Belfast Telegraph

Bimbos, blood diamonds and bringing the truth to light

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Granted, Naomi Campbell is not very nice or clever. But I really don't see why the beautiful, sullen, airhead becomes the empty vessel into which the world tosses its scorn.

OK, so she wasn't the cool, stylish dame last week that she usually is. Of course, it is an inconvenience for one to whom the meaning of life is make-up, frocks and fawning fans.

I am not being facetious. She had to be ordered to The Hague to give evidence at the war crimes trial of Liberia's toppled leader Charles Taylor.

So, she doesn't know where Liberia is and couldn't care less about his misdemeanours and all that boring stuff. What do you expect? She is who she is — a supermodel, as it says on the tin.

It is not Campbell that is truly appalling, but the chorus of disapproval we have heard from people who showed no interest in the trial until a dumb beauty turned up to entertain them.

That is racism — treating massacres in Africa as ‘natural’ or inevitable. Taylor was indicted in June 2003; the case began in January 2008.

Campbell has done human rights a service. The media got excited and took their cameras to the courtroom.

At least millions now will have heard of The Hague, learnt a few facts about a Liberian warlord. They may even fleetingly have registered the name of Sierra Leone and noted the term ‘blood diamonds’.

Taylor is accused of arming the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which wreaked havoc in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, in return for blood diamonds from that country.

When he was elected to run Liberia in 1997, Taylor was bathed in so much blood, few could believe his victory or bear to accept him as a leader.

Yet there he was, that same year with a whole bunch of the rich and powerful invited by Nelson Mandela to tour on a five-star train in South Africa and then on to his presidential residence.

The Liberian butcher got prime place at the top table, even though Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, apparently found it distasteful.

There is a happy photograph to mark the jamboree — Taylor, Mia Farrow, Imran and his then wife Jemima, Naomi Campbell and others and a smiling Mandela.

A pouch, Campbell says, was handed to her in the middle of that night, containing “dirty pebbles”. Used to big, shiny bling, she says she did not recognise them, those uncut, damned diamonds that would scream if they could.

The charge is that they were sent by Taylor. State villainy carries on in the world because high-minded leaders can let go of moral principles when the time, cause or price is right — even Mandela, an undoubtedly great man. That jolly picture of Mandela with Taylor gave the warlord an alibi and cheap blessings.

In the end, Liberians got back their country and ended the adventures of Charles Taylor. A documentary, Pray The Devil Back To Hell, which can be seen online, filmed this remarkable campaign.

This week, Campbell is again the focus as her testimony is contradicted by her former agent, Carole White, and by fellow guest Mia Farrow, who said Campbell knew what the gems were — as if that matters.

Anyway, Campbell passed them over to the Mandela charity. Farrow, warrior for human rights, did not leave the gathering when she found Taylor there. Nor did Imran and Jemima Khan. The sinner went away happy, oppressed his nation for five more years, recruited boy-killers, enriched himself further, perhaps gave some loot to Nelson Mandela's charity.

I hope that much more important question is answered during the trial and we discover the names of others who never asked themselves what they were doing snuggling up to Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor.

And I hope we, too, follow this story — even after Campbell has got her vacuous life back.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph