Between Democracy and Terror: The Sierra Leone Civil War

By M'Bayo, Tamba E. | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Between Democracy and Terror: The Sierra Leone Civil War


M'Bayo, Tamba E., The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Between Democracy and Terror: The Sierra Leone Civil War. Edited by Ibrahim Abdullah. Dakar: CODESRlA, 2004. Distributed by Africa Books Collective, Oxford, UK. Pp. x, 263; 3 maps and 5 tables. $29.95 paper.

As the search for a more durable peace continues in West Africa following the recent outburst of the subregion's volatility with Côte d'Ivoire becoming another arena for armed combat, the need for a better understanding of conflicts such as the Sierra Leone civil war (1991-1999) has become more imperative than ever before. Moreover, a cursory glance at the historiography of postcolonial Sierra Leone reveals a paucity of books dealing comprehensively with the war, arguably one of the most complex and brutal in the history of contemporary Africa. Indeed an intensely debatable conflict in both academic and non-academic discourses, the war in Sierra Leone became a laboratory for scholars to experiment with various theoretical paradigms, which may have worked elsewhere, to explain the peculiar circumstances under which the war evolved. This problematic has long been part of a larger issue about Africanist discourses and studies on Africa, which scholars have engaged in every so often.

Given this historiographical backdrop, Between Democracy and Terror, edited by Sierra Leonean historian Ibrahim Abdullah, brings together a team of West African scholars and researchers in the fields of history, political science, and journalism, whose research interests converge on democratization, peace and conflict resolution, corruption and good governance, and youth culture in West Africa, among other matters. This timely compilation builds upon previous discussions on the Sierra Leone civil war, which began on the Internet in May 1996 and spilled over into subsequent scholarly publications that generated a lot of debate. By dialoguing with each other, most of the studies allowed scholars and researchers across the disciplines to discuss various approaches and theoretical frameworks employed in analyzing the war. In this connection, this volume reflects an interdisciplinary conversation focused on "the genesis of the crisis; the contradictory roles of different internal and external actors; civil society and the fourth estate; the regional intervention force; the demise of the second republic; and the numerous peace initiatives to end the war" (p. 1).

The book's twelve chapters, following an introduction by the editor, fall into three parts. Part I, comprising five chapters, introduces the context of the war by examining the origin of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the role of students in the crisis, and the complicity of the state in prolonging the war and thus assisting in inflicting violence on the people of Sierra Leone. Part II consists of four chapters covering the resumption of parliamentary multiparty politics in 19% as well as the coup d'etat that brought the military junta, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), to power, albeit briefly.

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