Between 1991 and 2002, Sierra Leone was heavily damaged by a tremendously violent civil war. This civil war erupted because of the mounting dissatisfaction of the people, especially the youth that were engrossed by the rebellious Revolutionary United Front (RUF), towards the politics of the country that was set apart by its corruption, negligence and electoral violence. It took the lives of over 50,000 individuals, displaced over two million inhabitants and also heavily ruined their national economy.
According to Paul Collier and Marguerite Duponchel (2010), Sierra Leone was at the lowest level of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) after the civil war came to an end. The aim of this paper is to draw attention on how this civil war was carried out, the efforts made to resolve the conflict as well as the effects the war brought on its economy and civilians.
Therefore, section one of this paper will examine how the resources of Sierra Leone contributed to the civil war. Section two will demonstrate the demographics of the parties involved in the war. Section three will focus on the repercussions that the civil war brought on Sierra Leone and the final section will show the efforts made to bring peace into Sierra Leone.
II. Section one: How have Sierra Leone’s natural resources contributed to the war?
Let’s begin with a background history of the political situations that mainly caused the civil war in Sierra Leone. In the years after the death of Sierra Leone’s first Prime Minister Sir Milton Margai in 1964, the politics of the country was progressively distinguished by several negative factors, such as corruption and mismanagement, that led to the weakening of the civil society resulting in the frustration of a large amount of the youth who engrossed themselves in the unruly message of the RUF. This was because of leaders, such as Albert Mergai, who used Sierra Leone for their own selfish interests rather than in the people’s interest.
Mergai, unlike his brother Milton Margai, used the country for his own personal gain by even using the military to curb multi-party elections which threatened to end his rule. When Siaka Stevens succeeded, there was continued destruction of state institutions.
His rule was characterized by corruption and pet projects financed by the treasury, which eventually became bankrupt, only benefiting those closest to him. After turning Sierra Leone into a one-party state, Stevens finally stepped down in 1985. Major General Joseph Momoh received the position of Prime Minister and followed in the footsteps of Stevens by welcoming corruption resulting in complete economic disintegration.
The fact that the leaders used the abundant resources of Sierra Leone for their own self-aggrandizement made the country one of the poorest countries in the world by the time the civil war took place in 1991. (Gberie, 1998)
The Sierra Leone war began on March 23rd, 1991, when the student-led RUF began its revolt against the Serra Leone government, which commenced in Liberia and spread to the border regions of Kailahun and Pijehun. Several members of this insurgent group were jobless dissatisfied young men who were motivated by Charles Taylor’s rebel National Patriotic Front invasion in Liberia.
With the backing of Lybia and Charles Taylor, RUF’s goal was to remove from power the government of the All People’s Congress (APC) that was run by the presidencies of Siaka Stevens and Joseph Momoh which prolonged corruption, among other things. (Humphreys and Weinstein, 2008)
Several researches indicate that the presence of alluvial diamonds, found in regions such as Kono and Kenema, ushered in a civil war in many ways. Firstly, during the presidency of Stevens, the highly uneven benefits of the diamond mining frustrated everyday Sierra Leoneans.
Profits from the National Diamond Mining Corporation (DIMCO) only enriched Stevens, government members, and influential business people that were close with Stevens. Subsequently, the government lost direct control of the diamond mining areas when DeBeers, one of the world’s leading diamond companies, ceased doing business with the Sierra Leonean government in 1984.
As a result, there was illegal smuggling and trading of Sierra Leone’s diamonds with the proceeds going into the private investor’s pockets. Although the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) seized power in 1992, with the goal of diminishing corruption and restoring the revenues of the diamonds back to the state, the RUF acquired control of these abundant alluvial diamond areas to finance the purchase of weapons and ammunition obtained from countries like Liberia and Guinea. The simple availability of these diamonds was an incentive for violence. (Harsch, 2007) Although diamonds were a noteworthy commodity, other ways to fund the Sierra Leone Civil war were also present.
A mixture of iron, bauxite, coffee and cocoa were in abundance in the country. There was gold mining in some areas of Sierra Leone as well as cash crop farming which were even more common through forced labor. Along with the high demand of diamonds, several of these minerals financed the fighting in Sierra Leone with exports revenues as high as USD 25 million and USD 125 million a year.
Sierra Leoneans who joined the rebel group RUF also ransacked cars, livestock and money which helped them in gaining more energy and force. (Lujala, 2005)
III. Section two: The demographics of the parties involved in the war
When the RUF was first founded by Foday Sankoh, it was popular among several Sierra Leoneans because of the resentment they felt towards the corrupt Freetown elites.
It had a slogan that read “No More Slaves, No more Masters. Power and Wealth to the People” that pledged free education, health care and a fair sharing of the diamond proceeds to the people. It did not claim to fight for a particular ethnic group or district and did not support any Marxist, Socialist or Communist way of thinking. Its only goal was to remove the corrupt government from power although they provided little insight on what kind of government would follow it. (Denov, 2010) However, as time passed, the RUF developed a reputation for being a massively brutal rebel group during its ten year war.
