Revolutionary United Front

Revolutionary United Front
Flag of the RUF
Dates of operation1991–2002
Active regionsSierra Leone
Allies Libya
 Burkina Faso
Opponents Sierra Leone
 United States
 United Kingdom
 New Zealand
This article is part of a series on the
Sierra Leone Civil War
Ahmad Tejan KabbahJohnny Paul KoromaFoday SankohValentine StrasserJulius Maada BioCharles TaylorSolomon MusaHinga NormanYahya KanuMoinina FofanaAllieu KondewaTony BlairDavid RichardsLansana ContéSani AbachaMaxwell KhobeVijay JetleyDaniel Opande
Armed forces
ECOMOGExecutive OutcomesKamajorsRUFSandline InternationalSLAWest Side Boys
Key events
RUF insurgency KenemaBoSilver Anvil1992 coup1992 coup attempt1996 coup1996 coup attempt1997 coupNoble ObeliskSiege of Freetown Hastings AirportPalliserLungi LolKhukriBarras
Attempts at peace
Abidjan Peace AccordLomé Peace AccordUNAMSILBritish interventionSCSL
Political groups
Ethnic groups
See also
Blood diamondFreetownLiberian Civil WarMano River

The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was a rebel army that fought a failed eleven-year war in Sierra Leone, beginning in 1991 and ending in 2002. It later transformed into a political party, which still exists today. The three most senior surviving leaders, Issa SesayMorris Kallon and Augustine Gbao, were convicted in February 2009 of war crimes and crimes against humanity.[1]



The RUF initially coalesced as a group of Sierra Leoneans which led National Patriotic Front of Liberia elements across the border in an attempt to replicate Charles Taylor’s earlier success in toppling the Liberian government.[2]

The RUF was created by Foday Sankoh, of Temne background, and some allies, Abu Kanu, Rashid Mansaray, with substantial assistance from Charles Taylor of Liberia.[3] Initially, the RUF was popular with Sierra Leoneans, many of whom resented a Freetown elite seen as corrupt and looked forward to promised free education and health care and equitable sharing of diamond revenues. However, the RUF developed a reputation internationally for its terrible cruelty towards the civilian population during its decade-long struggle, especially its practice of hacking off limbs to intimidate and spread terror among the population, and its widespread use of child soldiers.[4][5]

When it was first formed, the RUF put forward the slogan, “No More Slaves, No More Masters. Power and Wealth to the People.”[6] While its goal was clearly to change the government of Sierra Leone, the RUF gave little indication of what sort of government would replace it. The group did not advocate Marxism or any similar leftist ideology, nor did it advocate extreme nationalism or Fascism. It also did not claim to be a force fighting for a certain ethnic group or region.[7] At one point, during ongoing peace negotiations in 1995, RUF published a pamphlet entitled “Footpaths to Democracy: Toward a New Sierra Leone”, which contained some rhetorical references to social justice and pan-Africanism.[6]


Foday Sankoh did not stand by his earlier promises of equitably sharing diamond revenues and used these funds to buy arms for himself.[8] With a significant area of the diamond mines under the control of the rebel party, the RUF became singularly focused on protecting its resource base.[8]

Sierra Leone’s economy collapsed, with ordinary citizens trapped between the cruelty of RUF troops and starvation. After a coup by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in 1997, the RUF and AFRC created a joint junta to control the country before being evicted from the capital by the intervention of a Nigerian-led West African force that reinstated President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The war is estimated to have cost the lives of about 200,000 people.

Child soldiers

Child soldiers were heavily recruited in the Sierra Leone Civil War; a total of 11,000 are thought to have participated in the conflict.[9] Most were used for attacks on villages and on guard duty at diamond fields as well as guarding weapons stockpiles. The RUF made extensive use of child soldiers.[10]

Thousands of abducted boys and girls were forced to serve as soldiers or as prostitutes,[11][12] and those chosen to be fighters were sometimes forced to murder their parents.[13] Guerrillas frequently carved the initials “RUF” on their chests,[3][14][15] and officers reportedly rubbed cocaine into open cuts on their troops to make them maniacal and fearless. Before some battles and raids, the children would be given mixtures of cocaine and gunpowder. The gunpowder mixture was called “Brown Brown” and it allowed the cocaine to flow more freely through the blood stream.[5][16][17]

For entertainment, some soldiers would bet on the sex of an unborn baby and then slice open a woman’s womb to determine the winner.[18][19] The RUF abducted children aged 7 to 12, but were known to take children as young as 5 year olds. The children were notoriously known by captains and civilians for their unquestionable obedience and enormous cruelty.


