There are at least seventeen ethnic groups in the country. As a former British colony, Sierra Leone retains English as the official language, although it is used primarily by the literate minority, while Krio is the lingua franca. There are two main seasons in the country, the Wet, from May to early November, and the Dry, from mid November to April. The estimated population of Sierra Leone as of July 2005 is 6,017,643 persons. How it StartedLong before the rebel war, disgruntled Sierra Leoneans were praying and hoping for a radical political change that would end the twenty-four years reign of the All Peoples Congress (APC) government. Most people thought that the only way a one party system of government would be successfully defeated was through a bloody uprising. For this reason, when on March 23, 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, a corporal discharged from the Sierra Leone army by the APC government for his participation in an attempt to destabilize the regime, started a rebel war in the southern and eastern parts of the country to overthrow the regime,8 the rebellion was welcomed albeit with some reservations. The war resulted in over forty thousand deaths, and the displacement of more than one-third of the population, many of whom sought refuge in Freetown, and neighboring countries. Most have returned since the war ended in 2001. There are several theories about the origin and motivation of the war in Sierra Leone. The most popular theory is that the RUFs insurrection was fuelled against the corruption and authoritarianism of the APC government. Another theory was that the RUF was embittered by exclusion from education and employment opportunities.9 According to their Anthem sung daily in their forest camps,10 the RUF was fighting to save Sierra Leone and her people. It went on to assure the people that Sierra Leone was ready to utilize its wealth.
All the countrys mineral resources would be accounted for, and the people would enjoy the fruit of their land. To realize this utopia, the people needed the RUF as a saviour. As already noted, initially, the group received impressive support because people were looking for a change, but when the RUF revolutionary fervor degenerated into bloodlust and greed for control of the nation's only significant source of wealth - the diamond mines people lost hope in the group. Whatever the origin and cause of the war, the civil war in Sierra Leone falls under Christopher Claphams fourth type of insurgency in Africa, i.e., the warlord insurgency, which aims at changing the states leadership without trying to form a new state completely different from the existing one.11 Unlike many contemporary African civil wars, the war in Sierra Leone was neither religiously nor ethnically motivated. Rather, it was politically motivated and emanated from greed. Religion in the Warring CampsJohn Mbiti12 has observed that wherever the African goes, he/she takes his/her religion: to the farm, to parties, to the classroom, to the house of parliament, and I will add, he/she takes it to war. In other words, religion permeates every aspect of the African life. This philosophy echoes the Durkheiman view that where there is society there is religion.13 The RUFIn that regard, based on local religious traditions, the RUF in the deep reserves of the fortified jungles of Sierra Leone developed its own form of religious observance, rituals and worship that provided functional values to maintain their camp. Daily life in the camp began at 6 a.m. with compulsory prayers. Absentees were punished. Since every member of the camp was expected to practice either Islam or Christianity, different members were appointed each day to lead in prayers which would be concluded with a general recitation of the Lords Prayer,14 followed by the Al-Fâtihah.15 On the battle field, most RUF soldiers wore crosses or carried rosaries, or talismans with them. For most, African Traditional Religion (ATR) was the religion of the battle field. Through charms made by Sacred Specialists, some fighters claimed to be impervious to the bullets of the enemy. All the religious objects carried and used assured the soldiers of Gods presence, and were believed to possess supernatural powers for protection against the enemy. Thus ATR was practiced alongside Islam and Christianity (continuing a long practice of dual religiosity). The People and GovernmentSierra Leones army had participated in the two World Wars under the umbrella of the British, and had sent platoons on UN and regional military and peacekeeping missions, but the army had been considered primarily ceremonial and had never before fought a large scale war on a home front. Several months into the war, it became evident that the army was ill-equipped and largely unprepared for combat. At the time the war broke out