Although there is no precise data to verify the number of children that were involved in the war, it has been found that the RUF were the first to recruit children as soldiers. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), over 10,000 children of both sexes were involved in the fighting in one way or another. They were kidnapped in their villages and towns during attacks executed by the RUF.
With their allies, the African Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), girls and boys were organized in separate units such as the Small Boys Units (SBUs) and Small Girl’s Unit (SGUs) which were commanded by several officers. The difference between how girls and boys were used is that, in addition to being used as fighters, girls were also sex slaves. Younger girls were primarily used for domestic labor, since they could not properly fight yet, and then became sex slaves as they grew older.
The brutality of the war had frozen their senses, which were also damaged by drug abuse. In order to stay alive, they had to frequently become merciless. Most of these children had to either amputate or kill their loved ones to show that they were loyal. (Denov, 2010)
An additional feature of the mobilization of children against their will was the “re-enlistment” of children after the disarmament process took place in 1998. Several children were re-enlisted back into the armed groups. This especially concerned children who did not have families to go back to even before the war started. Children who were let go from centers like the Interim Care Centre, which was a center created to help displaced children, had no other place to go after demobilization.
They eventually got captured by the rebels and were forced to tell them if they had any brothers or sisters that ran away. (Jow, 2004) The Sierra Leone government also followed in enlisting children under Momoh’s rule. Momoh’s government encouraged chiefs and district leaders to arrange civilians into local unofficial groups to add soldiers into the Sierra Leone Army (SLA).
When Momoh fled to Guinea, the NPRC government of Valentine Strasser was mainly responsible for the highest recruitment of children into the army to boost the amount of soldiers they previously had. There was an illicit enlistment of children while the income and benefits of the deceased soldiers was stolen by senior officers for whom this war had become a money-making business. (Jow, 2004)
When the war was over, many children did not return to their existing families. This was mainly because some of them were abducted so young that they did not even have any recollection of their families. Some were so afraid of being rejected by their families like others have been that they refused to go back home.
Girls were especially afraid of rejection for being sex slaves to the rebels especially if they had babies from them. Rather than face shame, a number of these people ended up on the streets with significant health problems since most of them were addicted to the drugs that were initially forcibly administered by the rebels during the civil war. (Kamara, 2004)
IV. Section three: Efforts made to stop the civil war
In March 1995, a few years after the war started, a military group known as Executive Outcomes (EO) entered Sierra Leone. Its mission was to return the diamonds and mineral mines back to the government, obliterate the command centers of the RUF and to organize a program that would persuade ordinary Sierra Leoneans to encourage the Sierra Leone government. EO was a military group that hired Angolans and Namibians that were considerably skillful in operating counter attacks against the RUF.
EO joined forced with the Kamajors, another paramilitary group that surfaced against RUF, and the SLA to force the RUF rebels out of the diamonds centers they firmly controlled for several years. After EO took over RUF’s centers of operation near a town called Bo, the RUF had to own up to their losses and sign the Abidjan Peace Accord. This accord, however, demanded that the EO leave the country. EO was told to leave by the Sierra Leone government even before the arrival of another peacekeeping force. (Bellows and Miguel, 2005)
The AFRC, supported by members of the RUF, took power after Executive Outcomes left the country causing President Kabbah to flee to Guinea in exile. The AFRC partnered with the RUF rebels naming Foday Sankoh the deputy Chairman of the AFRC. The “Operation Pay Yourself” introduced a whole new level of violence against the innocent inhabitants who had their limbs chopped off.
As a result, many were against the AFRC because their actions violated the civil rights of the people. The AFRC coup of the presiding government was also condemned by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Diplomats were sent back to their countries, missions were cancelled, and the country’s membership in the Commonwealth was put on hold. (Olonisakin, 2008)
In October 2007, the involvement of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) brought the AFRC and RUF insurgents to the negotiating table. The rebels agreed to a ceasefire by signing the Conakry Peace Plan. The fighting, however, still continued. Although ECOMOG forces were able to restore the Kabbah government, they had poor training in counter-insurgency attacks from the RUF.
Therefore, the rebels went to Freetown to loot neighborhoods and rape citizens without discrimination. This battering of citizens is known as “Operation No Living Thing”. This led the Kabbah government consider making considerable compromises in the Lome Peace Agreement. (Wright et al., 2010)
The conditions of the Lome Peace Accord, signed on July 7th, 1999, were that Sakoh would be allowed to go unpunished. He would also be appointed as Vice-president of the committee that supervised the diamond mines of the country. In return, the RUF agreed to demobilize and disarm its rebels under the custody of peace keeping forces led by ECOMOG and the United Nations.
This agreement led to many Sierra Leonean protests along with other human rights activist because of the fact that Sankoh, the leader of the RUF responsible for unspeakable atrocities, got away scot-free and was also given control over Sierra Leone’s diamond mines.
However, this accord was very crucial for the government to regain peace through a process known as Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR). During this disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, ex-soldiers were trained to use their skills for a peaceful line of work for six weeks. (Williams and Alfred, 1999)
The United Nations Mission to Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) also joined to disarm and implement the conditions that were set up by the Lome Peace Agreement and brought along military personnel, who increased over time, to supervise the diamond mines and the RUF who were still undermining their authority.
