Interview from The London Project http://londonproject.co.uk/article/murray
Colonialism Returns To Africa Says Ex-Diplomat
By Mattia Bagnoli
June 1st, 2007
in Issue 1 Today
As Tony Blair was feted as an ‘honorary chief’ in Sierra Leone this week, not everyone in London was as congratulatory towards the prime minister’s chequered foreign policy. “To me it sounds like colonialism has returned to Africa”, says Craig Murray, former British ambassador referring to the British intervention that brought the civil war in Sierra Leone to an end.
In 2000 Blair ordered the British Army into Sierra Leone to support government soldiers in the bloody civil war that had wrecked the diamond rich West African nation. “We managed to bring the war to halt, it’s true. But the price is that colonialism has returned to Africa. Is this the pattern we want? We now have troops in Sierra Leone; the head of the police is a British citizen, not to say that the government enjoy the help of British officers. Is the solution for Africa to have the Europeans come back?” says Murray.
Craig Murray was relieved of his post at the height of the Iraqi invasion in 2004 following public disagreements with then Home Office Secretary Jack Straw. Uzbekistan backed the US led invasion in the Gulf, conceding its strategic air-force base to the Americans, in return for much needed economic support. Tashkent’s poor record involving human rights was not considered an obstacle in the ‘pay off’. The former Ambassador was moved to voice his concerns bringing him into direct conflict with his own government.
Murray an experienced career diplomat served as British Deputy High Commissioner in Accra, Ghana and subsequently led the peace-talk delegation which brought a solution to the civil war in Sierra Leone.
“Sierra Leone is seen by supporters of intervention as a big achievement yet it can be seen as an example of the rather childish division of the world into bad guys and good guys often made by Mr Blair”, says Mr Murray.
Britain sent a battalion of 800 paratroopers to Sierra Leone in May 2000 – not as peacekeepers but, in effect, as combatants. They backed the democratically elected government, whose army had fallen into disarray, fighting a rebel army with a record of recruiting child soldiers, terrorising civilians, inflicting terrible deaths on innocent victims.
“Rebels have done truly horrific things but it cannot be forgotten that the elected government was also terrible, in terms of corruption, even by African standards. For instance, 90 per cent of the diamond trade revenues were shared between Sierra Leone’s elite and foreign companies which were operating there,” Murray said.
Murray claimed the money remained untouched in bank accounts, nonetheless the government was restored.
Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest nations in Africa and the world, despite its abundant mineral wealth. In the interior the diamond mines are working again and people wonder where that wealth is going. According to Alan Little, BBC’s correspondent in Sierra Leone, “the government has presided over a system of entrenched corruption in which the political elite grows rich while the mass of the people remain poor”.
“Mr Blair did not want to see this aspect”, recalls Mr Murray. “He wanted to find the good guys and then support them with a military solution. He adopted the same mindset to Iraq, where this simplistic view exploded – a rather ‘cow-boy’ approach I think”.
In his main speech on his farewell tour of Africa, Mr Blair, who has sent UK troops into action in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq while prime minister, said it was in countries’ self interest to intervene in failing states. He said: “I believe in the power of political action to make the world better and the moral obligation to use it.”
Mr Blair will fly back to London later after his four-day final trip to Africa before leaving Downing Street on 27 June.
After leaving the Diplomatic Service, Craig Murray turned to writing. His latest book, ‘Murder in Samarkand’ tells the story of his mission to Tashkent in the years between 2002 to 2004 where he became a firm opponent of Uzbek’s reckless regime and helped to expose its horrific tortures against political dissidents as well as helpless citizens – including boiling them to death. He also contributes to various newspapers and broadcasters.