there were approximately 3000 soldiers and although that number was subsequently increased to 16000, there was still no strong military or police presence in the hinterland, and the people there were left vulnerable to the sporadic attacks by the RUF guerrilla fighters. Realizing the practical defenselessness of the army, and believing that the only hope for an end to the war was some form of supernatural intervention, Christian and Muslim organizations in Freetown encouraged their congregants to fast and pray. At Sunday worship services and at Friday prayers, sermons of hope and liberation were preached. The Christian Council of Sierra Leone (CCSL) sent memos to churches to observe a time of prayer. Although in general these prayers were said for an end to the war, in my experience, they were usually offered specifically for the protection of the citizens of Freetown. The lack of logistics and the unprepared army also led the APC government to make a public announcement on national radio encouraging all citizens, especially those in the hinterland, to use whatever traditional means or power they had to combat the rebels. This call by the government gave birth to several ethnic defence groups in the hinterland. The Tamab]r] group was formed by the Koranko and Yalunka people in the north.16 The Gbeti and Kapra groups were formed by the Temne also in the north. The Kamajoi was formed by the Mende people in the south and east, and the Donsa was formed by the Kono in the east. Members of these groups were mostly hunters who belonged to secret societies and were believed to be experts in traditional spirituality and medicine.17 On the battle field, they used not only conventional arms and witch guns but, through spirituals means used killer bees to attack and destabilise the rebels. It is believed that some rebels even died from the painful stings of the bees.
The supernatural ability to turn daylight into darkness was another effective method used by these fighters to prevent the rebels from seeing where they were going. The traditional fighters could see the rebels but the rebels were unable to see the approaching traditional militia. Many rebels were killed through these means. Although each ethnic defence group employed its own strategies, one thing that was common among all of them was the use of a protective traditional outfit called huronko/ronko - a fearsome traditional brown or red gown with black vertical stripes, prepared by blacksmiths, and drenched in herbal medicines to make the user invulnerable. The involvement of these traditional militia groups did not sit well with many evangelical Christians. It was the opinion of the evangelicals that Christian prayers should never be mixed with devilish traditional spirituality. The APC government was overthrown on April 29, 1992, by disgruntled young army officers who formed the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) and appointed Captain Valentine Strasser as head of state. Captain Strasser was a Christian and had once served as a chorister in his family church. Although the national army, which had better military prowess than the rebels, was in charge of the country, the NPRC did not take things for granted. In manifestation of his strong belief in and dependence on God to end the war and usher in peace, the same year the NPRC took over, Captain Strasser proclaimed a national week of fasting and prayer. Muslim and Christian organizations and believers were delighted with this new development. For example, the Churches Council of Sierra Leone sent a memo to member churches to organize daily services during the week of prayer and fasting. Attached to the memo was a suggested liturgy for worship leaders to follow. In the mosques prayers were also offered for a speedy end to the menace and a return of peace. RELIGION IN PEACE AND RECONSTRUCTION In general, religion has been considered synonymous with peace. Religious groups are expected to be a vital source in the promotion and maintenance of peace. The call for peace is deeply embedded in the teachings of most world religions and each of the major religious traditions of the world has proclaimed peace. During the rebel war, when the religious communities realised the sufferings the war had caused, and that in a diverse society such as Sierra Leone, multi-faith cooperation for peace would be more effective than the efforts of a single religious group, the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) was formed in April 1997 as a national multi-religious organization dedicated to promoting cooperation among primarily the Christian and Muslim communities of Sierra Leone, in order to seek peace. The IRCSL is a fully recognized National Chapter of the worlds largest multi-religious organization - the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP).
