Friday, August 11, 2006

The UK in Sierra Leone: a post-conflict operation success?

I was appointed to command in Sierra Leone in the late summer of 2000. The civil war had been going on for 10 years, and Sierra Leone was officially the world’s poorest country. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebellion had devastated a once-rich country, com­pleting the work that corrupt, single-party, post-colo­nial government had started. The RUF rebellion in fact began in response to the abuses of this system, but was rapidly hijacked by criminals, backed from Liberia, with no political, social, religious or other moral motivation whatever—just a culture of greed based on controlling the easy money to be had from diamonds, and subduing the population through terror. There had been three military coups, and the Sierra Leone Army was widely feared by its own people. It had become unaccountable and corrupt. There had been considerable activity by foreign mercenaries. Throughout the country a local militia, the Civil Defense Force (CDF), had emerged based on tradi­tional tribal hunting fraternities. Although its meth­ods were brutal, this group was at least consistently loyal to the government. The police were also loyal, but also corrupt—the result of one-party government and low pay, or no pay. The U.N. Mission had been attacked by the RUF and, with the honorable excep­tion of the Indian Army contingent, had been all but driven from the country.(read more)