Sierra Leone Civil War
|Sierra Leone Civil War|
Map of Sierra Leone
West Side Boys
|Commanders and leaders|
| Joseph Saidu Momoh
Julius Maada Bio
Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
Samuel Hinga Norman
| Foday Sankoh
Johnny Paul Koroma
4,000+ government soldiers and militiamen (1999) 700+ Nigerian soldiers
6,000 UNAMSIL soldiers, 260 military observers, 4 Russian Mil Mi-24s (1999)
|~20,000 rebels (1999)|
|Casualties and losses|
|Between 50,000–300,000 killed
2.5 million displaced internally and externally
During the first year of the war, the RUF took control of large swathes of territory in eastern and southern Sierra Leone, which were rich in alluvial diamonds. The government's ineffective response to the RUF, and the disruption in government diamond production, precipitated a military coup d'état in April 1992 by the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). By the end of 1993, the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) had succeeded in pushing the RUF rebels back to the Liberian border, but the RUF recovered and fighting continued. In March 1995, Executive Outcomes (EO), a South Africa-based private military company, was hired to repel the RUF. Sierra Leone installed an elected civilian government in March 1996, and the retreating RUF signed the Abidjan Peace Accord. Under UN pressure, the government terminated its contract with EO before the accord could be implemented, and hostilities recommenced.
In May 1997 a group of disgruntled SLA officers staged a coup and established the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) as the new government of Sierra Leone. The RUF joined with the AFRC to capture Freetown with little resistance. The new government, led by Johnny Paul Koroma, declared the war over. A wave of looting, rape, and murder followed the announcement. Reflecting international dismay at the overturning of the civilian government, ECOMOG forces intervened and retook Freetown on behalf of the government, but they found the outlying regions more difficult to pacify.
In January 1999, world leaders intervened diplomatically to promote negotiations between the RUF and the government. The Lome Peace Accord, signed on 27 March 1999, was the result. Lome gave Foday Sankoh, the commander of the RUF, the vice presidency and control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines in return for a cessation of the fighting and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to monitor the disarmament process. RUF compliance with the disarmament process was inconsistent and sluggish, and by May 2000, the rebels were advancing again upon Freetown. As the UN mission began to fail the United Kingdom declared its intention to intervene in the former colony and Commonwealth member in an attempt to support the weak government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. With help from a renewed UN mandate and Guinean air support, the British Operation Palliser finally defeated the RUF, taking control of Freetown. On 18 January 2002, President Kabbah declared the Sierra Leone Civil War over.
- 1 Causes of the war
- 2 The Sierra Leone Civil War
- 2.1 SLA response; Sobels
- 2.2 Rise of the Kamajors
- 2.3 National Provisional Ruling Council
- 2.4 Executive Outcomes
- 2.5 Abidjan Peace Accord
- 2.6 AFRC/RUF coup and interregnum
- 2.7 Lome peace agreement
- 2.8 UNAMSIL intervention
- 2.9 Operation Palliser
- 2.10 End of the war
- 3 After the war
- 4 Depictions
- 5 References
- 6 Sources
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Causes of the war
|Sierra Leone Civil War|
|Attempts at Peace|
When Siaka Stevens entered into politics in 1968 Sierra Leone was a constitutional democracy. When he stepped down, seventeen years later, Sierra Leone was a one-party state. Stevens' rule, sometimes called “the 17 year plague of locusts,” saw the destruction and perversion of every state institution. Parliament was undermined, judges were bribed, and the treasury was bankrupted to finance pet projects that supported insiders. When Stevens failed to co-opt his opponents, he often resorted to state sanctioned executions or exile.
In 1985, Stevens stepped down, and handed the nation’s preeminent position to Major General Joseph Momoh, a notoriously inept leader who maintained the status quo. During his seven-year tenure, Momoh welcomed the spread of unchecked corruption and complete economic collapse. With the state unable to pay its civil servants, those desperate enough ransacked and looted government offices and property. Even in Freetown, important commodities like gasoline were scarce. But the government hit rock bottom when it could no longer pay schoolteachers and the education system collapsed. Since only wealthy families could afford to pay private tutors, the bulk of Sierra Leone’s youth during the late 1980s roamed the streets aimlessly. As infrastructure and public ethics deteriorated in tandem, much of Sierra Leone’s professional class fled the country. By 1991, Sierra Leone was ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, even though it benefited from ample natural resources including diamonds, gold, bauxite, rutile, iron ore, fish, coffee, and cocoa.
Diamonds and the "resource curse"The Eastern and Southern districts in Sierra Leone, most notably the Kono and Kenema districts, are rich in alluvial diamonds, and more importantly, are easily accessible by anyone with a shovel, sieve, and transport. Since their discovery in the early 1930s, diamonds have been critical in financing the continuing pattern of corruption and personal aggrandizement at the expense of needed public services, institutions, and infrastructure. The phenomenon whereby countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to nonetheless be characterized by lower levels of economic development is known as the "resource curse".
Diamonds also helped to arm the Revolutionary United Front rebels. The RUF used funds harvested from the alluvial diamond mines to purchase weapons and ammunition from neighboring Guinea, Liberia, and even SLA soldiers. But the most significant connection between diamonds and war is that the presence of easily extractable diamonds provided an incentive for violence. To maintain control of important mining districts like Kono, thousands of civilians were expelled and kept away from these important economic centers.
Although diamonds were a significant motivating and sustaining factor, there were other means of profiting from the Sierra Leone Civil War. For instance, gold mining was prominent in some regions. Even more common was cash crop farming through the use of forced labor. Looting during the Sierra Leone Civil War did not just center on diamonds, but also included that of currency, household items, food, livestock, cars, and international aid shipments. For Sierra Leoneans who did not have access to arable land, joining the rebel cause was an opportunity to seize property through the use of deadly force. But the most important reason why the civil war should not be entirely attributed to conflict over the economic benefits incurred from the alluvial diamond mines is that the pre-war frustrations and grievances did not just concern that of the diamond sector. More than twenty years of poor governance, poverty, corruption and oppression created the circumstances for the rise of the RUF, as ordinary people yearned for change.
The demographics of rebel recruitment
Libyan and arms dealing roleMuammar al-Gaddafi both trained and supported Charles Taylor. Gaddafi also helped Foday Sankoh, the founder of Revolutionary United Front.
Russian businessman Viktor Bout supplied Charles Taylor with arms for use in Sierra Leone and had meetings with him about the operations.
The Sierra Leone Civil War
SLA response; Sobels
The SLA's sordid behavior inevitably led to the alienation of many civilians and pushed some Sierra Leoneans to join the rebel cause. With morale low and rations even lower, many SLA soldiers discovered that they could do better by joining with the rebels in looting civilians in the countryside instead of fighting against them. The local civilians referred to these soldiers as ‘sobels’ or ‘soldiers by day, rebels by night’ because of their close ties to the RUF. By mid-1993, the two opposing sides became virtually indistinguishable. For these reasons, civilians increasingly relied on an irregular force called the Kamajors for their protection.
Rise of the Kamajors
National Provisional Ruling CouncilWithin one year of fighting, the RUF offensive had stalled, but it still remained in control of large territories in Eastern and Southern Sierra Leone leaving many villages unprotected while also disrupting food and government diamond production. Soon the government was unable to pay both its civil servants and the SLA. As a result, the Momoh regime lost all remaining credibility and a group of disgruntled junior officers led by Captain Valentine Strasser overthrew Momoh on 29 April 1992. Strasser justified the coup and the establishment of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) by referencing the corrupt Momoh regime and its inability to resuscitate the economy, provide for the people of Sierra Leone, and repel the rebel invaders. The NPRC’s coup was largely popular because it promised to bring peace to Sierra Leone. But the NPRC’s promise would prove to be short lived.
However, with senior government officials neglectful of the conditions faced by SLA soldiers, front line soldiers became resentful of their poor conditions and began helping themselves to Sierra Leone’s rich natural resources. This included alluvial diamonds as well as looting and ‘sell game’, a tactic in which government forces would withdraw from a town but not before leaving arms and ammunition for the roving rebels in return for cash. Renegade SLA soldiers even clashed with Kamajor units on a number of occasions when the Kamajors intervened to halt the looting and mining. The NPRC government also had a motivation for allowing the war to continue, since as long as the country was at war the military government would not be called upon to hand over rule to a democratically elected civilian government. The war dragged on as a low intensity conflict until January 1995 when RUF forces and dissident SLA elements seized the SIEROMCO (bauxite) and Sierra Rutile (titanium dioxide) mines in the Moyamba and Bonthe districts in the country's south west, furthering the government’s economic struggles and enabling a renewed RUF advance on the capital at Freetown.
As a military force, EO was extremely skilled and conducted a highly successful counter insurgency against the RUF. In just ten days of fighting, EO was able to drive the RUF forces back sixty miles into the interior of the country. EO outmatched the RUF forces in all operations. In just seven months, EO, with support from loyal SLA and the Kamajors battalions, recaptured the diamond mining districts and the Kangari Hills, a major RUF stronghold. A second offensive captured the provincial capital and the largest city in Sierra Leone and destroyed the RUF’s main base of operations near Bo, finally forcing the RUF to admit defeat and sign the Abidjan Peace Accord in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire on 30 November 1996. This period of relative peace also allowed the country to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in February and March 1996. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (of the Sierra Leone People's Party [SLPP]), a diplomat who had worked at the UN for more than 20 years, won the presidential election.
Abidjan Peace Accord
AFRC/RUF coup and interregnum
ECOMOG’s intervention in Sierra Leone brought the AFRC/RUF rebels to the negotiating table where, in October 1997, they agreed to a tentative peace known as the Conakry Peace Plan. Despite having agreed to the plan, the AFRC/RUF continued to fight. In March 1998, overcoming entrenched AFRC positions, the ECOMOG forces retook the capital and reinstated the Kabbah government, but let the rebels flee without further harassment. The regions lying just beyond Freetown proved much more difficult to pacify. Thanks in part to bad road conditions, lack of support aircraft, and a revenge driven rebel force, ECOMOG’s offensive ground to a halt just outside Freetown. ECOMOG’s forces suffered from several weakness, the most important being, poor command and control, low morale, poor training in counterinsurgency, low manpower, limited air and sea capability, and poor funding.
In January 1999 the AFRC/RUF again set upon Freetown in a bloody assault known as "Operation No Living Thing" in which rebels entered neighborhoods to loot, rape and kill indiscriminately. A Human Rights Watch report documented the atrocities committed during this attack. The report estimated that over 7,000 people were killed and that at least half of them were civilians. Unable to consistently defend itself against the AFRC/RUF rebels, the Kabbah regime was forced to make serious concessions in the Lome Peace Agreement of July 1999.
Lome peace agreement
UNAMSIL forces began arriving in Sierra Leone in December 1999. At that time the maximum number of troops to be deployed was set at 6,000. Only a few months later, though, in February 2000, a new UN resolution authorized the deployment of 11,000 combatants. In March 2001 that number was increased to 17,500 troops, making it at the time the largest UN force in existence, and UNAMSIL soldiers were deployed in the RUF-held diamond areas. Despite these numbers, UNAMSIL was frequently rebuffed and humiliated by RUF rebels, being subjected to attacks, obstruction and disarmament. In the most egregious example, in May 2000 over 500 UNAMSIL peacekeepers were captured by the RUF and held hostage. Using the weapons and armored personnel carriers of the captured UNAMSIL troops, the rebels advanced towards Freetown, taking over the town of Lunsar to its northeast. For over a year later, the UNAMSIL force meticulously avoided intervening in RUF controlled mining districts lest another major incident occur. After the UNAMSIL force had essentially rearmed the RUF, a call for a new military intervention was made to save the UNAMSIL hostages and the government of Sierra Leone. After Operation Palliser and Operation Khukri the situation stabilized and UNAMSIL gain control.
In late 1999, the UN Security Council asked Russia for participation in a peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone. The Federation Council of Russia decided to send 4 Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters with 115 crew and technical personnel into Sierra Leone. Many of them had combat experience in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The destroyed Lungi civil airfield in the suburbs of Freetown became their base of operations. A Ukrainian Detached Recovery and Restoring Battalion, and aviation team were stationed near Freetown. The two post-Soviet troop contingents got along well, and left together after the UN mandate for peacekeeping operations ended in June 2005.
End of the warSeveral factors led to the end of the civil war. First, Guinean cross-border bombing raids against villages believed to be bases used by the RUF working in conjunction with Guinean dissidents were very effective in routing the rebels. Another factor encouraging a less combative RUF was a new UN resolution that demanded that the government of Liberia expel all RUF members, end their financial support of the RUF, and halt the illicit diamond trade. Finally, the Kamajors, feeling less threatened now that the RUF was disintegrating in the face of a robust opponent, failed to incite violence like they had done in the past. With their backs against the wall and without any international support, the RUF forces signed a new peace treaty within a matter of weeks.
On 18 January 2002, President Kabbah declared the eleven-year-long Sierra Leone Civil War officially over. By most estimates, over 50,000 people had lost their lives during the war. Countless more fell victim to the reprehensible and perverse behavior of the combatants. In May 2002 President Kabbah and his party, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), won landslide victories in the presidential and legislative elections. Kabbah was re-elected for a five-year term. The RUF's political wing, the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP), failed to win a single seat in parliament. The elections were marked by irregularities and allegations of fraud, but not to a degree that significantly affected the outcome.
After the war
Truth and Reconciliation CommissionThe Lome Peace Accord called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to provide a forum for both victims and perpetrators of human rights violations during the conflict to tell their stories and facilitate healing. Subsequently, the Sierra Leonean government asked the UN to help set up a Special Court for Sierra Leone, which would try those who "bear the greatest responsibility for the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as crimes under relevant Sierra Leonean law within the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996." Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court began operating in the summer of 2002.
Diamond revenuesDiamond revenues in Sierra Leone have increased more than tenfold since the end of the conflict, from $10 million in 2000 to about $130 million in 2004, although according to the UNAMSIL surveys of mining sites, "more than 50 per cent of diamond mining still remains unlicensed and reportedly considerable illegal smuggling of diamonds continues".
Several weeks later, word filtered out of Liberia that Koroma had been killed as well, although his death remains unconfirmed. In June the Special Court announced Taylor’s indictment for war crimes. Sankoh died in prison in Freetown on 29 July 2003 from a heart attack. He had been ailing for some time.
In August 2003 President Kabbah testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on his role during the civil war. On 1 December 2003, Major General Tom Carew, who had been the Chief of Defence Staff for the Government of Sierra Leone and an important figure in the Sierra Leonean Army, was reassigned to civilian duties. In June 2007, the Special Court found three of the eleven people indicted – Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu – guilty of war crimes, including acts of terrorism, collective punishments, extermination, murder, rape, outrages upon personal dignity, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces, enslavement and pillage.
The use of children in both the rebel (RUF) military and the government militia is depicted in Ishmael Beah's 2007 memoir, A Long Way Gone.
In the 2012 Documentary La vita non perde valore, by Wilma Massucco, former child soldiers and some of their victims talk about the way how they feel and live, ten years after the Sierra Leone civil war ending, thanks to the personal, familiar and social rehabilitation provided to them by Father Giuseppe Berton, an Italian missionary of the xaverian order.The documentary has been analyzed in different Universities, becoming subject of various degrees,.
Mariatu Kamara wrote about being attacked by the rebels and having her hands chopped off in her book The Bite of the Mango. Ishmael Beah wrote a foreword to Kamara's book.
The documentary movie Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars tells the story of a group of refugees who fled to Guinea and created a band to ease the pain of the constant difficulty of living away from home and community after the atrocities of war and mutilation.
In 2000 the Sierra Leonean journalist, cameraman and editor, Sorious Samura released his documentary Cry Freetown. The self-funded film depicted the most brutal period of the civil war in Sierra Leone with RUF rebels capturing the capital city in the late 1990s. The film won, among other awards, an Emmy Award and a Peabody.