The Supermodel's Revenge


For a brief moment this past August, the world worked itself into a frenzy over Naomi Campbell’s “hostile” turn on the witness stand at The Hague. Finally, it seemed, we had the perfect ammunition to level at the supermodel that everyone (apparently) loves to hate. Sure, we had all snickered at the stories of her various tantrums and cellphone-throwing fits of rage. Minor league stuff, really. But to go so far as to accept dirty looking pebbles blood diamonds from a dictator? The audacity!

Of course, while we were all busy pontificating, Naomi was having the last laugh. She is, after all, a supermodel.

Lest you’ve forgotten, simply pick up a copy of this month’s Interview, in which—from a yacht off the Italian coast—Naomi regales Tony Shafrazi with stories about her friends in very high places (do you get to dine with the First Lady of France AND call Nelson Mandela your honorary grandfather?); her 25-year career in the fashion industry (at 16, she flew to New York! On the Concorde! Wearing Alaïa!); her new life in Russia (“It’s like New York in the ’80s!“*); her relationship with the “African world” (She went to Tanzania in 1992. She was “moved.” The rest is history.); and her love for her (Black) people (“I’m not going to work against my people. They’ve suffered enough.“).

And then of course, there is the photo shoot. No comment.

About her turn as a witness for the prosecution? “This wasn’t about me. This was not my trial. This was his trial.” And she’s right. Whatever you may think of her, that she became the center of attention during what turned into a surreal media circus helped no one, least of all the people of Sierra Leone, who are owed justice. On this, I agree with G. Pascal Zachary, when he writes that “Africa needs a history lesson that Naomi Campbell can’t provide.”

The prosecutors with a United Nations war-crimes tribunal want to show that Taylor directly dealt in illicit diamonds, using them to lubricate his dictatorship and float his lifestyle. That the court must rely on such flimsy evidence as the Campbell affair suggests that Taylor’s trial is verging on the trivial. The major questions about his role ought to include an examination of the U.S. government’s role of installing him in power and, perhaps, helping him remain in power long after he vacated the peculiar “reservation” that his C.I.A. liaisons envisioned for him.

*Funny. That’s not how I would characterize what Russia felt like when I lived there. But that’s another post for another day.

Further Reading

No more caricatures

Engaging seriously with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life could help us understand how South Africa got where it is and where it’s going.