Among other things, the IRCSL strive to identify and promote principles and actions that are geared toward peace and harmony for the Sierra Leonean community. The IRCSL took advantage of the fact that a significant majority of the population of Sierra Leone (including members of the warring factions) held religion in a very high regard and believed that religious intervention would be impartial. This atmosphere of trust helped the council to foster and maintain tolerance in circumstances where people might have otherwise been divided. The mediatory role of IRCSL between the government and the rebels has been acclaimed as a successful step, and continues to be considered as a peace initiative paradigm and an inspiration to religious leaders and establishments in Africa to get involved in conflict resolution and become the voice of the marginalised and voiceless. Even since the war has ended, the IRCSL continues to work in the areas of advocacy, peace building, sensitization, humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation. The Article 7(2) of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone (TRC) Act explicitly refers to the assistance from traditional and religious leaders in facilitating reconciliation: The inter-faith community in Sierra Leone has played an important role in the negotiations for peace and is still one of the strongest support networks for people affected by the war. In view of the limited mandate of the TRC, partnerships with religious and traditional leaders have become all the more important. The dialogue that has started between various groups and the community can continue with the presence of these leaders. Traditional and religious leaders can help make reconciliation more sustainable. They (sic) were involved in all the activities of the Commission, including truth telling and conflict resolution sessions, sensitization activities, statement taking, the hearings and the reconciliation initiatives. CONCLUSION Religion permeates the life of the African. In human history, religion has always played a role in war and peace. This was evidently the case in Sierra Leones civil war. The rebel war of Sierra Leone had significant religious dimensions in terms of the active role played by religion during and after the war, and the religious changes and innovations produced by the war. Both warring sides used religion for protection and victory while interfaith groups used religion to broker peace and restore stability. Although the war brought unforgettable destruction and mayhem to the country, it ironically succeeded in bringing the religious traditions of Sierra Leone closer together than they had ever been. Religious cooperation replaced biases and indifferences as the groups worked together while maintaining respect for religious differences. The derogatory portrayal of Africa and its peoples on account of the nature of contemporary civil wars is prejudicial and unfair. We should avoid an African exceptionalism. In examining the annals of civil, political and religious institutions, one would not go far to realize that wars and atrocities are not unique to Africa. They are universal human problems. Religions continue to be hijacked with malicious intentions to instigate violence. In that regard, some have argued that the world would be a far better place without religion. These results attained in Sierra Leone through religious cooperation prove otherwise. In fact, in Africa, our belief and faith in God are what keep us going. We cannot rely on our political systems, only on God. Endnotes1 For a detailed study on these issues, see the works and bibliographies of Paul
Richards, Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth & Resources in Sierra Leone
(Oxford: James Currey, 1996), and Ibrahim Abdullah, ed., Between Democracy
and Terror: The Sierra Leone Civil War (Dakar, Senegal: CODESRIA, 2004). 2 This is not the first paper on the part religion played in the past civil war. Paul
Richards recently wrote an essay entitled: Green Book Millenarians? The Sierra
Leone War within the Perspective of an Anthropology of Religion in Religion and
African Civil Wars, ed. Niels Kastfelt (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005),
119-46. Richards was limited to the camp dynamics of one of the warring
factions the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) - and the function of religion in
their camp. 3 Niels Kastfelt, ed., Religion and African Civil Wars (New York, NY: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2005), 3. 4 Kastfelt, Religion and War, 12-13. 5 Ibid., 1. 6 Richards, Fighting for the Rain Forest, xiii-xvii. 7 Joe A.D. Alie, A New History of Sierra Leone (London: Macmillan, 1990), 1. 8 This buttresses Kastfelts theory that civil wars are mostly continuations of old
conflicts whose political substance and cultural expression are also found in times
of peace (Kastfelt, Religion and War, 2). 9 Richards, Green Book Millenarians, 119. 10 Richards, Green Book Millenarians, 141. 11 Christopher Clapham, Introduction: Analysing African Insurgencies, in African
Guerrillas, ed. Christopher Clapham (Oxford: James Currey, 1998), 7. 12 John S. Mbiti, African Traditional Religion and Philosophy (London: Heinemann,
1989), 2. 13 Kastfelt, Religion and War, 12. 14 The Lords Prayer is the prayer that Jesus Christ taught his disciples contained
in the Bible (Matthew 6:9-13). It is used in most Christian traditions 15 Al-Fâtihah (The Opening) is the opening chapter in the Muslim holy book - the
Qurân. It is considered the quintessential Muslim prayer. It is said that no
prayer is complete without the recitation of Fâtihah al-Kitâb (B. 10:95). 16 A group of Limba people joined the Tamab]r] militia later. Most of these Limba
fighters were said to have been recruited from Warawara Bafodea Limba
Chiefdom the place that is particularly noted for its attachment to traditional
beliefs in Sierra Leone (cf. Opala & Boillot, Leprosy Among the Limba: Illness
and Healing in the Context of World View. Social Science and Medicine 42
(1996) 1, p.5. 17 As already noted, the rebels also made use of their own traditional religious
powers to frustrate the efforts of the ethnic defence groups.
