SIERRA LEONE. 2000. A 14-year-old child soldier during the Sierra Leone Civil War (1991 to 2002), which for over more than a decade devastated the country. This proxy war left more than 50,000 people dead, much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed, and over two million people displaced as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Photograph: Adam Butler/AP
More recently, in 2016, a former senior director at the British firm
Aegis Defence Services
says that it employed mercenaries from Sierra Leone to work in Iraq because they were cheaper than Europeans and did not check if they were former child soldiers.
Contract documents say that the soldiers from Sierra Leone were paid $16 (£11) a day. A documentary, The Child Soldier’s New Job, alleges that the estimated 2,500 Sierra Leonean personnel who were recruited by Aegis and other private security companies to work in Iraq included former child soldiers.
Aegis was founded in 2002 by Tim Spicer, the former Scots Guards officer who was at the centre of the 1998 “arms to Africa” scandal, in which his previous company Sandline was found to be breaching sanctions by importing 100 tonnes of weapons to Sierra Leone in support of the government.
Ellery, Aegis’ director of operations at the time of the Iraq contracts, previously served as chief of staff to the UN’s mission in Sierra Leone, at the time when the organisation was responsible for demobilising thousands of former child soldiers.
Interviewees in the documentary provided detailed testimony of serving as child soldiers, and documents showing their employment with Aegis.
One interviewee, Gibrilla Kuyateh, told the film’s makers: “Every time I hold a weapon, it keeps reminding me of about the past. It brings back many memories.” In extended footage seen by the Guardian he said he was kidnapped at the age of 13 by rebels who also killed his mother.
When Sierra Leone’s civil war ended in 2002, the international community spent millions of dollars giving former militia members the skills to use in peacetime. A UN mission demobilised more than 75,000 fighters, including nearly 7,000 children, at an estimated cost of $36.5m. The total number of children demobilised is understood to be far higher.
Sierra Leone remains one of the world’s poorest countries, and the documentary charts how from 2009 onwards private military firms turned to it, along with Uganda and Kenya, for cheap labour to guard military installations in Iraq.
LIBERIA. Tubmanburg. June 26, 2003. A Sierra Leonian fighter, trained by the British army in Sierra Leone, parades himself before the advance on the capital of Liberia. The conflict cannot be viewed as the isolated problem of only Liberia, as the cycle of violence generated by warlords ends up affecting the whole region. Second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003).
In 2014, Glasgow-based humanitarian design and construction organisation Orkidstudiostarted the construction of the Swawou School for Girls in Kenema, located in the eastern region of Sierra Leone. The school is an initiative of the Swawou School Foundation, an organisation that aims to provide a safe environment and free primary education for girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. Sadly, development of the building was brought to a halt four weeks before completion when the first confirmed cases of the Ebola virus hit the region. Now, two years later, Orkidstudio is happy to announce that the school has finally opened its doors to its first group of pupils.
LIBERIA. Tubmanburg. May 2004. Memanatu Sesay, fighter with the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) poses with her weapon at a UN disarmament point. She was in fact a native Sierra Leonean who had been caught up in the war in Liberia during the instability in the north west region.