In response to the immediate execution of rebels by government forces, the RUF instituted a policy of cutting off the hands of captured soldiers with the intent of sending the message: “You don’t hold your weapon against your brother.”[20] Brandishing machetes, RUF rebels amputated the hands, arms, and legs of tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans.[20] The RUF indicated that the reason for these actions was that amputees could no longer mine diamonds, which might be used to support government troops.[21]

The election slogan at that time was that the people “had power in their hands”, so the RUF would hack the hands off to prevent people from voting.[21] RUF members are also said to have practised cannibalism.[22][23] Refugee camps were set up for amputees, supported by the government and other relief agencies.[24]

Foreign pressure and intervention

In March 1997, Sankoh fled to Nigeria, where he was put under house arrest, and then imprisoned. Before he was later released in 1999, Sam Bockarie performed the task of director of military operations of the RUF. In 1999, after enormous pressure by the United States, the United Kingdom, the UN, and various other countries, Sankoh was forced into signing the Lomé Peace Accord on 7 July 1999.[25]

Sankoh was then allowed to return under the conditions of the agreement. However fighting again broke out, and the UN sent peacekeeping troops in hopes of integrating the RUF into a new national army. This intervention failed as well, and by 2000 they held 500 UN peacekeepers hostage until their release was negotiated by Taylor. The UK, GuineaIndiaBangladeshPakistan and various other nations, sent in professional forces in 2001. The RUF was noted to be weakened, especially decreasing resources, and hence had to suffer several crushing defeats at the hands of the British special forces; which eventually led to the end of the revolution, hence the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone. Sankoh was later captured by a mob[26] and handed to the British Army in Sierra Leone. He was indicted for multiple war crimes by a UN-backed special court. In 2003 Sankoh died in prison before the trial took place.[5]

Four years later, during the sessions of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, prosecutors claimed that Charles Taylor had actively participated in directing the RUF’s strategy from Liberia; among the allegations was that he had arranged to transport RUF commanders to Monrovia to meet with them personally.[27]

Political party

Revolutionary United Front Party
Politics of Sierra LeonePolitical partiesElections

After peace was established, RUF was transformed into a political party: the Revolutionary United Front Party. As of 2006, the general secretary of the party was Jonathan. In the May 10, 2001 general election the party won 2.2% of popular votes and no seats. Its candidate at the presidential elections, Alimamy Pallo Bangura, received 1.7% of the vote. The party received its highest voting in Kailahun, 7.8% in the parliamentary election.[28][29]

The RUF most recently participated in the 2018 general election in Sierra Leone and had the 6th highest vote tally in the country. It was not considered to be a significant contender.

Cultural references


  • Law & Order episode “Blood Money” was centered around the strife in Sierra Leone and the traffic in conflict diamonds
  • Walker, Texas Ranger had an episode entitled “Blood Diamonds” based in part on the RUF which brought to light some of their atrocities as well as the black market trade of blood diamonds for illegal arms.


  • Cry Freetown is a 2000 documentary film directed by Sorious Samura. It is an account of the victims of the Sierra Leone Civil War and depicts the most brutal period with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels capturing the capital city (January 1999).
  • In the 2005 movie Lord of War, the protagonist played by Nicolas Cage sells weapons to the RUF.
  • RUF was featured significantly in the 2006 movie Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In this film, RUF is used largely to create the social climate in which the film is set, and the (fictional) depicted commanders of the group are the main antagonists and villains of the story.
  • The 2010 film Predators is about a group of the most dangerous people on Earth who are taken to an alien planet to be hunted; one of them is a member of RUF named Mombasa, portrayed by Mahershala Ali.
  • The 2012 documentary Life does not lose its value focuses on the reintegration of former child soldiers, after they have lived years in the forest with the RUF rebels.


The RUF’s activities also formed the central focus of the autobiographical book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah which was published in 2007.[30]


Kanye West released a song called Diamonds from Sierra Leone in his album Late Registration

Kanye West and JAY-Z released a song called Diamonds from Sierra Leone – Remix in his album Late Registration

See also


  1. ^ “S Leone war crimes trio convicted”Al Jazeera English. February 25, 2009. Archived from the original on 2012-10-25. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  2. ^ Adekeye Adebayo, Liberia’s Civil War, 2002, p. 90, citing Paul Richards, Fighting for the Rainforest: War, Youth, and Resources in Sierra Leone, (Oxford, James Currey, 1996) and papers presented by Ibraham Abdullah, Patrick Muana, and David Keen at University College London, 21 October 2005. Full bibliographical information is at Adebayo, p. 98.
  3. Jump up to:a b David M. Crane “Indictment proceedings of the special court for Sierra Leone Case No. SCSL – 2004-15-PT”. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27., Special Court for Sierra Leone (February 5, 2004)
  4. ^ John Quiñones (January 7, 2006). “WNT:Sierra Leone Amputees – ABC News”ABCNews.go.com. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  5. Jump up to:a b c David M. Crane “Terrorism Knowledge Base”. Archived from the original on 2007-10-18.
  6. Jump up to:a b “Footpaths to Democracy”. Archived from the original on 2007-06-14.
  7. ^ “GlobalSecurity.Org”.
  8. Jump up to:a b Taylor Baines, “When Crime Pays: West African Leaders’ Brutality Reaps Rewards”., Global Policy Forum, (February 1, 2001)
  9. ^ “What’s Going On: Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone”., UN
  10. ^ “Brutal child army grows up”BBC News. May 10, 2000. Archived from the original on 2012-03-15. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  11. ^ Peter Takirambudde, “Sierra Leone Rebels Forcefully Recruit Child Soldiers”. 31 May 2000., Human Rights Watch (May 31, 2000)
  12. ^ “The child soldiers of Sierra Leone”., BBC News
  13. ^ Joseph Opala, “What The West Failed To See In Sierra Leone”., Washington Post (May 14, 2000)
  14. ^ “UN: Sierra Leone should widen control”BBC News. September 19, 2001. Retrieved January 4, 2010., Washington Post (September 19, 2001)
  15. ^ Douglas Farah “Children Forced to Kill”., Washington Post (April 8, 2000)
  16. ^ Mar Roman, Roman, Mar (April 19, 2007). “Former Child Soldiers Seek Redemption”The Washington Post. Retrieved May 22, 2010., The Associated Press (April 19, 2007)
  17. ^ “Sierra Leone – Childhood – a casualty of conflict” (PDF)., Amnesty International (31 August 2000)
  18. ^ “Foday Sankoh, an African revolutionary”The Economist. 7 August 2003., The Economist (August 7th, 2003)
  19. ^ “Evidence of torture and human rights abuses Sierra Leone”. Archived from the original on 2006-10-07., Medical Foundation for the care of victims of torture
  20. Jump up to:a b Sorious Samura, “Return to Freetown”CNN. February 7, 2001. Retrieved May 22, 2010., CNN (December 23, 2001)
  21. Jump up to:a b “Diamond trade fuels bloody wars”CNN. Archived from the original on January 16, 2007., CNN (January 18, 2001)
  22. ^ Brown, Derek (May 17, 2000). “Who is Foday Sankoh?”The Guardian. London. Retrieved March 26, 2010.
  23. ^ “The rebels advance in Sierra Leone”The Economist. January 7, 1999., The Economist (January 7th, 1999)
  24. ^ “Sierra Leone – Building the Road to Recovery”. Archived from the original on 2012-09-07., Monograph, No 80, (March 2003)
  25. ^ “Crimes of War”. Archived from the original on 2007-02-11.
  26. ^ “‘I am the scorpion. I captured the lion’”The Guardian. London. May 18, 2000. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  27. ^ “Alleged Taylor-RUF Racket Detailed”. [MonroviaNew Democrat, 14.96 (2007-06-06): 1, 10.
  28. ^ “Sierra Leone Web – Election Coverage”http://www.sierra-leone.org. Archived from the original on 2002-08-06.
  29. ^ As RUF Merges with APC, Youth Groups Say ‘Ernest Koroma is Salone’s Saviour: Sierra Leone News
  30. ^ Beah, Ishmael (February 13, 2007). A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy SoldierFarrar, Straus and GirouxISBN 978-0-374-10523-5.

External links

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