"Blood Diamonds" and Africa's Armed Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era
Orogun, Paul, World Affairs
The end of the cold war and its bipolar-based international security regime, which was characterized by the ideological and geoterritorial struggles between the United States and the former Soviet Union, has engendered profound changes, challenges, and constraints for many postcolonial African countries. The absence of any major ideological contestation between the East and the West has failed in the short-term to generate the anticipated "peace dividend" for several conflict-ridden and wardevastated African states. The plethora of armed conflicts, civil wars, and brutal struggles for control over the financial revenues and territories of "blood diamonds" have exacerbated Africa's postcolonial socioeconomic and political problems. These military skirmishes and cross-border rebel incursions have unleashed a catastrophic humanitarian tragedy for many citizens and for the neighboring countries of Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The net effects of these armed conflicts--induced, fueled, and funded by mineral resources--have been the proliferation of chronic regional insecurity, the intensification of border states' hostilities, and the acute political instability of many states in southern, central, and western African subregions. In short, the current post-cold war era has presented new challenges and complexities, engendered more paradoxes, and precipitated both political instability and serious regional security dilemmas for several conflict-ridden modern African countries.
The term "blood diamonds" specifically refers to diamonds that are extracted and exported from particular regions in sub-Saharan Africa that are still ravaged by vicious armed conflicts. These civil wars and brutal armed conflicts usually are instigated by intransigent warlords, renegade militias, and rebel groups that depend on the illegal sale of blood diamonds in exchange for military weapons, guns, fuel, and assorted war materials such as land mines. These savage wars perpetuate regional destabilization, cross-border military incursions, and acute internal political instability, and they also have unleashed a major humanitarian refugee catastrophe in parts of postcolonial Africa. "Depending on which estimates are used, blood diamonds represent 4 to 15 percent of the world's $6.8 billion annual diamond production." (1) In this paper, I focus on the relevance and the multidimensional impact of blood diamonds on the persistent socioeconomic, geopolitical, and territorial fragmentation or de facto balkanization of Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In these four sub-Saharan African states, protracted internal and interstate armed conflicts have been triggered, sustained, and funded by the economic imperative of capturing and monopolizing territorial control over the lucrative diamond producing areas. In Angola's protracted civil war, for example,
[d]iamond money paid for UNITA offensives that in the 1990s elevated Angola's civil war to a new plateau of savagery. At Andulo, UNITA's headquarters in the central highlands of Angola, Mr. Savimbi personally haggled with arms merchants and diamond traders who flew in from Europe. He bargained using small bags of diamonds, each of which contained several million dollars worth of gems, according to Robert Fowler, the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and chairman of a committee that investigated violations of the embargo against UNITA. (2)
It should be emphasized that at the height of the cold war era, countries such as Angola, Zaire or Democratic Republic of Congo, and Liberia were perceived as major strategic "trophies" or areas of vital interests in the polarized ideological and regional balance of power politics. During the cold war, for example, Angola's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebel movement was branded as "freedom fighters," champions of democratic dispensation, and aspirants of the capitalist, free-market enterprise. On the other hand, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was branded as an "Afro-Socialist-Marxist" regime that was backed by the former Soviet Union. In Zaire, ex-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was perceived as a key regional ally of the United States, France, and other Western European countries.
In the context of the cold war geostrategic matrix, the apartheid regime in South Africa overtly colluded with the UNITA rebels in Angola and received diplomatic support from Zaire and the United States, premised on the Real Politik security imperative that was anchored on the shared commitment of fomenting and fostering a policy of regional destabilization within the territorial boundaries of so-called Afro-Marxist regimes. With the end of the cold war, the UNITA rebels in Angola lost substantive political, military, and economic support from Washington, Paris, and Pretoria. Henceforth, UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was deemed an international pariah and a brutal warlord who continued to violate the sanctions that were imposed by the UN Security Council with regard to the clandestine guns trafficking and the illegal sale of blood diamonds in Angola. Diamond smuggling and gun running therefore constitute the pivotal independent variables that help to explain the longevity, ferociousness, and intractability of the twenty-seven-year-old civil war. The evidence available indeed is overwhelmingly compelling.
The wealth of diamonds mined in UNITA-held areas has provided the rebels with the resources to re-arm and prepare for renewed conflict during the Lusaka process. The diamonds left the country through the same pipelines through which sanctions-busting oil and weapons entered Angola. UNITA's exports of diamonds during the Lusaka process netted the rebels some US $1.72 billion, much of which it invested in military supplies, petroleum products, food, and medicines. (3)
In modern African politics, there has been a remarkable resurgence of social disorder, rule of impunity, and, in some countries, the criminalization of state power and the privatization of collective security. Since the end of the post-cold war era, African countries such as Senegal, post-apartheid South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, and Kenya, for example, have embraced democratic pluralism and market economies. Others have experienced severe armed conflicts and the outright fragmentation or collapse of central political authority. War-ravaged countries include DRC, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Although many of Africa's civil wars and brutal cross-border armed conflicts have been caused by intractable issues such as ethnicity, communal schisms, regionalism, and religious differences, some of the most virulent conflicts have been characterized and catalyzed by the ruthless struggle for domination and control of vital economic resources such as diamonds, crude oil, gold, cobalt, copper, timber, and other extractive materials. As witnessed in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and DRC, the political economy of violence has defined and transformed these rapacious armed conflicts into a vicious struggle for control of mineral resources and the attendant catastrophic humanitarian tragedies.
Egregious human rights violations and war atrocities engendered and exacerbated by the horrific armed conflicts have triggered alarm and revulsion from many quarters of the international community. These seemingly internal African …
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Publication information: Article title: "Blood Diamonds" and Africa's Armed Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era. Contributors: Orogun, Paul - Author. Magazine title: World Affairs. Volume: 166. Issue: 3 Publication date: Winter 2004. Page number: 151+. © 1999 Heldref Publications. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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