Discussion of Civil War in Sierra Leone


Civil war is an organized violent battle for state power between social groups and various opposing classes within the country, one of the types of fierce struggle within the country. Civil wars grow up on the basis of social crises, when the state power is no longer able to moderate the clashes of enemy classes, to overpower the opponents of the existing political and social system by legal means. The civil war in Sierra Leone began on March 23, 1991 (Adebajo, 2021). The United Revolutionary Front, with the support of special forces of the National Patriotic Front of Charles Taylor, Liberia intervened in the situation in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the government of Joseph Momoh. This war generated several consequences, including social ones, which had a significant impact on the lives of the Sierra Leonians.

The civil conflict has destroyed any consolidation mechanisms of society for a long time. The country found itself in the absence of mutually acceptable ways to overcome the bloody civil strife. As a result of the deepening crisis, a significant part of Sierra Leonean society lost the values of traditional morality and law and established antisocial nihilistic attitudes of marginal culture, that is, the denial of power institutions and the requirements of social order. With all that, the national instinct of self-preservation has been preserved. Against the background of endless fatigue from the horrors of war, the desire to return life to its former but ordinary course continues to persist.

General Information about Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a state located in West Africa and has a capital called Freetown. This state borders Liberia and Guinea and is washed by the Atlantic Ocean. Sierra Leone has a developed mining industry, which allows it to extract gold and diamonds in large quantities. In 1961, independence was declared in the country, leading to various widespread unrest (Faulkner et al., 2019). These events eventually led to a civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002. The battle lasted for 11 years, during which the country’s government changed more than once, military contingents of other states were introduced into it, new rebel groups appeared. As a result of the signing of the peace treaty, Ahmad Abu, a member of the center, became the head of the country; the rebels who failed to capture the capital received amnesty and four ministerial chairs.

The most crucial feature of Sierra Leone was the establishment of private ownership of land on the colony’s territory in the areas of settlement of African settlers. Marks (2019) states that the Protectorate, the land was declared de facto state property – the possession of the English Crown and was transferred to the use of tribal communities. Rent was collected by year in favor of community members for the use of land plots. Sierra Leone can be described as a territory where capitalist relations began to emerge relatively early at the stage of initial capital accumulation. Wage labor in Sierra Leone began to be used at the end of the XVIII century, although its use was mainly seasonal episodic, except for the classical professional structure of urban workers began to take shape in the port of Freetown. However, the development of local entrepreneurship was hindered by the dominance of English trading companies. The colonial status of Sierra Leone has essentially become a brake on the country’s socio-economic development.

Background of the War

The peculiarities of the geographical location of Sierra Leone led to the fact that this territory had practically no contact with the rest of Africa and was not under the influence of Islam, and the first contact with Europeans occurred in the 15th century. The Portuguese, who founded several trading posts here, gave the name of this territory – Sierra Leone. By the 17th century, the Portuguese were replaced by the British, who founded the first large fort owned by whites (Rami, 2017). The British became the authors of a fascinating and bold experiment in the framework of that time: the creation of a settlement of formerly enslaved people in Freetown, which later became the capital of the English colony in 1896. This fact is of additional importance since more than 20 tribes and nationalities already live on a small Sierra Leone territory, the appearance of a new contingent of formerly enslaved people only added tension in intertribal relations.

Nevertheless, in the 20th century, the British managed to do a lot for the civilization of this colony: a network of railways and highways was laid, a ban on domestic slavery was imposed, schools and hospitals were built. Perhaps all this led to the fact that during the widespread struggle for the independence of African peoples in the fifties, the inhabitants of Sierra Leone did not actively participate. Cannonier & Mocan (2018) claim that in the early fifties, the first batches appeared in the colony: The Sierra Leone People’s Party led by Milton Margai and the Siaki Stevens All-People’s Congress in opposition to it. In addition to the fact that the parties relied on different social strata of the population, they also enjoyed the support of various nationalities of Sierra Leone.

