Still recovering from civil war in Sierra Leone

July 23, 2014

“War is hell,” said William Sherman during the U.S. Civil War, and not only is that true while it goes on, it often continues to be true long after peace has returned. Among the conclusions of our recent four-month assessment of the Kongbora chiefdom in Sierra Leone is that communities are still suffering the effects of a brutal civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002.

Two years ago, former Liberian president Charles Taylor was convicted of war crimes for his central involvement in funding and orchestrating the Sierra Leone Civil War, in which the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rose up against the Sierra Leone Army. Taylor’s motivation was gaining access to Sierra Leone’s diamond mines near the Sierra Leone/Liberia border, and by providing the RUF with weapons and cash, he made possible vast and atrocious crimes against humanity: murder, mutilation, dismemberment, rape, sexual slavery and conscripting child soldiers into battle.

Twelve years later, the wounds of war are far from healed. The war created more than 72,000 ex-combatants, who have suffered from their experiences as perpetrators, victims or both. Many of them were children, and it’s estimated that 30% of those children were girls, forced to kill, torture and serve as slaves for rebel soldiers. Fifty thousand people were killed, with thousands more wounded in ways ranging from physically disabling to psychologically crippling. The country’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, markets, clinics and hospitals, schools and electrical and water systems were all severely damaged or destroyed.

The fabric of social trust is perhaps the biggest casualty of all. In an extremely low-trust environment, progress is difficult; however, we are seeing signs that trust is starting to return. And while well-intended, years of handouts from international organizations during and after the war has created a “dependency syndrome” among a large degree of the population, especially in rural areas. To move to a higher level of productivity, villages will have to shift their mindset away from waiting on the next handout to a strategy of encouraging one another to work themselves out of dependency. Having access to information, techniques and resources will be critical to make this a reality. Just Hope is developing plans to provide these key elements in partnership with those who want to do their part to make an ‘impact that lasts’ in their lives.