Revolutionary United Front

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Flag of the Revolutionary United Front Party

The Revolutionary United Front (RUF; German  Revolutionäre United Front ) was a rebel army that fought in the lead from 1991 to 2002 in the civil war in Sierra Leone against the government of Sierra Leone . During this time, between 50,000 and 200,000 people died as a result of the fighting. The leader of the rebels was Foday Sankoh . The basis of the RUF's approach was its own manifesto Footpaths to Democracy - Toward a new Sierra Leone from 1995.

After the end of the civil war, the RUF survived as the political party Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP).


The Revolutionary United Front was founded by Foday Sankoh and his two allies Abu Kanu and Rashid Mansaray after they had undergone revolutionary training in Libya . The Liberian rebel leader Charles Taylor helped initiate the armed struggle of the RUF in his neighboring country by supporting the troops in the first year with a special unit he funded made up of Liberian and Burkinabe mercenaries , who were particularly popular with the Sierra Leonean civilian population because of their extraordinary brutality were feared.

What is unusual is that the rebel group did not belong to any real ideology, apart from the fact that they wanted to overthrow the government. A public announcement published by the RUF in 1995 gives a small clue. It spoke of social justice and Pan-Africanism . However, this was all very vague rhetorically and, as with other African rebel groups, cannot be assigned to a specific ideological attitude.

The (few) supporters of the RUFP after the war emphasize above all that the RUF fought against the corruption of the government.


The RUF was best known for its human rights violations and crimes against the civilian population. Human Rights Watch consistently referred to their approach as a war against civilians.

Increasingly after 1998 as part of the so-called Operation No Living Thing (“ Operation No Living Thing ”), their fighters targeted civilians, killing them or amputating their hands and arms or other body parts. This was intended to punish the population for their alleged support for the government. People should also be prevented from voting; According to another interpretation, farmers should be prevented from growing rice, which could also be used to supply government troops. A government slogan is said to have served as “inspiration” for this practice, which, depending on the source , is quoted as Take the future in your hands or We want to work with our hands for our future . Terror campaigns like the mutilations were intended to continue to displace the population from the diamond-rich areas in the west and south-west of the country so that the RUF could exploit these resources undisturbed.

RUF fighters have been raped numerous times , and women and girls have been kept as sex slaves by them. In addition, civilians were used for forced labor in diamond mining , fields and plantations were devastated and cities, villages and means of production were plundered. For example, during the civil war, 3,000 children in Koindu were kidnapped and then forced to mine diamonds.


In March 1997, Sankoh fled to Nigeria , where he was captured and first placed under house arrest and later imprisoned. Until Sankoh returned to Sierra Leone in 1999, Sam Bockarie ( General Mosquito ) was in charge of the RUF's military operations. On July 7, 1999, an initiative by the United States, Great Britain and the UN led to the Lomé Peace Accord . This allowed Sankoh to return in compliance with the contractual conditions. However, the fighting broke out again shortly after his return and the UN with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone sent blue helmet troops to Sierra Leone in the hope of integrating the RUF into a new national army. However, the UN intervention almost failed when the RUF held around 700 blue helmet soldiers hostage in May 2000 . The hostages were released after Taylor negotiated.

End of the RUF

In 2000, Great Britain intervened in Sierra Leone and, together with UNAMSIL, which had since been reinforced and given a more robust mandate, smashed the RUF and ended the war. Sankoh was captured by an angry mob and handed over to the British. This transferred him to the Special Court for Sierra Leone ; however, he died in custody before the trial. Sam Bockarie, who had always played the role of Sankoh in absentia and who led particularly cruel campaigns against the civilian population, was also indicted by the special court. Charles Taylor was ordered to extradite the alleged war criminal. Knowing that the ex-dictator Liberia knew that Bockarie could incriminate him for crimes of the RUF, he probably had him and some family members murdered. Taylor has since been tried in the Sierra Leone Special Court, but the trial was held in The Hague for fear that Taylor might destabilize the country again from Freetown prison.

Political party

After the end of the war, the RUF became the Revolutionary United Front Party . In the elections in 2002 she only got 2.2% of the vote and no seat in parliament. In 2012 it was only 0.59 percent of the vote. In 2018, their presidential candidate Gbandi Ngobeh got 0.5 percent of the vote.



The RUF mined for diamonds, including using civilian slave labor and prisoners, and smuggled the stones into Liberia. Charles Taylor organized the resale of the stones and in return delivered weapons and drugs to the RUF ( see: blood diamond ). The smuggling of the RUF and the upheavals of the war led to the complete drying up of official diamond exports from Sierra Leone, which had once been by far the most important source of foreign currency in the country. Accordingly, the war in Sierra Leone could only be ended when both Sierra Leone and Liberia were boycotted against diamonds by the United Nations and the purchase of conflict diamonds by the world's largest diamond dealers was made more difficult as part of the Kimberley Process .

Furthermore, many RUF units were largely self-sufficient through looting and raids and were even able to offer their members some relative prosperity.

Social base

At first, the RUF found support mainly among the marginalized young people who were digging for diamonds. The local population showed them no respect and, given a lack of school education and alternative economic opportunities, they had no prospects for the future. The RUF offered them an opportunity to use gun violence to demand respect and to lead a materially richer life than before through looting.

However, due to its cruelty towards the civilian population, the RUF was soon barely able to attract volunteer recruits and instead switched to forced recruiting. To this end, she abducted children and young people in particular, sometimes forcing them to kill their own parents or members of their communities of origin. Both adults and child soldiers have been drugged to make them addicted, dependent on the RUF and to induce cruelty.


  • David Keen: Conflict and Collusion in Sierra Leone , Oxford / New York 2005.
  • Ibrahim Abdullah: Bush Path to Destruction: The Origin and Character of the Revolutionary United Front / Sierra Leone , In: The Journal of Modern African Studies , Vol. 36, No. 2, June 1998, pp. 203-235.
  • Revolutionary United Front (Ed.): Footpaths to Democracy - Toward a new Sierra Leone , 1995. ( available online )
  • Ibrahim Abdullah, Patrick Muana: The Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone. A Revolt of the Lumpenproletariat , In: African Guerrillas , Oxford 1989, pp. 172-194.


  • SL Peacekillers - People and Power , documentary, Al Jazeera , 2018.
  • Rebelle , feature film, 2012.
  • Was Don Don , Documentary, 2010; various international awards, two nominations for the Emmy Awards .
  • Blood Diamond , feature film, 2006.
  • Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars , documentary, 2005.
  • Lord of War , feature film, 2005
  • Sierra Leone: Soldiers of fortune , Documentation, 2004.
  • Innocence under Seige: Healing a Scarred Generation , Documentation, 2002.
  • A Child's Century of War , documentary, 2001.
  • Children of war: a report from Jaques Pauw , Documentation, 2001.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Bridget Hynes: " 179 Children of the Borderlands: Young Soldiers in the Reproduction of Warfare " Dissertation at Conflict Resolution Institute, University of Denver, engl., P. 179, accessed October 26, 2014