Courtesy Reuters

THE LORDS OF MISRULE

This past March, a UN panel revealed that Liberian officials had signed a secret contract with an obscure European company, giving it a virtual monopoly on mining diamonds in the troubled country -- even though Liberia has been banned by the UN from selling its diamonds since 2001. The arrangement, it was disclosed, had involved members of the new transitional government operating under the (supposed) scrutiny of a large UN mission.

The discovery should not have come as a surprise. Liberia's new government, supposedly a model of national reconciliation, is largely made up of former militia members. During 15 years of war, armed gangs ravaged Liberia, turning it into a classic example of a failed state. Since the fighting stopped in August 2003, the erstwhile warlords have been quick to set aside their differences -- at least when doing so helps them acquire more loot. The mining deal was just one in a long series of similar scandals perpetrated by senior members of the transitional government, who are rapidly signing away their country's future in return for personal financial gain.

It did not have to be this way. The new regime was established in October 2003 as part of a

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  • Stephen Ellis is a researcher at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the former Director of the Africa Program at the International Crisis Group. He is a co-author of Worlds of Power: Religious Thought and Political Practice in Africa.
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