Heart of darkness
Le Monde, December 1, 1999
Translated by Eric Beauchemin of Radio Netherlands
Abducted, forcibly enlisted by the army or the rebels, nearly 10,000
children took part in the war. They were trained to become killers,
using weapons, drugs and even human blood. "Share Blood", one of the
blood thirsty, became a general at the age of 14. Now, he is in search
of a new identity.
Ibrahim is a "savage". Horrifying. He is 16. His life has been moulded
by war. This is a descent into hell. "In Liberia, in 1991, I was
captured, and I became a fighter. I was eight years old." Ibrahim Barry
Junior fought with three Liberian factions, then with two factions in
Sierra Leone. At the age of 14, he became a "general", the commander of
a Small Boys Unit. An abducted kid who became a kidnapper himself, a
killer, a great fighter. Ibrahim Barry Jr. lost his identity to become
"Share Blood", and then "General Share Blood", a man of the jungle, the
leader of a battalion.
"They gave me that name because I had a tradition: every morning I
drank human blood." Ibrahim is now in a child soldier rehabilitation
programme run by Father Momoh and his group, Children Associated with
War. Ibrahim is waiting for his daily food ration. He might get to see
a psychiatrist today, tomorrow or some time in the future. He would
like to find a school that would accept him. He hasn't been to school
since he was 7.
There are about 10,000 children in Sierra Leone who have lived in
servitude, who have fought with the army, the rebels or the Kamajors:
soldiers, rebels and sometimes 'sobels' as people call them: soldiers
during the day, rebels at night, uncontrollable, without any roots.
"The ULIMO-K initiated me in Liberia and then Charles Taylor's NPFL. I
remember my first weeks of training. A Liberian officer showed us how
to use a Kalachnikov and a Guinean witch doctor made us drink blood and
eat prisoners' hearts." After an intermezzo with Sierra Leone's Civil
Defence Forces, Ibrahim joined the Revolutionary United Front, the RUF.
"Among the CDF, the Kamajors, who were fighting for the government,
there was a certain discipline," he says. The Kamajors, traditional
hunters, initially created the Civil Defence Forces and then
established auto-defence militias before actively fighting for power
after the military coup. Despite their mystical beliefs, their dress
and customs such as cannibalism, the Kamajors remained fairly
disciplined, loyal to their chief, Sam Inga Norma. "I wanted to find
freedom again, the anarchy I had known in Liberia," says Ibrahim. "So I
joined the RUF rebels."
Ibrahim led 50 child soldiers in the Zebra Battalion Small Boys Unit.
There Ibrahim enjoyed freedom and power. He put into practice what he
had been taught. "My men knew I had to drink human blood every morning.
If we had a prisoner, I would kill him myself. I would cut his head off
with a machete. Otherwise, I would send my boys out to find a prisoner
or to capture a civilian. Then I would mix my drugs in the blood. That
was my daily ceremony. It gave my courage and vision. That's why I was
the best fighter." Share Blood never reveals the details of his crimes.
"I killed many people. I cut many people's hands off. I burnt many
houses." But he likes to speak about life in the bush. "I had a wife,
named Sia Musi. She led a small girls unit. "Her name was Queen Cut
Hands because her speciality was cutting the arms and hands off of
prisoners. She was our queen. When I went on military operations
upcountry, of course I raped girls. But when I was back at the base, I
was always loyal to Sia."
Queen Cut Hands died in a battle last year. "It's the only time I cried
during the eight years of war. That night, I killed three of my boys to
punish them. They should have died instead of Sia. I was sad." Share
Blood doesn't hide the fact that he ruled his unit by terror. "If one
of the boys committed a crime, if he refused to obey an order, I would
put a burning leaf on his eyes. It would blind him. And if one of my
boys tried to escape and was caught, my fighters would murder him
themselves, because they knew it would be even worse if they brought
him to me."
Ibrahim Barry Junior believes that if you're in the bush with a gun,
blood and drugs, you're a king. "There's freedom in the bush". War,
drugs, videos and music. "My favourite film is Rambo," he says. The
rebels often showed American action films to the children before
sending them into battle. Rambo waging a brutal war for a just cause.
In Freetown, Ibrahim made his way to the Saint Anthony Church. "Every
Sunday, I join the choir in singing gospel songs. If no school wants to
have me, maybe I'll become a reverend. I'll help unfortunate children?"
