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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs