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I lived in Sierra Leone for over two years; leaving the country about 18 months prior to the conflict. I lived in the town where the rebels (the Revolutionary United Front or RUF) established it's base for the duration of the war. I'm well familiar with the political background to the war and followed the war in detail, albeit from abroad, through a wide range of sources (including personal contacts).
The film 'Empire in Africa' makes the point that all of the various armed factions involved in the conflict committed human rights abuses. This is absolutely correct. However, the large majority of human rights abuses, particularly those committed against civilians, were committed by the RUF and their allies, the Armed Forces Revoluntionary Council (AFRC). I recommend that interested persons read the online reports at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. To suggest that all factions were equally responsible for the atrocities committed against civilian Sierra Leonians, as the film does, is simply dishonest.
The film uses purchased footage of atrocities being committed out of context, suggesting that groups other than the RUF/AFRC were responsible. In one scene, an unarmed man is executed while the narrator discusses abuses committed by UN forces. However, the soundtrack from the original footage is audible in the background with the perpetrators clearly speaking Krio (the national language of Sierra Leone). The UN peace-keeping forces were drawn from other West African countries where Krio is not spoken.
The film depicts, through narration and interviews, the RUF as devoted to purging the country of foreign corporate interests and corrupt politicians in order that the proceeds of the country's mineral wealth benefit all Sierra Leonians. Make no mistake, the RUF was a criminal organization that sought to control the country for the sole purpose of enriching themselves and their own foreign benefactors (primarily Charles Taylor in Liberia). The truth is that there was very little foreign investment in Sierra Leone prior to the war. The country was simply too poor, too corrupt and too unstable to attract investment. The most lucrative sector of Sierra Leone's economy is diamonds. The diamond trade was (and still is) controlled by government parastatals, local chiefs and, primarily, by the Sierra Leonian-Lebonese business cartel. These were not corporate actors nor foreigners.
The film also examines the role of foreign peace-keeping forces in the country and argues that the conflict was exacerbated by international power politics. In fact, the 1990's were a period of utter indifference to the problems of Sub-Saharan Africa by Western nations. The West turned its back on Rwanda, Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The film pointedly blames Nigeria for interfering in the conflict. But, the truth is that Nigeria acted because no one else would. It was only through the actions of Nigeria and the UN that this "low intensity Rwanda" was stopped.
I could go on like this for several more pages, but I'll spare you. In short, please do not subject yourself to scenes of graphic brutality and confusing political analysis just to give the apologists for one of the most brutal regimes in the history of the world a chance to make their case!
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