Kalashnikovs and marginalised youth in Sierra Leone

Dutch researcher Krijn Peters discovered that the war in Sierra Leone, and in particular the active participation of young people in this, was due to a lack of training and employment perspectives for young people. Moreover, the youth were not involved in society, but ignored, exploited and excluded. The marginalised and exploited youth subsequently turned against society in an extremely violent manner.

Krijn Peters studied the war in the West African country of Sierra Leone and focussed mainly on the infamous rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). These rebels gained notoriety under the general public due to the many child soldiers who fought in their ranks, the chopping off of civilian's limbs and the so-called blood diamonds used to finance many of their activities.

Krijn Peters spent many months with the now demobilised fighters to discover why the different combating parties, and the RUF in particular, took up arms and ended up committing such atrocities.

It soon became apparent that the lack of training and employment prospects for young people played an important role in this. Also the ruling and land owning classes - especially at a village level - were found to have failed or to have been unwilling to assist those who were vulnerable and needed help and to integrate them in society. The young people subsequently unleashed their frustrations on society in an extremely violent manner in the form of a gruesome war.

Peters also investigated what happened after the disarmament and during the reintegration of the former soldiers. Many millions of dollars have been spent on reintegration projects, mainly in the form of providing vocational training. Yet in a country where the majority of the population earns its income from farming, the many newly-qualified carpenters and tailors could find no work.

The majority of ex-soldiers had to return to their villages. Without access to land or reforms in the local jurisprudence, they remained vulnerable to exploitation by the local ruling elite. Others left for the diamond fields. Yet as they could scarcely sell their skills, they ended up working for subsistence wages in the mines. From these findings Peters concluded that the problems which led to the outbreak of the horrendous war in Sierra Leone have yet to be resolved.


Krijn Peters' research was funded by NWO-WOTRO.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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