Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth & Resources in Sierra Leone

Front Cover
International African Institute, Jan 1, 1996 - History - 182 pages

This important book addresses several misconceptions about war, youth, and resources in Sierra Leone. Paul Richards argues that the war in Sierra Leone and other small wars in Africa do not manifest a "new barbarism." What appears as random, anarchic violence is no such thing. The terrifying military methods of Sierra Leone's soldiers may not fit Western models of warfare, but they are rational and effective. The war must be understood partly as "performance," in which techniques of terror compensate for lack of equipment.

Richards points out that Sierra Leone's war is a crisis of modernity. Sierra Leone's youth belong to a modern, trans-Atlantic culture. In remote diamond-digging camps, young people watch Rambo videos and listen to BBC news. These are part of the cultural resources with which the war is fought. The frustrations of these young people underlie the crisis. Not only the soldiers but most of the commanders are teenagers. Their aspirations are for schools and jobs. Financial stringency and the decay of the patrimonial state led directly to the government's surrender of much of the countryside.

The rain forest is also central to the war. The war is fought in the rain forest and can only be understood in the context of old traditions of social and technical management of the forest. There is no evidence that a crisis of deforestation or overpopulation has contributed to the war.

Rebuilding the state - and giving young Sierra Leoneans confidence in it - is essential for peace. But in the meantime, many people are learning to live with war, and building limited peace locally. Richards argues that aid agencies must learn from these initiatives to avoid becoming part of the economy of conflict.

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User Review  - oataker - LibraryThing

An interesting sociological study of Sierra Leone in the midst of its civil wars aiming to rebut the New Barbarism in Africa thesis by Kaplan. They are not reverting to savagery, as Malthus predicted ... Read full review

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About the author (1996)

PAUL RICHARDS is Professor of Anthropology, University College London, and Visiting Professor, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation, Wageningen.

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