The contradictions between the two parties only intensified after Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961. The main issue of discussion was cooperation with Western companies to extract natural resources. The government, which was under the rule of some segments of the population, advocated an open-door policy and active attraction of foreign capital; moreover, the country had to receive various assistance from Western countries.

These statements provoked strong objections from the National Congress Party, which called for the revision of agreements with foreign companies controlling the mining industry and put forward demands for the establishment of a minimum wage, the construction of housing for workers, and the introduction of old-age pensions, etc. In foreign policy, the National Congress strongly opposed any military agreement with Britain, which had its naval bases on the territory of the country, for full cooperation with other African countries (Asangna, 2017). The confrontation between these two parties was very fierce, the situation was aggravated by the attempts of the military to take power into their own hands through armed coups. The most serious was the uprising of General Bangura in 1971, and the government turned to Guinea for military assistance, and his troops were in the country for two years.

The civil war in Sierra Leone had several objective reasons rooted in the historical past of the country. Multinationalism – more than 20 peoples and tribes lived on a small territory, which subsequently supported various political forces in the country (Williams & Opdam, 2017). The slavery formed due to the acquaintance of the black population with the whites – a significant number of the tribal nobility possessed enslaved people, and often these enslaved people belonged to the same people. Subsequently, when slavery was abolished, the enmity and hostility of formerly enslaved people to former enslavers remained. Sesay et al. (2021) state that the resettlement of formerly enslaved people by the British to the territory of Sierra Leone. Often these people, who had no roots in the area, nevertheless occupied a higher position than the aboriginal population, provoking conflict.

All this created a relatively unstable situation in the country at the time of its independence. The absence of restraining forces in the face of the colonial administration and the active struggle of the two dominant parties led to the fact that during the 60-the 90s, the situation in the country only worsened (Voors et al., 2017). The presence of extensive diamond deposits in Sierra Leone gave additional urgency, which could have led the country to prosperity, but this did not happen. The reason was an unsuccessful economic policy, and the actual usurpation of power by this party made it impossible to change the political regime peacefully.

Process of the War

The civil war, which exhausted Sierra Leonean society almost from the moment of independence and manifested itself during broad social protest actions, in fierce inter-party and inter-clan struggle, which broke out in military coups, eventually turned into a national tragedy. The one-party regime, which was overthrown by the efforts of the armed opposition during the civil war, led the country for almost 20 years while achieving severe adverse results (Ganson & M’cleod, 2019). The effect of the complete collapse of the economy, infringement of the population’s civil rights, and solid social inequality was the civil war. The eastern and Southern regions of Sierra Leone are rich in alluvial diamonds and are easily accessible to anyone. Since its discovery in the early 1930s, diamonds have played a crucial role in financing ongoing corruption and personal growth through essential public services, institutions, and infrastructure.

The presence of diamonds in Sierra Leone attracted and prompted the civil war in several ways. The highly unequal benefits of diamond mining upset ordinary Sierra Leoneans. Under the Stevens government, the proceeds from the National Diamond Mining Corporation were used for the personal enrichment of Stevens and members of the government and business elite close to him. In the late 80s, almost all diamonds from Sierra Leone were smuggled and sold illegally, and the proceeds went directly into the hands of private investors (Bangura, 2018). Momoh made a number of efforts aimed at eradicating smuggling and corruption in the diamond mining sector, but his political influence was not great and he did not have the capacity to enforce the law. Diamonds became the main fund for arming the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front, who used the funds collected from various diamond mines to buy weapons and ammunition in neighboring Guinea and Liberia.

Looting during the civil war in Sierra Leone involved not only diamonds but also currency, household items, food, livestock, cars, and international aid. For Sierra Leoneans who did not have access to arable land, joining the rebels was an opportunity to seize property with deadly force. Asangna (2017) claim that the most crucial reason why the civil war should not be linked entirely to the conflict because of the economic benefits derived from alluvial diamond mines is that the pre-war frustrations and discontent did not concern only the diamond sector. More than twenty years of harsh governance, power, corruption and oppression have developed an environment for the growth and strengthening of the United Revolutionary Front, as ordinary people longed for change.

