Mixed fortunes for Taylor at Hague trial

Sunday August 15 2010

By CHEGE MBITIRU

Always a showman, former Liberian President Charles Taylor must have wished a chance to hug British supermodel Naomi Campbell.

She turned his “not guilty” plea to an international show without nailing him. Ms Campbell verbally sashayed in the first scene 13 days today. Early last week a former actress, American Ms Mia Farrow, played in the second. A former Ms Campbell agent, now litigant, did the finale.

Judges know how to separate the chuff from the grain. Those at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague will do so. For now, the stars provided only anecdotes, some so bizarre the show lacked a story. Somehow, the tantalising went, one night Ms Campbell received from two unknown males a present in a pouch.

She didn’t open it until morning. That’s blasé. Well, the pouch contained “dirty-looking stones.” Over breakfast, Ms Campbell recalled telling others of the nocturnal visit. Voila! They are diamonds or a diamond from Mr Taylor, said either Ms Farrow or Ms White.

Not so, testified Ms Farrow. Ms Campbell hardly sat before announcing a “huge diamond” Mr Taylor gave her. The setting is former South Africa President Nelson Mandela’s official premises in Cape Town in September 1997. Mr Mandela had hosted a star- studded dinner for guests to the inauguration of a special train and to raise funds for the Mandela Children’s Fund.

It seems bizarre unknowns would wander in presidential premises looking for official guests. It would even be more so were the South African security agencies unable to produce a log of who entered and left the premises, especially at night. Hopefully, the prosecution is looking into that.

A dispute that Ms Campbell received and disposed of “dirty-looking stones” that South African police has certified as diamonds doesn’t exist. So what?

Recalled telling

Mr Taylor faces 11 charges, including genocide and receiving diamonds from Sierra Leone rebels during the 1991-2002 conflict. In return, he allegedly bought arms for the rebels. The rebels’ tactics rivalled those of Genghis Khan’s soldiers. Putting a single diamond in Mr Taylor’s hands remains crucial for the prosecution. Ms Campbell didn’t accomplish that.

Astonishingly, of the 91 witnesses the prosecution had called, none had outdone Ms Campbell. Whiffs of investigative incompetence floats. Anyway, the supermodel’s appearance “resurrected” Mr Taylor’s trial and memories of issues related to it. One is “selective” international trials for African leaders.

Hooray, wrote Mr Fami Feni-Kayode, a critic of the trials and Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo spokesman at the time of Mr Taylor’s arrest in 2006. Ms Campbell, Mr Feni-Kayode wrote in a revised “A Man Betrayed” essay, didn’t support western leaders’ “futile and childish attempt” to confirm Mr Taylor a “classical and stereotypical African dictator…” et al.

African leaders, according to Mr Feni-Kayode, made an-exile-in-Nigeria deal with Mr Taylor. Well, accountability didn’t feature. Presumably, his “sacrifice” to step down as Liberia’s president surpassed suspicions. Handing him over for trial became a “betrayal.” To the opponent of international trials for African leaders, Ms Campbell’s evidence became an asset. She deserves a reward. What about a huge clean diamond, Mr Taylor?