*Rev. Dr Prince Sorie Conteh, a minister at Carleton United Church, gave this paper at the African Day Symposium at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario Canada on February 23, 2006.
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Sierra Leone has been a place of violence and bloodshed for a very long time, beginning with the conflicts between native tribes, then the British colonized the area in the late 18th century, eventually causing the natives of the area to revolt against their restrictive rule, and the most recent violence being when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) overthrew the government and took complete control of the country. Sierra Leone was wanted for its resources, one in particular, diamonds. Diamond mining is a very lucrative business; whoever runs the mines, runs the country. The mines return a great deal of money, enough to make a person very wealthy, or enough to finance a bloody political takeover.
Corruption leading to warfare in Sierra Leone is a common reoccurance throughout time. Ever since European powers began trading with the population of Sierra Leone in the 1460s, the local kings and chiefs did what they could to gain more power and fortune, (Conteh-Morgan & Dixon-Fyle, 22). The commodity most in demand being slaves. As demand grew, the poor, as well as prisoners from conflicts between tribes around the area were coerced into slavery through manipulation and force. This all happened because the chieftains were enticed by the wealth that could be provided by trading with European nations, primarily the British. As time went on, Brittain began gaining more control and influence over Sierra Leone. In 1808, Seirra Leone was annexed as a British Colony, and complete control was given to the British Crown, (Conteh-Morgan & Dixon-Fyle, 31).
“As the eighteenth century progressed, there was a growing tendency in Europe to question the moral and economic rationality of the slave trade,”(Conteh-Morgan & Dixon-Fyle, 24). A campaign was forged to ensure the safety of freed slaves so that they wouldn’t have to face reenslavement. This would bring forth the foundation of the Province of Freedom (later renamed Freetown), a place for ex-slaves to begin new lives as free men in Sierra Leone. Sadly, they didn’t have any say in government matters. The colonial government was mainly composed of white officials, without any provisions for African representation, (Conteh-Morgan & Dixon-Fyle, 35). This created anger between the people and their government. The British had influenced a corrupt government by creating a Formal British Protectorate. This Protectorate would create five districts, each governed by a commissioner. These officials had combined legal and administrative powers, “…an administrative system that Frederick Lugard would later popularize as ‘Indirect Rule,'” (Conteh-Morgan & Dixon-Fyle, 41). African Kings and their people now had to take orders from the European District Commissioner. These Commissioners were allowed the allocation of land, enabling many corrupt officials to take advantage of the system and give rewards to family and friends. Brittain then went further and taxed the people, and the people refused causing an uprising known as the Hut Tax War. The people lost the fight, but this would not be the last time they rebelled against the government.
White colonists were often found directing the workings of the colonies, including the direction of the labor force of native people of the area. This picture shows the poor, working people of Sierra Leone being dictated to by the wealthy white man. This man appears to benefit from the people’s efforts by the looks of his estate while there is not usually any benefit to the workers. this created anger towards the white upperclass colonists that lived in the area.
