The Imp Of The Perverse
The Imp of the Perverse is a metaphor for the common tendency of many to choose to respond completely incorrectly to decisions which must be made by them, even though they are aware of what the right decision should be and the self-destructive consequences of making the incorrect decision… The impulse is compared to an imp (a small demon) who leads an otherwise decent person into mischief; “the Devil made me do it”. This was elucidated in a famous short story by Edgar Allen Poe which dealt with the psychology of such decisions. In “Le mauvais vitrier” (“The Bad Glazier”) by Charles Baudelaire, a deluded man smashes the transparent panes carried by a window maker in the belief that the world, seen through colourful tinted windows, would be a more happy place. This self-delusional policy of deliberately choosing the wrong course to follow despite knowing what the right course should be is the key characteristic of US foreign policy in Africa.
The US is at war in Africa. It has been at war as an integral part of the Cold War. It has had practical experience in African wars. America has been fighting wars in Africa since the 1950s – in Angola, the DRC, Somalia, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Morocco, Libya, Djibouti to name but a few counties. In some countries they used US troops, but in most cases the US financed, armed and supervised the support of indigenous forces. In its support of the anti- MPLA forces in Angola, it sent arms and equipment to the UNITA opposition. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Larry Devlin of the CIA was an unofficial branch of Mobutu’s government; the US ran its own air force at WIGMO. US airmen supported the South African forces in Kwando, Fort Doppies and Encana bases in the Caprivi from WIGMO. At these bases one could also find soldiers from Southern Rhodesia (in their DC3s) and German, French, Portuguese and other NATO troops.
One of the largest of these bases was at Wheelus Field, in Libya… Wheelus Air Base was located on the Mediterranean coast, just east of Tripoli, Libya. With its 4,600 Americans, the US Ambassador to Libya once called it “a Little America. During the Korean War, Wheelus was used by the US Strategic Air Command, later becoming a primary training ground for NATO forces. Strategic Air Command bomber deployments to Wheelus began on 16 November 1950. SAC bombers conducted 45-day rotational deployments this staging areas for strikes against the Soviet Union. Wheelus became a vital link in SAC war plans for use as a bomber, tanker refuelling and recon-fighter base. The US left in 1970.
Another giant base was Kagnew Field in Asmara. The base was established in 1943 as an Army radio station, home to the U.S. Army’s 4th Detachment of the Second Signal Service Battalion. Kagnew Station became home for over 5,000 American citizens at a time during its peak years of operation during the 1960s. Kagnew Station operated until April 29, 1977, when the last Americans left Kagnew Station.
However, with the end of the Cold War, the US has found itself fighting a much more difficult and insidious war; the war with Al Qaida. This is much less of a war that involves military might and prowess. It is a war against the spread of drug dealing, illicit diamonds, illicit gold and the sheltering of Salafists (Islamic militants) who use these methods to acquire cash which has sustained the Al Qaida organisation throughout the world. The political dichotomy between the Muslim North in Africa and the Christian/Animist South is not only a religious conflict. It is a conflict between organised international crime and states seeking to maintain their legitimacy.
There are now several ‘narco-states’ in Africa. The first to fall was Guinea-Bissau where scores of Colombian Cartel leaders moved in to virtually take over the state. Every day an estimated one tonne of pure Colombian cocaine is thought to be transiting through the mainland’s mangrove swamps and the chain of islands that make up Guinea-Bissau, most of it en route to Europe. As reported by Johnathan Miller[i]
“Western narcotics and intelligence agencies believe that up to two small twin-engine aircraft carrying up to 800kg of cocaine are landing on airstrips in Guinea- Bissau every night, having crossed the Atlantic from South America. The street value of a tonne of cocaine on the streets of European capitals is roughly £50m.”
Guinea-Bissau’s Interior Minister, Major Baciro Dabo, and the head of the navy, Jose Americo Bubu Na Tchutu, are alleged to be key facilitators of the trade.
This was equally true of Guinea under President Lansana Conte whose wives (and her brother) were shown to be kingpins in the Guinean drug trade. Many in the National Army were compromised and active participants. This drug trade has spread to Senegal, Togo, Ghana and Nigeria. There are very few jails anywhere in the world which are not home to West African ‘drug mules’ tried or awaiting trial or execution. This drug trade is spreading like wildfire in West Africa, offering remuneration to African leaders, generals or warlords well in excess of anything these Africans could hope to earn in normal commerce.
In countries like Nigeria there are several important businessmen, with many legitimate businesses and deep political attachments, who also deal as ‘druggies’ in this international exercise. The authorities know who they are but find it difficult to proceed against them. In West Africa, as in most area of the world, lots of money buys immunity and, often, impunity from the law. The ‘mules’ are picked up and punished but the ‘big men’ go free.
This burgeoning drug business was an offshoot of the political, economic and military connections which were made by Al Qaida in pursuit of their takeover of the “Blood Diamond” business in West Africa.
During the civil wars in Sierra Leone the Revolutionary United Front (‘RUF’) took over the diamond fields in the country; initially at Koon. The diamonds were mined by RUF rebels, who became infamous during Sierra Leone’s civil war for hacking off the arms and legs of civilians and abducting thousands of children and forcing them to fight as combatants. The country’s alluvial diamond fields, some of the richest in the world, were the principal prize in the civil war, and they have been under RUF control for the past four years.[ii] Small packets of diamonds, often wrapped in rags or plastic sheets, were taken by senior RUF commanders across the porous Liberian border to Monrovia, where they were exchanged for briefcases of cash brought by diamond dealers who flew several times a month from Belgium to Monrovia, returning to Pelikaanstraat in Antwerp.
