(AA) Sierra Leone

esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Mon, 29 Apr 1996 01:41:37 +0200

Extract from (ahem! ;-)) Catholic Worker
Jan/Feb 1996
36, East First Street,
New York,
NY 1003

"There are many forces poised to profit
through this war-outside forces particular-
ly-trading weapons and the country's
'@his war" could mean any one of the
three dozen or so conflicts occurring world-
wide. Those who profit from war are every-
where, though we hear very little about them.
Kumar Rupesinghe, the author of the state-
ment and head of International Alert, an orga-
nization dedicated to the resolution and pre-
vention of conflict, is, however, referring
specifically to the civil war in the West African
country of Sierra Leone. This is also some-
thing about which we hear very little, though
the suffering of the people of @ierra Leone
has been enormous. The war, which began in
1991, is being waged by the army of the
Sierra Leone government and a rebel move-
ment, the Revolutionary United Front, with
civilians caught between the two forces.
Estimates of the number of Sierra Leoneans
killed thus far range from 20,000 to 60,000.
F@r, @ut of a population of four million
about one'million people, a qu@t}i@
total, have been displaced, and many of the
refugees are starving.
We are repeatedly told that we live in a
global village. How is it, then, that we do not
hear about this human tragedy? Perhaps it is
because Sierra Leone has little strategic value
for the international community, that is, those
countries which have economic and military
When I went to school, all wars had caus-
es and we spent an inordinate amount of time
and energy committing them to memory. It
was, however, only certain western wars we
studied. Wars in Africa are normally depicted
as aimless and capricious. When it is reported
at all, these are the terms used to describe
the war in Sierra Leone: "Sierra Leone di@
solves into chaos." As a consequence, wars in
Africa are made to appear as senseless sav-
agery. This is, we might say, a very apt
description of all wars. Yet western wars, are
often, by contrast, depicted as having just
cause. This is just one more instance of colo-
nialist thinking: viewing ourselves, in opposi-
tion to them, as civilized, as superior. The rich
world also has a vested interest in seeing
A@ican wars as motiveless chaos, for it allows
us to conceal, even from ourselves, our role
in bringing about these wars.

A Complex War

As I've been reminded many times by
Sierra Leonean friends, the war in their
country is a complex one; a complication of
social, political, historical, and economic
causes. I will start with the economic and
perhaps manage to hint at the other factors.
A few years ago, the United Nations
declared Sierra Leone to be the poorest
country in the world. As many Sierra
Lec@nean@ h@ve als@ @bserved. the situation
is not without irony. Sierra Leone is, in fact,
richly endowed with natural resources-dia-
monds rutile. bauxite, timber. and coffee
being among its assets. It has, however,
been impoverished by internal corruption
and external exploitation.
Governments and corruption seem to go
together. It is not, as so often suggested, that
poor countries like Sierra Leone are more
corrupt than rich countries. It is just that
there is so much less to go around in the first
place that the effects of corruption are more
noticeable and more keenly felt. And,
because there is so little to go around, politics
sometimes becomes a life and death struggle
for scarce resources.
So, given that Sierra Leone is rich in nat-
ural resources, how did this situation of
scarcity arise in the first place? This is the real
question, the answer to which lies in the
nature of the economic relationship between
African and western countries. In fact, condi-
tions of trade between Africa and the west
have remained unchanged since the inaugu-
ration of the slave trade in the 1400s; inequal-
ity defines the relationship. One of the parties
to the exchange is more powerful than the
other and, hence, gets to set the price not
only of the commodities it is selling, but also
of those it is buying. The Guianese historian,
Walter Rodney explains it this way, speaking
of market relations during the colonial era:
"The differences between the prices of
African exports of raw materials and their
importation of manufac@ured goocts constitut-
ed a form of unequal exchange. Throughout
the colonial period, this inequality in
exchange got worse....In 1939, with the same
quantity of primary goods, colonies could buy
only 60% of manufactured goods which they
bought in the decade 187@80 before colonial
rule. By 1960, the amount of European man-
ufactured goods purchasable by the same
quantity of African raw materials had fallen
still farther."
And the terms of trade have continued to
deteriorate since the 1960s, the time when
most African nations regained their indepen-
dence. The process has been greatly facilitat-
ed by the IMF and World Bank which, as a
condition for loans to poor countries, insist on
cllrr@devalua@ns. @enI firs@am ed in
Sierra Leone in 1968, one leone was worth
one dollar. Thanks largely to the IMF and
World Bank, it is now 1080 leones to the dol
lar. This means, of course, that today one
leone can buy less than 1/1000th of the man-
ufactured goods it bought in the 1960s. It also
means that Sierra Leone exports are going at
the same bargain basement prices.
Now that there is war, the exp1Oitation and
profiteering continue at an even more accel
erated rate. A friend writes from Freetown,
the capital of Sierra Leone and the only part
of the country not yet engulfed in war, that
she "doubts that there will be anything left in
the country once the war is over." The
nation's forest reserves are rapidly disappear-
ing, "timber for better climes," as my friend
puts itt and mining concessions are also being
sold off, all to finance the war. According to
the recently overthrown president of Sierra
Leone, Valentine Strasser, 75% of the nation's
resources are being spent on the war. This
does not leave much to take care of the health
and welfare of the people of Sierra Leonet
large numbers of whom have fallen further
into desperate povert@v.
This, then, is the situation that Kumar
Rupesinghe is alluding to in the statement
with which I began this discussion. But who
are these "outside forces" he refers to who
are "trading weapons and [Sierra Leone's]
resources"? I have not been able to discover
who is supplying the weapons with which
this devastating war is being fought. It could
be the United States, which accounts for
about 50% of all arms deliveries to the '@hird
World." It could also be Canada, which, in the
last five years, has quadrupled its arms sales
to '@hird World" countries. Or it might be
Russia, France, Britain, Germany, or China
all of whom are major suppliers of weapons
to poor countries. Quite probably, arms are
making their way to Sierra Leone either
directly or indirectly from these sources.
All wars are devastating. But from the out-
side, the war that involves people you know
seems much more so. Both Kassie Temple
and I have lived in Sierra Leone and we both
have friends there whose lives are at risk.
Several people I know have already been
killed. But, as I have come to realize, because
of where we now live, we are both, however
indirectly, beneficiaries of such a war. As I
said earlier, those who profit from war are
everywhere. For it is countries like Sierra
Leone, through their purchases of arms as
well as other commodities, to say nothing of
@efiD@ pay on loans to western insti-
tutions, that enrich countries like Canada and
the United States. In Freetown, there had
been a blackout for days the last time my
friend wrote.
What, then, are we to do? There are a
number of Sierra Leone organizations, both
inside and outside the country, which are
committed to the attainment of peace in-the*
country. Anyone wishing to offer support
could contact the following:
In New York: The Sierra Leone Peace
Committee, (212) 3288718 or (212) 94(0)6625.
In Washington DC: Peace Coalition for
Sierra Leone, 2117 L Street NW, Suite 275
Washington, DC 20037.
In the UK: Sierra Leone Network for
Peace and Development, 134 Empire Road,
Middlesex UB6 7EG.
We might also make it our business to let
others know about the unfair conditions of
trade which do so much to ignite wars such
as the one in Sierra Leone. And we might cry
out against the deadly trade in arms.