The Revolutionary united front
Updated: Jun 28
The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was a Sierra Leone rebel army that fought from 1991 to 2002 in the Sierra Leone Civil War. Foday Sankoh established the RUF with the help of allies such as Abu Kanu, Rashid Mansaray, and the majority of the Mende ethnic group in the country's southern and eastern provinces. They also received critical support from Liberia's Charles Taylor, who led a rebel party there and later became the country's dictator.
The RUF was initially prominent among Sierra Leoneans who despised the oppressive Freetown political establishment that had previously dominated the country's politics. They initially promised free education and healthcare, as well as an equal share of diamond revenues extracted in their area, despite not belonging to any ethnic group or region. “No More Slaves, No More Masters” became their rallying cry. “To the People, Power and Wealth.”
Child Soldiers, Revolutionary United Front
© Adam Butler/AP Photo, Fair use image
The RUF, on the other hand, gave no hint of what kind of government they chose to replace Sierra Leonean President Joseph Saidu Momah's dictatorship. Instead, they earned a reputation for inflicting heinous brutality on civilians during the decade-long conflict, including rape, abuse, abduction, and mutilation, all in the name of instilling fear in the populace.
They were also notorious for employing a large number of child soldiers.
The RUF launched its first attacks along Sierra Leone's eastern frontier with Liberia when the civil war began in March 1991. Within a month, it had seized control of most of Sierra Leone's diamond-producing eastern region. They seemed to be on track to defeat the Sierra Leone army, take over Freetown, and overthrow the government.
However, as the terror campaign progressed, they lost a lot of public support. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans had fled to neighboring Guinea as a result of their massacres against civilians by 1994. The RUF had exploited rural workers in the country's diamond mining area by the end of 1994, forcing them to manufacture "blood diamonds" in order to fund their cause. They had also displaced nearly half of the four million people in the country.
To combat the RUF, the government of Sierra Leone recruited Executive Outcomes (EO), a South African mercenary organization.
They drove RUF forces back from the outskirts of Freetown by May 1995, and took possession of the diamond mines the following year. In March 1997, RUF Sankoh fled to Nigeria and was apprehended there. He was released two years later and returned to Sierra Leone, where he immediately resumed his war against the government and civilian massacres.
The United States and the United Kingdom arranged a United Nations intervention in 1999, forcing Sankoh to recognize the Lome Peace Accord on July 7, 1999, as a result of the ongoing fighting and civilian casualties. In return for their disarmament, Sankoh and other rebels were given positions in the government.
Despite the deal, RUF soldiers have continued to target civilians and UN peacekeeping forces. Sankoh was recaptured by Sierra Leonean government forces in May 2000, after the RUF was defeated by Indian troops and British Special Forces. The RUF was disbanded a year later, in May 2001, and the Sierra Leone Civil War was declared over in January 2002. Sankoh and associates, as well as Sam Bockarie, Issa Hassan Sesay, Morris Kallon, and Augustine Gbao, were charged with war crimes by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, which was established in 2002. Sankoh and Bockarie died before their trials, and the remaining three were tried as a group on February 25, 2009, and found guilty. In Rwanda, they are currently completing fifty-year terms.