The leading causes of the conflict that broke out, as in most other hot spots in Africa, were the economic and political marginalization of peripheral areas the discontent of the population with their financial situation. In addition, there is a high level of unemployment, lack of educational and labor prospects for young people, unfair distribution of income from the exploitation of the country’s natural resources, primarily diamond deposits and others. These reasons were the beginning of the large-scale civil war and brought with them a large number of changes.

In 1961, Sierra Leone gained independence from the United Kingdom. In the years following the death of Sierra Leone’s first Prime Minister, Sir Milton Margai, in 1964, politics in the country was increasingly characterized by corruption, mismanagement and electoral violence (Novelli & Higgins, 2017). Later, this led to the weakening of civil society and the collapse of the education system. By 1991 an entire generation of disaffected youth was attracted to the rebellious message of the Revolutionary United Front and joined the organization. Albert Margai, unlike his half-brother Milton, did not view the state as the steward of society but instead viewed it as an instrument of personal gain and self-aggrandizement and even used the armed forces to suppress multiparty elections threatened to end his rule.

In 1985, Stevens resigned and handed over a prominent position in the country to Major General Joseph Momoh, a notoriously inept leader who maintained the status quo. During his seven-year tenure, Momoh welcomed the spread of rampant corruption and complete economic collapse (Osei, 2021). Since the state cannot pay its civil servants, those desperate enough robbed and robbed government offices and property. There was a shortage of such essential goods as gasoline even in Freetown. But the government hit rock bottom when it could no longer pay schoolteachers, and the education system collapsed (Shepler & Williams, 2017). Since only wealthy families could afford to pay private tutors, most Sierra Leone’s youth wandered aimlessly through the streets in the late 80s. As infrastructure and public ethics deteriorated simultaneously, most of Sierra Leone’s professional class left the country. By 1991, Sierra Leone was considered one of the poorest countries in the world, even though it benefited from abundant natural resources, including diamonds, gold, bauxite, rutile, iron ore, fish, coffee, and cocoa.

As a result, during the First Civil War in Liberia, many refugees left neighboring Liberia and headed for the border of Sierra Leone and Liberia. This mixed population, consisting almost entirely of children, would be invaluable for the invading rebel armies. This is because refugees and detention centers, populated first by displaced Liberians and then by residents of Sierra Leone, helped to provide labor resources for the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front.

The Front took advantage of the refugees who were abandoned, starving, and in dire need of medical care, promising food, housing, medical care, as well as profits from looting and loot in exchange for their support. When this recruitment method failed, as often happened with the United Revolutionary Front, young people were often forced to join the ranks of front-line soldiers at gunpoint (Adebajo, 2021). After being forced to join, many child soldiers learned that the complete absence of the law – because of the civil war – provided a unique opportunity for self-affirmation through violence and thus continued to support the rebels’ cause.

Most of his soldiers preferred to fire from machine guns in automatic mode without even attempting to aim. No one could read a map, and they wore compasses around their necks instead of jewelry (Bangura, 2018). During the operations, the soldiers smoked hashish. Hashish was included in the food ration if, of course, it was issued. Many soldiers wore civilian clothes under their uniforms. At the first danger, they dropped their uniforms, threw down their weapons, and made their way back to the camp under the guise of civilians (Bangura, 2018). The moral of the army was also extremely low – they were afraid of bandits; the soldiers did not want to engage them in battle. But the looting of civilians was widespread, which often equated the army with the rebels in the eyes of residents.

