A few weeks back, after seeing an interview by Brian Stewart on the Fifth Estate, I read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. It’s a frank and unsentimental account of Beah’s experience during the Sierra Leone civil war.
After his village is wiped out by RUF rebels, a 12 year-old Beah and his friends make their way from village to village when eventually they are more or less forced into working for the government army to fight the rebels. They are controlled with drugs and brainwashed with war movies and Beah, now a teenager, becomes a killer.
It’s at times difficult to read because of what he goes through but it’s also worth. You rarely read, in mainstream media, direct accounts from people affected by, and participating in, war, particularly from African countries. Foreign correspondants will deliver the news but rarely will an African speak for him or herself.
Today, a U.N. court in Sierra Leone convicted three members of of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, which seized power in 1997, of 11 charges related to war crimes. In Beah’s case, it was the previous government which used him as a child soldier, although this was also done by the RUF.
Today’s verdict, according to the article, marks the first time there has been a conviction on child recruitment.