Sierra Leone; the government’s election slogan in Sierra Leone in ’99 was ‘The future is in your hands,’ so the RUF rebels amputated people’s hands to intimidate them into not voting. This boy is 13.
The West African country of Sierra Leone was host to a bitter civil war between 1991 and 2001 in which at least 50,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands more tortured or forced to flee their homes. Triggered by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under Foday Sankoh – students but also trained killers opposed to military leader Joseph Momoh – control of Sierra Leone’s diamond industry was a prime reason for the war. Coup after coup occurred over the ensuing decade.
Violence, mutilation and sexual violence were rife.
When the RUF launched their first attacks in Sierra Leone in March 1991, the rebels demonstrated their brutality with alarming speed, “decapitating community leaders and putting their heads on stakes,” to quote writer Abdul Koroma. The signature terror tactic employed by the bands was physical mutilation: they severed the hands, arms, legs, lips, ears or genitalia of an estimated 20,000 civilians using machetes and axes. Whole villages were destroyed, with the majority of civilians killed, as well as anyone trying to escape.
School destroyed by the civil war in Sierra Leone.
The use of child soldiers was part of the strategy of both the rebel and government militia during the war. The RUF used horrific methods to numb new recruits to barbarity, and thousands of abducted boys and girls – often between the ages of 7 and 12 – were forced to serve as soldiers or prostitutes. Those chosen to be fighters were sometimes forced to murder their parents, and horrendous bets took place over the sex of unborn babies before their mothers proceeded to be sliced open.
Rwanda: During the 1994 genocide, Ugandan fishermen found themselves pulling dozens of bodies out of Lake Victoria. The badly decomposed bodies had travelled hundreds of miles by river from Rwanda.
It is ironic that the beautiful green equatorial country of Rwanda is now synonymous with slaughter on a massive scale. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide was the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutu political moderates by Hutus under the extremist, Tutsi-opposed Hutu Power ideology. Over the course of just three months, at least 500,000 people were killed, though most estimates propose a death toll of between 800,000 and one million.
Rwandan genocide victims taken out of Lake Victoria by Ugandan fishermen, 1994.
The killing was carried out systematically, and by the time it began, there were agents of the Rwandan militia in every neighborhood. From Prime Minister Jean Kambanda down, the genocide’s organizers included many high-level government representatives and army officers, and at a local level officials like mayors and police. Local newspapers and government-sponsored radio also deliberately incited the violence, fanning the flames of ethnic hatred.
Skulls at the Nyamata Memorial Site, Nyamata, Rwanda.
Most victims were killed in their own villages and towns, often by fellow residents. Militia members typically hacked victims to death with machetes, though some army units fired rifles. Victims were often found holed up in churches and schools, where they were massacred by Hutu gangs. Common citizens were called on to kill neighbors, and those who said no were often murdered themselves. Horrific sexual violence and war rape was also integral to the destruction of the Tutsi ethnic group.
Rwandan Tutsis travelling toward the Tanzanian border, fleeing the genocide, 1994.
The igniting spark for the genocide was the assassination of Rwandan Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana on April 6 1994, but its underlying causes were much deeper. The 1990–93 Rwandan Civil War, fought between the Ugandan-backed Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel group comprising mostly Tutsi refugees, and the Hutu regime, supported by Francophone nations, greatly increased the ethnic tensions in the country and led to the rise of Hutu Power.
Zimbabwe and beyond: Many African nations such as Zimbabwe have been divided throughout history by violent conflicts between rival factions.
Although not as notorious for violence due to the absence of recent civil war, Zimbabwe has experienced its share of bloodshed under Robert Mugabe, whose rule has been characterized by widespread human rights abuses. Opposition gatherings are often the target of vicious attacks by the police, with activists severely beaten. In the build-up to the 2008 election, the wife of one opposition head had one of her hands and both her feet chopped off before being burned alive.
Zimbabwean burn victim.
In southern Africa many victims of violence are killed by necklacing, the appalling method of killing that involves burning people alive by forcing a petrol-filled tyre over the victim’s midriff and setting it ablaze. A common method of lynching during disturbances in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, necklacing returned to South Africa in 2008 when people in some of the country’s poorest areas turned against immigrants from Zimbabwe fleeing violence and poverty in their own country.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: War wounded rebels being provided with medical treatment and support for their reintegration into civilian life.
The atrocities don’t end here. People are still dying as a result of war closely associated with the carnage in Rwanda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – the world’s deadliest conflict since WWII, having seen the deaths of 5.4 million people. Meanwhile, in Darfur, Sudan, charges of genocide and other atrocities have been leveled at the Sudanese government in its ongoing conflict with rebels recruited from non-Arab ethnic groups, notably the Sudan Liberation Army.
War wounded rebels in North Kivu, DR Congo
Is there hope amidst the picture painted here? It seems at least that there are signs of improved networking between African states. In the civil war in the DR Congo, for example, instead of wealthy, non-African countries stepping in, neighboring African countries became involved. More promisingly, political associations like the African Union offer hope for increased mutual support and harmony between the continent’s diverse countries – all of which are eager to rebuild.