The initial uprising could have been quickly suppressed in the first half of 1991. But the Revolutionary United Front, despite its numerical superiority and extreme brutality towards the civilian population, controlled two-thirds of the territory of Sierra Leone by the end of the year (Ganson & M’cleod, 2019). Government soldiers, often fearing direct confrontation or unable to locate an elusive front, have been brutal and indiscriminate in their search for rebels or sympathizers among the civilian population. Over time, the primary contingent of the United Revolutionary Front mostly died, and the new members engaged not in political slogans but looting and unmotivated murders (Marks, 2019). The rebels were supported and supplied by Charles Taylor’s troops fighting for power in Liberia. The President of Sierra Leone, Joseph Momoh, doubled the government troops but did not bother to pay for their service. In April 1992, Momoh was overthrown by Army Captain Valentin Strasser (Rami, 2017). During the coup, about a hundred people were killed, the former president fled to Conakry.

Strasser promised to end the conflict quickly, announced a unilateral ceasefire and amnesty, and promised new elections in 1995. In early 1993, the fighting calmed down, and the rebels were pushed back to Kailahun and Puzhehun (Sesay et al., 2021). The following year, the rebels went on the offensive, the conflict spread to half of the country’s districts. However, the rebels continued to advance and capture the mines of rare metals. Government forces were not very effective, and in 1995 Strasser invited South African mercenaries from a private military company (Voors et al., 2017). He offered the rebels a peace treaty and the organization of a coalition government, but Sanko, who had seized the initiative, demanded the presidency for himself.

In 1996, Strasser was overthrown by his deputy, Julius Bio, and loyal officers. Elections were held in the spring, where a Muslim Ahmed Kabba received 60% in the second round (Williams & Opdam, 2017). At the time of the polls, nothing like peace was observed, but soon the South Africans and the Kamayors seized the headquarters, and later, an agreement with the rebels was signed. Nigerians and South Africans left the country, and soon the country plunged into chaos again.

In 1997, a military coup took place in the country, in which officers of the government army took part, who allied with the leaders of the United Revolutionary Front. As a result, the Kaaba was overthrown, and Johnny Paul Koroma became president; a new government was formed – the Revolutionary Council of the Armed Forces (Enria, 2018). The UN and the UAE demanded the return of Kabbah’s power, Nigerian troops were brought into the country. The forces of the Revolutionary Council of the Armed Forces began fighting against the Nigerian forces.

In 1999, a peacekeeping contingent of UN troops was introduced in Sierra Leone. S Asangna (2017) claim that significant actions ended, but small units of the united Revolutionary front continued to attack government forces and civilians. As a result, Sanko was arrested. Koroma disbanded the Revolutionary Council of the Armed Forces troops, some of which joined the army units. The demobilized fighters of the United Revolutionary Front, accustomed to violence, created a group that traded in robberies on the roads and kidnappings (Devine et al., 2021). Soon the British defeated most of this group. Minor clashes and the disarmament of the United Revolutionary Front continued for another two years. In 2002, Kabbah announced the end of the war.

The losses of the peacekeeping contingent of UN troops from the moment they were introduced into the country in 1999 to 2005 amounted to 159 soldiers killed. In 2000, Tony Blair sent 1,500 British troops to Sierra Leone, who took over the protection of the capital Freetown from the rebel army of the Revolutionary United Front (Enria, 2018). In 2007, Tony Blair was solemnly proclaimed Supreme Leader of Sierra Leone. The new title formally gives Tony Blair the right to sit in the Parliament of Sierra Leone.

Social Implications

Civil wars often generate many changes in people’s lives. These changes relate to economic, political, and most importantly, social life. Wars bring death, destruction of homes and businesses, and destruction in society (Barr et al., 2019). The civil war in Sierra Leone has led to an increase and aggravation of social inequality, adverse changes in education, as well as to youth unemployment. The current situation at that time should be considered in detail since a detailed examination shows how terrible wars can be and how important it is to prevent them.

Unemployment is one of the main changes in the social sector of people’s lives. During the Civil War, many young people were called up for military service and protection of their interests (Devine et al., 2021). Society began to divide into those who still managed to get an education before the war and those who did not have the opportunity to study after the war. During the war, many educational institutions suffered, and teaching staff was disbanded as unnecessary (Shepler & Williams, 2017). The quality of education declined significantly in the first years after the war, which also led to a decrease in the population’s level of knowledge and income. Many people began to show a marginal lifestyle, which led to increased crime. This situation of some people was dictated by poverty and hunger, and it was the need that provoked negative consequences.