In 1802, conflict in Sierra Leone was beginning to be noticed by the citizens of Great Britain. The London Times informed the public of the activities of the colony in their newspaper. I believe the author was informing the rest of the public about the recent events in Sierra Leone. On February 12th, 1802 the column, “Sierra Leone House,” reported the communication between the Governor and the Council of Britain, and published it to the masses. The public was to be informed about the tragedy of the rebellion in Sierra Leone that occurred on the morning of November 18th, 1801. They were told that all possibilities of a future uprising have been eradicated and that they area was being patrolled by members of the British military. As far as the citizens of Great Britain knew, they were still in complete control, but how long would that last?
The time leading up to the event of the rebellion was full of hardship for the people of Sierra Leone. The population of Sierra Leone consisted of native people to the area as well as freed slaves from the Americas wanting to restart their lives back in their native home of Africa. When the freed slaves decided to go back, they were under the false impression that they had a voice in decisions involving the future of the country, but that was a lie. Britain kept control of the country’s government as well as the infrastructure and the exportation and manufacturing of raw materials cultivated from Sierra Leone. These raw materials made control over the country and everything in it very desirable, enough for greed to overshadow the needs of the people.
In 1930, the first diamond was found in Sierra Leone, creating a new, mney-making, career for the citizens of Sierra Leone.Five short years later production boomed. Sierra Leone became known for their high quality diamonds. This high standard brought high prices for the diamonds, luring many fortune seekers to the diamond business.
When Siaka Stevens became prime minister, seven years after independence in 1968, he recognized the lucrative nature of diamond mining and began encouraging illicit mining operations, involving himself and others in these criminal activities. “In 1971, Stevens created the National Diamond Mining Company, which effectively nationalized SLST(Sierra Leone Selection Trust). All important decisions were now made by the prime minister and his right-hand man, a Lebanese businessman named Jamil Mohammed. From a high of over two million carats in 1970, legitimate diamond exports dropped to 595,000 carats in 1980 and then to only 48,000 in 1988,” (Smillie, 25).
After eighteen years of governing Sierra Leone, Siaka Stevens decided to call it quits. Andrew Jaspan, a columnist for The Times in London discussed the problems Sierra Leone will have to overcome, after Stevens left his office and country in a precarious situation, in this article. The country is suffering from devaluation of its main sources of income, while the price of petrol and rice are rising quickly. Add this to the large amount of debt the country is in, as well as the necessity for the new President to be supported by a great majority of the people, and you are given a recipe for disaster. The people of Sierra Leone had a great deal of difficulty ahead of them.
One of the worst conflictsin history funded by diamonds was that of the Civil War in Sierra Leone. A rebel group known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) took up arms and staged a war to overthrow the government. The primary funding of the war effort came from controlling the local diamond mines. “Over the course of the next 11 years, the RUF, under the leadership of Foday Sankoh, was able to snatch up 90% of Sierra Leone’s diamond industry, which it used to generate funds to illegally smuggle in arms and fuel the war effort,” (Briggs). This hostile takeover cost over 50,000 people their lives and over one million being displaced from their homes, and a vast majority being brutally mutilated by the cruelty of the RUF, (Shah). It is estimated that 4% of rough diamonds in the world’s supply are conflict diamonds (Mcnamara). These stones are mined by force and violence and used to fund rebellions and Civil Wars in Africa.
How did Sankoh get the diamonds out of the country and into the world market? The answer is simple, they were smuggled out. The local rebels were able to use their knowledge of the environment around them to smuggle the illicit diamonds out of the country into another that was willing to trade for the diamonds. This illicit trading further fueled the RUF side of the Civil War raging inside the country.
Another major player in Sierra Leone’s war effort Was the former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor’s war crimes were reported in this article. Taylor was “charged with 11 counts of murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery…” (Dejong) The article then explains how the army treated many of the civilians they came in contact with. Rape, enslavement, beheadings, disembowelment, amputations, and many other mutilations carried out by child soldiers high on drugs. It was also reiterated how Taylor was paid in blood diamonds for providing guns and ammunition for the conflict. The message Taylor’s conviction for his crimes sends is a very powerful message to other powerful leaders, that even those high in power can still be held accountable for their actions.
