Sierra Leone: Tracing The Genesis Of A Controversy

Abiodun Alao
Content Type
Policy Brief
Chatham House
Prior to the recent controversy over the transfer of arms, little international attention was devoted to Sierra Leone. Even its civil war, which is at the root of the matter, did not attract any significant attention outside West Africa, despite the fact that it had claimed nearly 50,000 lives. Although its enormous diamond deposits have always attracted some interest, this has been limited to private companies and individual entrepreneurs. Many Sierra Leoneans believe that had there been sustained concern about the predicament of their country, the entire arms controversy might have been avoided. This briefing paper does not, however, attempt to delve into the complexities surrounding the sale of arms to Sierra Leone and deals only tangentially with the role of mercenaries that has been the subject of so much scrutiny. Rather, it traces the major events leading to the civil war that began in March 1991, bringing with it immense suffering for this impoverished nation. This is a tale of intrigue and power struggles that has involved most of the West African region, and has allowed unscrupulous actors from as far afield as South Africa, Britain and the United States to dabble in the affairs of this country. It is a salutary lesson in the lack of concern about the fate of small nations in the post-Cold War era.
Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Politics
Political Geography
United States, South America