The man in charge was by Ibrahim Bah, a Libyan-trained former Senegalese rebel and the RUF’s principal diamond dealer. After fighting with the Casamance separatist movement in Senegal in the 1970s, Bah trained in Libya under the protection of Col. Moammar Gaddafi. He spent several years in the early 1980s fighting alongside Muslim guerrillas against Soviet forces in Afghanistan where he participated in the creation of Al Qaida. He then left to fight alongside Hezbollah in Lebanon. He returned to West Africa, to Ouagadougou, where he is sheltered and protected by the President, Blaise Campaore. Campaore was already using Burkina Faso as a depot for arms to the RUF, Liberia and the rebels of the Ivory Coast. He took, and takes, his share of the blood diamond money whether they are sold to Al Qaida or Hezbollah.
The involvement of principal figures of Al Qaida in the blood diamond business is well documented.[iii] The Al Qaida and Hezbollah involvement in the illegal trade in diamonds, gold and other gemstones has tied in organised criminal activities with Islamic fundamentalism in the region, provoking a clash between the Islamists and the Christian/Animists. It has sparked civil unrest, as with Boku Haram in Nigeria and created a criminal enterprise which has taken over the Ivory Coast.
With the French-inspired and funded rebellion against the government of Gbagbo in 2001 the country was divided. The legitimate government of Gbagbo ruled in the South but the country was divided by a military line provided by the French Force Licorne and the United Nations peacekeepers. The North was free and protected to get on with its own businesses. It was run by tin pot warlords who drew their strength from their marauding bands of mercenaries, misfits and sociophobes who created little kingdoms of their own which they ran with rapacious style. They paid no taxes, they paid no rents; they paid no duties and they provided no social services. They stole everything they could find and shipped it out, usually via their home base in Burkina Faso.
In Burkina Faso, under the aegis of Blaise Campaore, they were introduced to the buyers from Hezbollah and Al Qaida. Ivory Coast has diamond mines. Illicit diamond mining in the northern part of Ivory Coast still continues and provides a healthy stream of diamonds to Al Qaida, especially Al Qaida in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
There are four big mines – Bobi, Diarabala, Seguela and Tortiya. The US sent a CIA team in to discover what was happening, now that Ouattara is notionally President. They attempted to trace the origin of around 300,000 carats produced locally last year and which generated earnings of roughly USD 25 million. The business is mainly controlled by two warlords, Issiaka Ouattara AKA “Wattao” and Herve Toure AKA “Vetcho.” The diamonds are smuggled out mainly through Mali and Guinea before ending up on the international market in Tel Aviv. These warlords are the backbone of the new Ivory Coast Army and tied closely to the Prime Minister, Soro.[iv] With the support of Campaore and the needs of the new Army, it is very unlikely that Soro will heed the call of his feeble President to stop the sale of blood diamonds to Al Qaida or to stop paying Campaore.
This thievery was repeated in the cotton and timber businesses. It was the Lebanese of Hezbollah who provided the motor scooters which the rebel irregulars imported duty-free to the Ivory Coast. Outright theft, as in Ibrahim ‘IB’ Coulibaly, who broke into a warehouse belonging to the United States agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland on the northern outskirts of Abidjan last month and sent at least 3,000 tonnes of cocoa to Ghana, was not a unique event. President Ouattara’s troops killed Coulibaly.
This litany of crime, corruption and the funding of Al Qaida and Hezbollah by the rebels in the Ivory Coast north was well known to everyone. Now they are in charge. Blaise Campaore is still in business. The cause of Al Qaida has been promoted on the basis of a notional anti-Muslim bias by the Gbagbo government. The reach of AQIM is now further south as all of the Ivory Coast is added to its reach.
The question one is bound to ask is what imp of the perverse overtook the US Government to support such a program. The US actively intervened to push the UN to take an active role in the military offensive against Ivory Coast civilians. It encouraged the amoral weasels of France to attack and kill civilians. The US has been in Africa, dealing with Africans since 1945. Agencies like the DEA are fighting a brave fight in trying to suppress the drug trade and the selling of blood diamonds. What perverse instinct of self-destruction has created a US policy which rewards its deadliest enemies and punishes its most loyal allies?
Words cannot express the utter stupidity and self-destructiveness of US policy in allying itself to the rabble of Ouattara and his friends. What government in Africa will ever trust or deal openly with such a maniacal formulation of national interest on the part of the US. The US is at war in Africa. To win, or survive, requires helping one’s friends and punishing one’s enemies. What imp of the perverse can have gotten things so wrong; and so often?
By Dr. Gary K. Busch
[i] Miller, Johnathan, “Drug barons turn Bissau into Africa’s first narco-state”, Independent 18/7/07
[ii] Farah, Douglas, “Al Qaeda Cash Tied to Diamond Trade” Washington Post 2/11/01
[iii] For a good, detailed account see “Global Witness “For a Few Dollar$ More: How al Qaeda moved into the diamond trade” April 2003.
[iv] Africa Miining Intelligence 31/5/11
Gary K. Busch is an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political affairs and business consultant for 40 years, and has traveled and worked extensively in Africa.