The present-day Sierra Leone is largely built on international peace initiatives from neighboring and far countries. The initiatives were put in place after the country sank into civil war in 1991; a war that left some seventy thousand people dead and over ten thousand civilians and military personnel disabled, according to conservative figures by the United Nations. However, local sources insinuate that as many as two million people died in the war between 1991 and 2002 (Khan 246). Alongside Somalia and Angola, Sierra Leone is notably one of the African countries in which peace remained elusive for the longest periods. Marked with occasional military coups, the weak governments installed (mainly through international intervention) did not last long enough to oversee meaningful development or even stabilization, which has left a mark of continued failure and backwardness in the country.
Several factors have been attributed to the onset of the civil war. Many researchers appear to settle for the more widely known reason: the independence government and other governments that followed did not attend to the grievances of the growing marginalized population. As a result, inaction created a very large group of aggrieved young men, who could not get decent employment since they were either semiliterate or completely illiterate. The government of the day had adopted a new system that promoted education as an exclusive preserve of the privileged. The marginalized population resorted to guerilla warfare to ascend to power. This paper provides an analysis of the lack of authority that the government showed during the war.
Why the Government of Sierra Leone Lacked Authority during the 1991 Civil War
Several events and occurrences indicated a serious lack of control by the government of Sierra Leone. Below is a summary of these events and occurrences.
Use of Children Fighters
Several fights have involved children below the age of eighteen years, including the one in Southern Sudan. However, there was no direct involvement of children in their masses as witnessed when the Revolutionary United Front began its anti-government operations in Sierra Leone. The appalling picture of thousands of underage fighters engaging military officers with better equipment led to lack of trust in the government. The government was viewed as one unable to uphold the rights of children, and refugees at general. The perception soon transformed into one of feeling betrayed and unprotected, especially when the nation witnessed the fast speed at which the militia was capturing provinces.
Following the preceding war in Liberia, thousands of Liberians were camping in refugee camps in the south east of the country – along the Liberian border. The RUF had good connections with Liberian war leaders, including Charles Taylor, and they were able to recruit massively from the refugee camps. In fact, most of the trained militia fighters comprised children housed in the refugee camps. Due to their gullibility, vulnerability and lack of opposing opinions, they were engaged in performing some of the most heinous acts on the population. In the sense of children being engaged in war yet the government could not act well enough discourage further recruitment of minors, the country must have been feeling gripped with a fear that any of their children could be captured and turned into cruel fighters (Hanlon 467). The brutality with which the children trained into militia approached their victims not only created fear for attacks, it also led to heightened fear of losing children to the fighters. The cruelty of RUF’s approach, which included cannibalization, was one that no parents would have wished for their children. The government, unable to stop children from being trained into the RUF militia group, was left weak and unconvincing.
Neglect of the Military and the Civil Service
As the war began, the government lost part of its richest diamond producing districts to the militias. The tide turned on the government. While the militia gained extra freedom to trade and secure more territory within Sierra Leone, the government’s operations were almost coming to a stand still. The government could hardly get enough money to sustain its business.
One of the hardest hit sectors was the civil service. As resources and production dwindled, the government found it increasingly difficult to pay the civil service. As a result, resentment grew from within the government itself. The civil servants in regions that still remained under government control became poorer with time, eventually losing the need to continue a service that was no longer paying.
But, in the midst of this growing resentment was the national army, tasked with fighting the RUF militias. The soldiers had no reason to continue fighting when they were not being remunerated to at least sustain their daily needs. This resentment eventually led to the costly collaboration with the militias, and sometimes abetting them in taking control of some regions. As a result, a third force, the Kamajors, whose primary aim was to protect the vulnerable families that were left exposed to the atrocities committed by the national military and the RUF militias. The military was by now employing similar tactics to those used by the RUF. This was mainly brought about by lost will to serve, which contributed to loss of purpose.
Corruption and the Resultant Coup de Tat
The Momah administration was caught up in numerous corruption scandals that grossly tainted its name and image among the people. In fact, the government of the time was already unpopular even before the fighting started (Hanlon 460). With the rising unpopularity, the government was becoming weak, with a growing opposition that was getting stronger. Through continued talk of corruption in government, the opposition was gaining more coverage and the government was becoming helpless, especially due to the weakened support for welfare provision.
Part of the corruption was indeed condoned by the international community that appeared to value trade prospects more than upholding good governance standards and values. The country was largely lauded for following through with devaluation recommendations by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), notwithstanding that the same government was letting corrupt officials drain the economy of wealth accumulated from its most valuable resource. This application of double standards by the international community was partly responsible for the unforeseen predicament that befell the government when the uprising appeared to overwhelm the country. The government felt comfortable with its international standing, gradually losing touch with reality on the ground.
The result of this corruption was a severe loss of control, which eventually led to a coup led by Captain Valentine Strasser in April 1992. This marked the highest point of President Momah’s government’s inability to control the state. After the coup, the junta under the stewardship of Strasser tried to calm the situation, but the fighting persisted due to poor and rigid approaches (Conteh-Morgan 92).
Loss of Important Mineral Resources
Diamonds were the backbone of the Sierra Leone government’s earnings. However, through the inefficient handling of surging rebels, the government lost control of valuable territorial land in the south and the east that contained valuable diamond deposits. As a result of the loss, the rebels took charge of the important trade and started exporting the minerals to one of their main financiers and sponsors, Charles Taylor of Liberia.
As the conflict continued, the rebels captured even more territory (especially during the first 12 months of the insurgency) and retained steady supply of the vital resource for themselves. Meanwhile, the government was getting weaker by the day, gradually losing the fight for minerals and the ability to sustain its operations. The government was losing appeal among the people and resentment was fast setting in. Henceforth, the government did not have the moral authority to claim to control any parts of the country. Even before the hostilities began, the country’s economy was fast deteriorating, with the per capita GDP growth falling from 2.5% to -0.5 between 1970 and 1990, a year before the Revolutionary United Front started its onslaught. The entry into war meant that the economic outlook would deteriorate further. As an accelerator, the per capita GDP growth fell to -8.0 in the half decade following the insurgency (Davies 3).
The government of Sierra Leone showed a great deal of inability to cope with the internal affairs that bedeviled it at the onset of the 1991 civil war. As a result, international peace keepers from the United Nations peace keeping initiative – mostly borrowed from India – for Sierra Leone were sent to the country to halt the fighting and bring back peace to the country. Nigeria, being the regional economic and military hub, was represented independently in the peace-building initiative, having sent a large number of army personnel to Sierra Leone. These interventions were all as a result of the failure by the then government of the country to assert authority and stamp out retrogressive militias in the country. The civil war was the direct result of many years of neglect. The lack of authority can be distinguished through such failures as coups, corruption, and inability to pay the civil service.
Conteh-Morgan, Earl. Globalization, State Failure, and Collective Violence: The Case of Sierra Leone. International Journal of Peace Studies. 11(2006) (2): 87-103. Print.
Davies, Victor A. War, Poverty and Growth in Africa – Lessons from Sierra Leone. (2002). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hanlon, Joseph. Is the International Community Helping to Recreate the Preconditions for War in Sierra Leone? The Round Table. 94(2005) (381): 459-472. Print.
Khan, Muslim M. Civil War in Sierra Leone (West Africa) and the Role of International Community and India in Peace Building. International Journal of Physical and Social Sciences. 2(2012) (8): 245-262. Print.