CHARLES Taylor’s name rarely pops into the news headlines these days. Some might claim to have forgotten why they ought to remember him. They might be subject to a bout of self-induced amnesia.
To say Charles Taylor is not “a nice man” would be like saying Dracula was misguided in his dire need of a massive blood transfusion.
There are others whose lunatic fringe pan-Africanism might lead them to describe this former Liberian leader as “an innocent African being persecuted by the West”.
The same has been said already of Muammar Gadaffi, who has butchered hundreds of his people to the hymn “we will show no mercy”.
Sudan’s Omar Al Bashir is fortunate his colleagues in the African Union would not surrender him to the International Criminal Court, to face the music, over the Darfur killings.
The price they have paid: the independence of Southern Sudan, due next month, could be delayed as a new war rages between north and south forces in a disputed region of Sudan.
If someone had had the “Obasanjo” guts to allow the international court to seize the Sudanese dictator, there would be no dark cloud hanging over Southern Sudan’s independence today.
Taylor remains in The Hague, in the Special Court on Sierra Leone, charged with crimes against humanity.
Specifically, he is accused of buying diamonds from Sierra Leone in exchange for guns, used by some Sierra Leoneans to kill hundreds of their kinsfolk in a civil war.
He had taken refuge in Nigeria. Olusegun Obasanjo, the then president, let the international justice machinery pluck him out of asylum and deliver him to The Hague.
Taylor has denied the charges. His name came up recently in — of all places — a South African court.
Someone working for former president Nelson Mandela had initially been accused of trying to fiddle with gemstones which were somehow linked to both Taylor and that famous personality with distinctly African origins, the British model Naomi Campbell
She is beautiful and much sought after by so-called “top people”. She was said to have offered the diamonds to a Mandela-backed charity while at a party hosted by the all-time political icon. She claimed the diamonds were a gift from Taylor — the same man now on trial at The Hague.
Some people say this is the stuff of which James Bond films are made — perhaps bigger than Diamonds Are Forever.
Incidentally, that film has a scene in which poorly-paid black miners in the apartheid-era South Africa are rewarded with a pittance for stealing diamonds — by concealing them between their teeth.
Another irony — the gems end up in Amsterdam, a few hundred kilometres from The Hague. James Bond — Sean Connery — has this excellently filmed do-or-die fist fight scene in a lift with the villain.
It doesn’t compare with the serene scene in The Court. The only high drama there was Taylor’s lawyer’s accusation that his client was the victim of a Western conspiracy.
He dragged into his defence the names of Tony Blair and George W Bush.
Their reputations in their own countries were sullied, almost permanently, by their involvement in the Iraqi war.
The lawyer argued they ought to have been treated as international brigands as well, for that atrocity, which included the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein.
Then we have the capture, after 16 years of a manhunt, of Ratko Mladic, accused of ordering the killing of hundreds of young Muslims during the horrible bloodshed which followed the break-up of the Yugoslav federation.
It had been held together by one man, Josip Broz Tito, an ally of many African liberation struggles.
Mladic is now in The Hague, awaiting trial on charges related to his role in the killing of the Muslim youths.
His boss, Radovan Karadjic, is there already.
The long arm of the international law has demonstrated that for genocide, the world will hunt you down …to the ends of the earth. This must send shivers down the spines of all who killed only in defence of their own selfish ambitions..
In Africa, millions must be relieved that the killers of their relatives will not get away with it. They too might be pan-Africanists, but they are not fanatics.
● Bill Saidi is a veteran journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe