Published February 2007

In this memoir, Ishmael Beah – an author and human rights activist from Sierra Leone – gives a personal account of his time as a child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1990s).

On 23 March 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh† and backed by Charles Taylor, launched its first attack in villages in the diamond-rich Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. One of their attacks forced Ishmael to run away from his village at the age of 12. He was separated from his immediate family for good, and forced to join an army unit who brainwashed him into using guns and drugs. Four years after the rebels attacked his hometown, UNICEF removed him from the army and put him into a rehabilitation program. I found his account of rehabilitation quite distressing, and I praise the people working with UNICEF for never giving up on the children. They know and let the children know that it is not their fault. This book makes one realise how war tears apart families, how fearful the war-filled forests are, and what these children did and gave up for their survival. I admire Ishmael’s mental power, and his will to continue even when being  humiliated repeatedly.

in his recent work “The Bottom Billion” (2008) Paul Collier firstly mentions Sierra Leone in his paragraph about the causes of civil war, calling it “a poor and miserable country at the bottom of the Human Development Index” (p25). Collier explains that, Foday Sanhoy had turned down the post for vice president and had made clear that his goal was to be in charge of the part of the government that managed Sierra Leone’s lucrative diamond concessions. In order to do so, he recruited teenage drug addicts and terrorised the civilian population by for example hacking off hands and feet. When he continues about the costs of civil war, he mentions a study done by Jeremy Weinstein (p29). Weinstein concluded from his study in Mozambique and Sierra Leone that the initial motivations among a rebel group gradually erode. “In the presence of natural resources wealth – oil, diamonds, or perhaps drugs – there are credible prospects of riches, so that some of the young in the queue to join will be motivated by these prospects” (p30). He gets back to using Sierra Leone as an example in his bit about maintaining post-conflict peace,  praising the British intervention named “Operation Palliser”. According to him it serves as a “model for military intervention in the bottom billion: cheap, confident, and sustained” (p128).

In his book “Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles” (2008) Richard Dowden ended his chapter on Sierra Leone by saying that “More than any other people in Africa, Sierra Leoneans still look to Britain for friendship and support” (p320). However, he believes that only a handful of people in Britain could point to Sierra Leone on a map.

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