News / Africa

    Rebel Group Tries Comeback in Sierra Leone Polls

    Supporters of the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) march through central Freetown with a placard of presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio and his running mate, Dr. Kadi Sesay, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, October 19, 2012.
    Supporters of the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) march through central Freetown with a placard of presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio and his running mate, Dr. Kadi Sesay, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, October 19, 2012.
    People in Sierra Leone will head to the polls to vote for a president and parliament in less than three weeks. Ten political parties are registered, and one of them is led by a former member of a rebel group that fought in the country's civil war. 

    Revolutionary United Front

    Eldred Collins is a former spokesperson for the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel group that fought the Sierra Leone government in a decade-long civil war in the 1990s.  The group was notorious for amputations, rapes, and murders.  

    In 2009, RUF leaders were found guilty and imprisoned for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

    It has been 10 years since the war ended and Collins says his group, now called the Revolutionary United Front Party, is ready to win this year's election.

    This is the third Sierra Leone election since the war and the second time the Revolutionary United Front Party has a member running for president. Collins says the first was Paolo Bangura in 2002.

    Collins says despite the past he can bring a positive change to Sierra Leone.

    "What responsible government has thought about the age, thought about education system? Look at youth all around, dancing around with no job, no education," he said. "A country with such a high illiteracy rate is hard to develop, we have to develop the people if we can develop the country."

    Women who survived the civil war pose for a portrait in the village of Bomaru, where the conflict started in 1991, in eastern Sierra Leone, April 22, 2012.Women who survived the civil war pose for a portrait in the village of Bomaru, where the conflict started in 1991, in eastern Sierra Leone, April 22, 2012.
    x
    Women who survived the civil war pose for a portrait in the village of Bomaru, where the conflict started in 1991, in eastern Sierra Leone, April 22, 2012.
    Women who survived the civil war pose for a portrait in the village of Bomaru, where the conflict started in 1991, in eastern Sierra Leone, April 22, 2012.
    Collins adds he is fully aware of the Revolutionary United Front's negative reputation.  But he says it is time people looked beyond that. 

    "The truth has not come out, when truth come you will know most things they have said about RUF is wrong, so we are going around, sensitizing people and educating people," he said.

    The Revolutionary United Front Party was created under the 1999 Lome peace accord.  The agreement between then-president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and RUF leader Foday Sankoh said the rebels would disarm if given political opportunities.

    Former child-soldiers

    Some people, such as former child-soldier Kabba Williams, say the party should be given a fair shot in the upcoming election. He was captured and forced to fight with the RUF at the age of six, but says it is time to forgive and forget.

    "I believe that if we want to consolidate to preserve the peace, which we have struggled for, we need to encourage and involve each and everyone," he said.

    Williams said this could be an example for other African countries.

    "It will also send signal to other war-torn countries, like LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] leader Joseph Kony and others, that being in the bush is not the solution, it is high time for them to come to town and create their own party," he said.

    Painful memories

    Others have a different point of view. 

    An 18-year-old man with amputated hands looks on at a camp for amputees in Freetown, July 21, 2003.An 18-year-old man with amputated hands looks on at a camp for amputees in Freetown, July 21, 2003.
    x
    An 18-year-old man with amputated hands looks on at a camp for amputees in Freetown, July 21, 2003.
    An 18-year-old man with amputated hands looks on at a camp for amputees in Freetown, July 21, 2003.
    "Myself, I lost my father and my mother during the war, I do not even want to hear a name like RUF, there are many families that suffered brutality of RUF," said Bashiru Conteh, also a former child-soldier who fought with the Sierra Leone Army as a teenager. "They should have used another name than RUF because if you take a look at past presidential elections they could not even win a seat in parliament."

    Conteh adds forgiving and forgetting is not as easy as it sounds.

    "Some [people] were amputated, you still see amputees, it is still very difficult to forget because you see day to day the atrocities they committed," he said.

    Conteh says he also worries about political violence. There have been media reports of pre-election violence between the two main political parties, the ruling All Peoples Congress and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party.

    Some question if the Revolutionary United Front Party can even play a big role in the country's politics.

    Rebels and politics

    University of Sierra Leone International Relations Professor Michael Kargbo says some rebel groups can affect the politics of a country.

    "If you look at other African countries, for example, Mozambique where former rebel fighters have been able to transform themselves to a formidable political party and closer to home in Liberia the NPFL [National Patriotic Front of Liberia] have been able to transform into a political party, they have not been able to democratically win elections, but they are a political force to reckon with," he said.

    When it comes to Sierra Leone, though, he says it is a different story.

    "In the case of Sierra Leone, is almost absent, the RUF, they have to beg government to subsidize them and even keeping core members has been almost impossible for the," said Kargbo.

    He doubts the party will last much longer and believes the two main political parties will continue to grab the majority of votes.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.