Later, educational institutions were reconstructed and restored. Furthermore, the ruling apparatus ordered the training of teachers to work with children and allow them to get an education (Shepler & Williams, 2017). The education of teachers is given great importance because they are responsible for the quality of education of Sierra Leoneans. Education will provide children with the opportunity to build a new society that will be educated, will have a chance to get a job, buy food and improve their quality of life in particular and the standard of living of the entire population as a whole.

The lack of opportunities to get an education leads to young people becoming poor. Young people who lacked the skills to master this or that type of work lacked the necessary knowledge and skills. Youthful alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuous sexual relations began to flourish in society, leading to the spread of HIV and AIDS (Yendewa et al., 2018). In addition, the women were exposed to unwanted pregnancies. The civil war deprived people of their means of livelihood, and for a long time, people were exposed to violence and suffering (Ladum & Haaken, 2017). Basically, the most prominent victims of this situation were young people from rural areas.

The war led to the situation that all internal systems and structures that were responsible for youth employment were destroyed. Higher education does not have the opportunity to recover entirely since computer courses have not yet been fully formed that will help to get a certain amount of knowledge necessary for mastering agricultural and professional skills. In addition, because many businesses remained ruined after the war, young people will not be able to apply their knowledge in practice (Adebajo, 2021). More and more young people moved from rural areas to cities searching for work, but its absence provoked only various acute situations in society and violations of public order.

During the war, gender-based violence was widespread. Rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriages were commonplace during the conflict (Figueroa et al., 2018). Most of the attacks were carried out by the Revolutionary United Front. These mass rapes have a twofold strategic goal: first, to cause terror among the civilian population to forcibly evict them from their property. Second, to reduce the likelihood of a possible return and recovery, causing humiliation and shame to the target population (Figueroa et al., 2018). These effects are strategically crucial for non-state actors, as they need to remove the target population from the earth. Rape as genocide is suitable for companies associated with ethnic cleansing and genocide, as the goal is to destroy or forcibly remove the target population and ensure that it does not return.

The devastating effects of mass rape not only affect the person being attacked but also have a profound impact on family and community ties. The destruction caused by sexual violence weakens the survival strategies of the target population (Figueroa et al., 2018). The stigma associated with rape often leads to the abandonment of victims, which can lead to the fact that victims will not be able to participate in public life and complicate the bearing and upbringing of children. The use of mass rape allows the enemy to inflict suffering on the entire community, which can lead to the destruction of the target culture.

In addition to violence, discrimination against women was manifested in the lack of access to education. Women were not allowed to study and were often illiterate, which later became an obstacle to the ability to earn money (Ladum & Haaken, 2017). In addition to teaching, women were also subject to discrimination in the field of medicine. Traditionally, women should get married while still not fully formed, leading to many various health complications (Figueroa et al., 2018). Moreover, the more children a woman gives birth to, the more revered she will be. This also leads to the fact that the female body is subjected to great tests. After the war, more attention was paid to this aspect since it is necessary to eliminate discrimination and allow citizens to live peacefully in their state.

Another critical social problem is the outflow of professionals from various fields from Sierra Leone. This is due to poor working conditions, poverty, and low wages. Many residents who are in search of work also come to the city from rural areas (Devine et al., 2021). Undoubtedly, there is an opportunity to get a job searching for diamonds and other minerals, but these places rarely remain vacant. The large influx of illegal immigrants also complicates the lives of residents (Devine et al., 2021). People who control border crossings cannot cope and cannot control all movements, which makes it possible for illegal immigrants to enter the country.