Otherwise, he might became a criminal investigator. "After all, I have
8 years of experience of crime!" He chuckles and orders another Fanta.
But this teenager wants to build a new identity. "Here at Father
Momoh's, some of the boys still call me general. I tell them, no, my
name is Ibrahim." But he can't go back home. "My mother came to see me
in Freetown. She told me I can't return to my village in the south."
The rebel attacks always had a name. 'Operation Pay Yourself',
'Operation No Living Thing'. "We attacked Filor during 'Operation No
Living Thing'. The only thing we didn't kill were plants. Fortunately
the people from my family had already fled into the bush. But I killed
my mother's neighbours. I even burnt my grandfather's house? I can't go
back to the south."
In Freetown, there's just poverty. "In the bush, I had 50 boys at my
beck and call. I had food, drugs, girls. In Freetown, I'm hungry and
bored. When we killed and burnt down villages, politicians refused to
talk to us. When we came here, in their capital, they suddenly feared
for their children and their privileges. They said they wanted to
negotiate. Are people in the bush less human than those in the city?"
In Freetown, Ibrahim has had unexpected encounters. "A week after I
arrived here, a guy who was missing a hand stopped me in the street. He
grabbed my arm. He said he recognised me: I was the one who cut his
hand off. I was laughing because I was still drugged. I shouted,
'Asshole. The only reason you are able to stop me is because I didn't
cut off your other hand.' He was yelling. People brought petrol to burn
me alive. I laughed because I knew that when I came back to Freetown, I
ran the risk of being identified and murdered. But in the end, Nigerian
ECOMOG soldiers saved me."
Some days when he's talked too much, Ibrahim Barry Jr. pleads to see
the doctor. "My head hurts so much. Sometimes I feel like I'm going
crazy." He believes he's got over his drug addiction. But in the
morning, he feels "strange without his blood".
But there are new feelings too. "After meeting so many outsiders and
telling them about the war, I'm beginning to feel guilty. I regret my
crimes. It was wrong."
Wrong? "We are talking about progress, about liberating the people. I
am a revolutionary!" asserts Foday Sankoh, the head of the
Revolutionary United Front. The man who launched the war in 1991, with
a handful of combatants from Liberia and young peasants, refuses to
accept any "lies" which might tarnish his "revolution". 62-year-old
Foday Sabana Sankoh is the key to the cease-fire and the reconciliation
process. During the three years he spent in prison, he handed the
reigns of the RUF over to Sam Bockarie, a.k.a. Mosquito because he
moved so quickly in the bush. "I am the master of peace, the man called
on by the people," he declares. "If I am not in Freetown, there will be
war," adds this former British Army corporal, who's become an admirer
of Libya's Colonel Khadaffi and a 'brother' of warlord Charles Taylor,
now the president of Liberia.
Wrong? "Me, responsible for atrocities?" When we mention the testimony
of the amputees at the Murray Town Camp, he becomes aggressive and
says, "the amputees are lying. The government is skewing the facts!"
But then Foday Sankoh backtracks. "It was war. We are all responsible:
the ut education or understanding of democracy."
"Sankoh plunged this nation into chaos", believes a Sierra Leonean
journalist. "Man's savagery accomplished the rest. Human beings can
become animals. Children were forced to perpetrate crimes. They learned
to enjoy this savage pleasure. They like to instil fear in civilians,
and yet they respect their leaders. As a child, I read Joseph Conrad.
Sierra Leone's war is something out of 'The Heart of Darkness'."
Last paragraph of the third article
In the 19th century, Krios called Freetown "West Africa's Athens". The
first freed slaves of the British Empire founded the city in 1850.
Today it anxiously awaits the next step in the peace process. Every
day, its inhabitants discuss the thousand and one stories of the war
and the post-war era. The other day, when a fighter who had just come
back from the jungle went to his parents' home, he discovered that both
his sisters' hands had been amputated. The welcome was icy. He pleaded
with his parents to forgive him for having fought with the rebels. But
he soon understood that his family's hostility was not only because he
had been among those who had sown terror in Freetown in January. They
accused him of having himself cut off his sisters' hands, together with
his murderous gang in a night of drunkenness and insanity. The man
placed his gold and diamonds on the dining room table without saying a
word. He went out into the compound. He loaded his gun and shot
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