The British media have reported the hearings into the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor as a soap opera starring such celebrities as Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow.
Such treatment trivialises the appalling suffering of people in the region, and obscures the real issues.
The people of Liberia—and Sierra Leone whose history is intertwined with Liberia’s—are the victims of imperialism’s manoeuvres in the region.
The struggle to grab diamonds and other raw materials did not just lead to a present for a supermodel.
It also meant death for hundreds of thousands of West Africans in the 1990s.
The US and Britain have involved themselves in the region for 150 years, first through colonisation and later through economic and military pressure.
In the last two decades outside intervention, economic crisis and splits inside the ruling classes triggered brutal civil wars. The British invaded Sierra Leone in 2000, and the US sent troops to Liberia.
Ten years after the British invasion, which supposedly “freed” people, Sierra Leone remains 179th out of 179 countries according to the United Nations Human Development Index.
To give one example, the maternal death rates are the highest in the world, at 2,000 deaths of mothers per 100,000 live births.
Liberia is placed 176th in the same index.
About 85 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.
The diamonds of Sierra Leone, which fuelled Charles Taylor’s military campaigns, have a bloody history.
But they can’t be separated from the very “respectable” diamond firms like De Beers who have traded in such gems and made vast profits from them.
Diamonds are indeed just “dirty stones” unless there are jewellery firms prepared to trade them.
The present war crimes tribunal is itself heavily influenced by the US.
It was originally set up on an alternative basis to the International Criminal Court —which the US feared might try to arrest Western military and political leaders for their war crimes in Iraq.
Taylor was at one time given sanctuary in Nigeria, but later handed over for trial after the US indicated its wishes by offering a $2 million reward for his capture.
The British and US governments, which claim to be friends of the people of West Africa, are its deadly enemies—not that any sense of the real history emerges from the way these issues are covered in the media.