Although Kosovo has consumed the publics attention, the suffering caused by violent conflict is even greater in many parts of Africa. Sierra Leones rebel warin which thousands of crude amputations are just one of many terror tactics routinely employed by a rebel army trying to remove the countrys democratically elected governmentis the most glaring display of inconsistency by both the U.S. government and the media. One calamity takes place in Europe, the other in Africa. When the United States failed to act to prevent the Rwandan genocide, Jimmy Carter voiced the thinking of our nations leaders: Theyre poor. Theyre black. And they have no oil.
Ancestral home to millions of Americans, Sierra Leone has many historical connections with the United States. The Gullah people of the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina have cultural traditions and genealogical roots that go directly to Sierra Leones Mende people. American slaves who fought with the British during the Revolutionary War were repatriated to Freetown, now the countrys capital. Steven Spielbergs Amistad also underscored the many links. With all of these connections, Sierra Leonean immigrants are bewildered by the lack of attention paid to the wholesale destruction of their homeland.
Sierra Leone has never before known such violence. Initiated and supported by neighboring Liberians since the early 1990s, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels have inflicted suffering on every ethnic and religious group within the country. They have built their army with children, many not yet even in their teens. As defenseless villages are attacked, young boys are forced to kill their parents, relatives, and childhood friends. Traumatized, orphaned, and threatened with death if they attempt to escape, these children are then adopted into the rebel family. Girls, even as young as 7, are taken as sex slaves and later offered "promotions" as guerrilla fighters.