers, and De Beers committed to a continued working relation with southern African states to ensure the full implementation of the recommendations of the conference. During the months of June and July, follow-up meetings took place London, Luanda, and Lusaka, representatives of the Diamond High Council, the government of Sierra Leone and other entities, met to deal with the problems of conflict diamonds.

During the same month, the international diamond industry proposed new controls that require certificates of origin from where a diamond was last exported. The UN Security Council also adopted a resolution calling for a certification program. It also called on member states to ban the import of diamonds from conflict areas, unless those diamonds were certified under the certificate scheme to be approved by a UN sanctions committee. A month later, the UN approved Sierra Leone's diamond certification program. The new system would require that certificates of origin would be numbered on forgery-proof security paper. A matching numbered label on the sealed parcel of rough diamonds, with a warning that any tampering would be deemed as a violation of the Security Council resolution. The new system requires that diamond shipments must contain documents tracking its origin back to mine. Furthermore, rough diamonds and uncut will be shipped in sealed packages certified by authorities in the exporting nations. The packages will have to be verified by the new international diamond council producers, manufacturers, governments and international organizations, agreed to by the diamond industry. This new organization will oversee the behaviour of its members. Traders involved in illicit diamond trade would be expelled from the industry, and violators of the rules would lose their export accreditation. The diamond industry acknowledged that the new rules would not completely stamp out the smuggling but it would make it harder to peddle diamonds.

Nevertheless, this still suffers from major deficiencies that, if not corrected, could destroy the intent of keeping conflict diamond out of the global market. After more than three years of the process, there was ample evidence to suggest that the loopholes in some of the provisions have provided opportunities for those who are bent on undermining the process. Some of the criticisms of the Kimberly process include the following:
A. The agreement granted the industry the power to self-regulate itself in January 2003. How is this possible? This remains the unanswered question given the diamond industry's questionable past.
B. Governments have resisted the call for a "systematic, impartial review of all participants' diamond control system to assess how they were working in practice." During the negotiations, NGOs tried unsuccessfully to include an impartial monitoring system in the agreement. However, in October 2003, the European Commission and South Africa pushed for the adoption of a voluntary peer review system. While the peer review system is an important milestone, its effectiveness is predicated on thorough examination of all countries every four years. This further illustrates the weakness of the amendment that was introduced to mitigate flaws in the initial agreement.
C. The absence of sanctions for countries found to be violating the agreement further amplifies the impediments that are inherent in the effective implementation of the Kimberly agreement. After the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the Bush administration quickly realized the danger of the illicit diamond trading, which has been used by terrorist organizations to finance their operations. UN Security Council had evidence that Taylor and businessmen such as Ibrahim Bah (a conduit between RUF leaders and buyers from al Qaeda and Hezbollahi and Victor Bout (an arms merchant who supplied weapons across Africa and to the Taliban and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan) used convert sanction-busting mechanisms that included money laundering, and other international criminal activities. On June 4, 2003 the Security Council indicated that there was conclusive evidence that implicated Taylor in arming the RUF in return for proceed from the sale of diamonds smuggled out of Sierra Leone.

As part of the US war on terrorism, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (U.S.A. PATRIOT Act) was enacted in October 2001 to prevent future terrorist attacks in the country. Other provisions of the law such as the money laundering are relevant to the diamond industry. The law requires that "financial institutions" including the jewellery industry, to carry out the following steps:
1. They must create, implement, and test written anti-money laundering procedures.
2. Employees of jewellery industry must act as compliance officers.
3. These employees must be trained about the program.
4. There must be "independent testing" of the program to ensure its effectiveness.

The proposed rule states that dealers must develop and implement all provisions within 90 days of the rule coming into effect. The US Treasury Department, "Notice of proposed rulemaking, Financial Enforcement Network", 19 February 2003; "Anti-Money Laundering Programs for Dealers in Precious Metals Stones or Jewell", Raport, 19 February 2003.

The Taylor-al Qaeda connection in Sierra Leone and Liberia illustrates the damage that corrupt leaders and terrorists can inflict on weak states and the global security system. And the U.S. moved to enact legislation to fight terrorism and money laundering. Other countries have also adopted similar money-laundering measures. Ben Kinzler, the executive director of Diamond Manufacturers and Importers Association of America, cautioned the diamond industry to disassociate itself from terrorism. Arguing that failure to address the association between the industry and terrorism could seriously undermine consumer's confidence in the diamond industry.

Tens of thousands of people died in the interlinked conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Human rights activists accused Taylor of being at the centre of a West Africa-wide web of armed groups, and of selling diamonds and buying weapons for Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels, who were notorious for hacking off the hands and legs of civilians during their decade-long war. June 2003, arrest warrant is issued. August 2003: Taylor steps down and is given asylum in Nigeria in order to end Liberia's civil war.

When Liberia's new President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf took office in January after winning elections last year he made an extradition request. Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo said in March 2006, that Liberia's new government was free to take Taylor into custody. Then Taylor disappeared. However, he was recaptured and Nigeria repatriated him to Liberia and a UN helicopter took him to Sierra Leone and into the custody of the tribunal. A consensus emerged that his trial would need to take place in the facilities of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but it would be legal officials assigned to the Sierra Leone tribunal who would be responsible. The Dutch government agreed to host Taylor's trial, as long as he was imprisoned in another country if he was convicted and his transfer from Sierra Leone took place after the United Kingdom offered to host any jail term he may serve. But Taylor (July 2006) still has to appoint a legal team. One of his lawyers has said that the former president is "broke". Taylor however is known for his theatrics. When, as president in 1999, he faced accusations from the United Nations that he was a gun runner and a diamond smuggler, a lay preacher in the Baptist tradition, he addressed a mass prayer meeting clothed from head to foot in angelic white.

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This document is in the public domain.

March, 2011