The war in Sierra Loene was speculated to have been caused by many different factors contributing to the eruption of violence towards the government. Yusuf Bangura believes that the ethnic structure of the country highly contributes to the tension and bipolarity that occurs within the borders. Elections (primarily the 1967 and 1996 elections) in Sierra Leone provide a great reason for losing parties to oppose the current ruling administration and attempt to overthrow the officials. This tension gave the RUF the perfect means to recruit supporters to overthrow the government. (Bangura, 566-567).
Sierra Leone’s government had many problems. One is because the country is so divided ethnically, there was never a complete support of the government from the citizens of the country. Another is that there was no contingency to build any form of defense mechanism such as an army to defend the country should the need arise. Finally the government began as a coalition without institutionalism. Many of the appointed positions were using their power for personal gain instead of looking out for the good of the country. Thus making the president take away the power and creating controversy claiming that different areas of the country had more influence than others. This created a spiraling downfall to only semi-stable government of Sierra Leone. (Bangura, 567-568).
The history of Sierra Leone has always been rocky and full of conflicts, from the British taking over and colonizing the area to the many years of civil unrest and war, living here has been rough for the citizens. If we have learned anything from the experience the people of Sierra Leone endured, its to not let greed and the thought of power control one’s actions, disregarding any care for others that may be affected in the process of obtaining that goal of supremacy. Always keep in mind what has happened in the past and use that knowledge to prevent it from happening again. Thus continuing to travel on a path to a more peaceful world.
Gems for arms, 2008, http://www.sjcite.info/diamonds.html
A child soldier in Sierra Leone wielding an AK-47, 2011, http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2011/02/21/mallick_ak47_is_the_gun_that_keeps_on_giving.html.
Ethnic Groups, 1969, http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/africa/sierra_leone_ethnic_1969.jpg.
Briggs, Nicholas S. , “Conflict Diamonds in West Africa,” EDGE(2003), accessed August 29, 2014, http://web.stanford.edu/class/e297a/Conflict%20diamonds%20in%20West%20Africa.htm.
Bangura, Yusuf. “Strategic Policy Failure and Governance in Sierra Leone.” The Journal of Modern African Studies, 38, 4 (2000): 551-77.
Conteh-Morgan, Earl and Dixon-Fyle, Mac, Sierra Leone at the End of the Twentieth Century. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.
Dejong, Peter, “Taylor guilty of war crimes; Drug-fuelled children used for atrocities,” Windsor Star, April 27, 2012, accessed September 6, 2014, http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/.
Jaspan, Andrew, “Crisis looms in Sierra Leone as leader prepares to quit,” The Times (Londan, England), April 8, 1985, p. 4, accessed November 16, 2014, http://find.galegroup.com/ttda/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=pull21986&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&docId=CS67604616&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0.
Mcnamara, Melissa , “Facts about Blood Diamonds,” CBS, December 11, 2006, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/facts-about-blood-diamonds/.
“Sierra Leone House, Feb. 12,” The London Times, February 15, 1802, p. 3, accessed October 21, 2014, http://callisto.ggsrv.com/imgsrv/Fetch?recordID=0FFO-1802-FEB15-003-F&contentSet=UDVIN&banner=544dd07d&digest=0f074188dd23840cbb0f3c6972f41f29&highlight=00ff00+0.5+1759+1186+148+43+2026+2501+135+49+2187+3425+115+42+2282+3424+121+45+2118+3500+134+42+2034+3680+130+44&scale=0.33&crop=551+14+267+1539.
Shah, Anup , “Sierra Leone,” Global Issues, July 23, 2001, http://www.globalissues.org/article/88/sierra-leone.
Smille, Ian, “Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds, And Human Security,” Social Justice, December 1, 2000, http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=f6f04a5b-12d4-4ea2-9e4e-dc675da64a63%40sessionmgr4004&vid=1&hid=4112.