By March 2001, the number of soldiers present through the UN was up to 17,500. In May 2000, RUF detained UNAMSIL peacekeepers to use their weapons and gain control of Freetown once again which made UNAMSIL avoid getting involved in diamond mining areas controlled by the rebels.
This re-armament of the RUF by UNAMSIL called for another military involvement that was made to rescue the peacekeepers and the Sierra Leone government known as Operation Palliser. This operation, which consisted of British Royal Marines, helped in stabilizing the country. These marines evacuated foreign citizens out of the country and saved UNAMSIL from collapsing. The rebel forces were repelled from regions further than Freetown, under the command of General David Richards, and power was given back to the government. (Anon, 2000)
As awareness spread about the diamonds of Sierra Leone, the Kimberly Process met to assemble in Kimberly, South Africa. The United Nation took notice of the diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds, and its implications. The United States government followed, under the command of President Bill Clinton, by devising a plan to keep the conflict diamonds out of the market legally.
With 49 members representing 75 countries, the Kimberly Process has made diamond industries stop exportations to Liberia, Canada and other leaders in the business. Although there are no diamond-fueled wars any longer, the Kimberly Process is still playing an important role by maintaining stability.
It helps in developing improved trading centers that are licensed as conflict-free and provides ways to promote legal legislative structures that lead to peace treaties helping those in poverty. (Anon, 1998) V. Section four: The aftermath of the civil war on the economy and the Sierra Leonean people
The civil war has had devastating effects on the socio-economic order of Sierra Leone. Agriculture was greatly damaged causing high inflation of goods and unemployment. Sierra Leone’s infrastructure was also heavily destroyed. Roads were ruined and the power supply system depreciated due to lack of maintenance. The public health division was also in a terrible condition because of the looting of the hospitals and clinics during the war.
The civil war caused a lot of health professionals to leave the country out of fear instigating an acute shortage of qualified staff members present in hospitals. As living standards fell to the ground, hitting the poorest even harder, many citizens moved from rural areas to the cities and towns hoping for better living conditions. However, access to health services depended on how much one could pay. Others were forced to seek refugee status in other countries while they lived in deplorable conditions moving from one area to another. (Kargbo, 2002)
As years went by, several Non Governmental Agencies and the Sierra Leonean government have tracked Sierra Leone’s recovery. The country is recovering well from it civil war scars with the help of the international community and its partners. According to the data collected by the government of Sierra Leone Institutional Reform and Capacity Building (IRCBP) in 2004 and 2005, districts that experienced greater violence have had slightly better results.
To some extent, they seemed to be more politically organized then other areas that were less affected by the violence of the civil war. Voter registration was notably higher in these areas. Community meetings were also considerably elevated statistically. When an IRCBP survey asked people how the war affected their ability to work together, 60% of people declared that it had a positive impact to their society. Theoretically, these changes could have improved the public of Sierra Leone. (Mutwol, 2009)
Peace remained in the country with the help of the United Nations peace missions. Four years after the war was over, in 2006, the last group of the 17,500 soldiers flew out of Freetown and left the newly trained police in charge. Nowadays, the country is advertised as a tourist attraction with the help of British travel companies. They want sophisticated and adventurous travelers, who usually visit other more established tourist destinations, to come to Sierra Leone and have cocktails by their beautiful beaches.
One example is Lakka beach, which was a luxury destination before the war. It is trying to attract tourists by running several restaurants and organizing fishing excursions for Europeans tourists. Sierra Leone’s goal is to be recognized for its chocolate coconut bars rather than by the awful civil war that occurred. (Desai, 2010)
Although there has been considerable progress over the last ten years, there are still plenty of challenges that Sierra Leone must face. Most of the former child soldiers have returned to their former lives without any education or jobs. Children are still found working in the diamond mines. Work still remains in providing jobs for the massively unemployed youths, shelter for the orphans and rehabilitation for children who were forced to commit a number of crimes along with women of all ages who were also abused in many different ways.
Since these women have been ostracized by members of their own community for being sex slaves, there is a need for more counseling and support services to help them get back to their communities. The predicaments of these people can also be decreased by increasing the amount of educational and professional training. This country also faces great challenges in restructuring its judicial institutions to fairly bring perpetrators of the war to justice. (Collier and Duponchel, 2010) VI.
There are many misconceptions as to why the civil war in Sierra Leone occurred. What needs to be understood about the civil war is that it was not based on economic benefits acquired by the alluvial diamond mines. Although these diamonds have significantly contributed to the war, there was more than twenty years of poor governance, poverty, corruption and oppression that helped in forming the RUF as frustrations against the government increased over the years. This civil war has crippled many people for life, in one way or another.
Sierra Leone is still sustaining itself through the help of donors although it is very rich in natural resources. Much work needs to be done to further improve the lives of the people in Sierra Leone who are still living in poverty. It is yet to been seen if peace will remain in the country with the amount of unemployed young people wandering in the streets. Any threat to the stability of the country should be dealt with peacefully as soon as possible.
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