Human trafficking is quite widespread in Sierra Leone. People of different genders and ages are forced to perform one or another type of activity and are also subject to falling into sexual slavery. Naturally, the state tries to eradicate human trafficking but does not achieve significant success. Women often become objects of violence and cruelty are subjected to forced labor as servants, as those who are forced to mine precious metals in terrible conditions (Ladum & Haaken, 2017). In addition, children are also subject to forced labor in agriculture, as well as in the field of sex services. In wartime, the United Revolutionary Front also engaged in the abduction and exploitation of children (Cannonier & Mocan, 2018). A children’s camp was organized to which girls and boys were taken. Soldiers of the United Revolutionary Front abused children, and they were mutilated, beaten, and killed. Children were sold and also used as soldiers in combat.

After the War

People left their homes and cities in which they lived for a long time to hide from the brutality of this war. For those who stayed in Freetown, unemployment forces them to visit the most tourist places in order to perform one or another type of work for little money (Bangura, 2018). The history that concerns this war is not studied in schools. Those who fought are forced to work for little money to have at least a minimal opportunity to survive. These aspects of the post-war period occur, even though Sierra Leone is a promising State that has a lot of valuable resources.

With the correct distribution and use of natural resources, the country will be able to correct the current social situation. The Government will be able to make the lives of its citizens better and calmer (Adebajo, 2021). Unfortunately, the country’s economy is not strong, there is practically no education system, and the meager availability of markets does not allow the Government to develop in the right direction. Enria (2018) claims that youth poverty, lack of opportunities to study, unemployment hinders the competent and active development of the country. Even though the country’s Government is still making efforts to promote the well-being of its population, it is still not enough to at least restore the previous standard of living.

Currently, there is a risk that many children remain stateless, which leads to sad consequences. The authorities of Sierra Leone cannot grant citizenship not only to children but also to adult men and women due to gender inequality, which is described in the country’s laws (Faulkner et al., 2019). This problem was being searched for solutions, but these solutions were reduced to the fact that children will be able to obtain citizenship of Sierra Leone only if their father is a citizen of this country. Children have no rights and become susceptible to early marriages and use as illegal workers.

There are many inaccuracies in the policy that lead to the fact that cases of illegal immigration are becoming more frequent. These gaps do not make it possible to finalize a policy that will regulate the unlawful entry of immigrants into the country (Osei, 2021). Migrants need political development of measures allowing them to enter Sierra Leone, as well as legal employment there. Borders need to be controlled, as the illegal crossing is also an obstacle to the lives of residents (Sesay et al., 2021). In addition, there is a problem of displacement of residents within the country, which is since immigrants become invisible to the state and do not have full rights to work and live in a new place.


In conclusion, in the post-conflict period, a group of politicians who had the experience of participating in rebel groups and paramilitary movements appeared on the political scene in Sierra Leone. These politicians carried out acts of violence against the civilian population. However, the nature of the participation of these politicians in peace-building processes varied depending on the political context and personal circumstances. Moreover, the political fates of Sankoh, Norman, and Collins have shown that in Sierra Leone, the military past of post-conflict politicians can predetermine their both positive and negative impact on the electorate and peacebuilding in general. Widespread impunity in both the military and post-conflict periods allowed recent rebel leaders to gain freedom of action and resources to use military strategies and the experience of field commanders.

The social consequences of the war have left a significant imprint on the history of the development of Sierra Leonean society. Gender inequality is one of the most acute problems worldwide, including Sierra Leone. Women were exposed to a large amount of suffering and violence, and they were also not allowed to enter the field of education and health care. This situation required an immediate solution, and Sierra Leone is currently actively fighting gender inequality and injustice against women. Women are provided with care in medical institutions, and they also begin to get the opportunity to study in order to be able to find a job in the future.

In addition to gender discrimination, the problem also affected education for young people. Destroyed schools and institutes, lack teachers, and inability to provide knowledge to young people have led to a large part of the population becoming poor. Poverty has given rise to various socially destructive actions. Due to the lack of education, people did not have access to work, which eventually caused many criminal situations, youth alcoholism and drug addiction, and the development of various sexually transmitted diseases. Undoubtedly, over time, the government has created educational institutions and worked with teachers, but this recovery requires a lot of time.


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