Sierra Leone ["Lion Mountain"] was embroiled in a civil war that resulted in the death of over 50,000 civilians. It began in March 1991, as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) attempted to overthrow successive governments. In 1982, as Sierra Leone’s government and economy worsened, a group of Sierra Leone University, Fourah Bay College students led by their group leader Alie Kabbah, fled to eastern Sierra Leone to form a political organization to rebel against the Temne tribe's All People’s Congress (APC), the governing party of the time. Their organization became the RUF and its objectives were to overthrow of the Sierra Leonean government, oust corrupt officials, and re-allocate Sierra Leone’s wealth to benefit the general population.
Throughout the 1980s, Libyans infiltrated Sierra Leone to recruit rebels as part of Libyan President, Colonel Muammar Gadhafi’s Pan-African initiatives to recruit dissidents against western influence in Africa. While training in Libya, Foday Sankoh from Sierra Leone met Liberian warlord Charles Taylor. After establishing a relationship, Sankoh and Taylor agreed to support guerilla wars in their respective countries in hopes of overthrowing their country’s governments and creating political change. In 1989, under the leadership of Charles Taylor, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) launched a guerilla war against the Liberian government that led to Liberia’s civil war. Once Taylor was in power in Liberia, he supported Sankoh’s invasion and guerilla war in Sierra Leone.
Civil war broke out in 1990 under the command of former Sierra Leonean army corporal Foday Sankoh, who launched his first attack in villages in Kailahun District in eastern Sierra Leone on March 23, 1991. This small band of men who called themselves the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under the leadership of a former-corporal, Foday Sankoh, began to attack villages in eastern Sierra Leone on the Liberian border. The government of Sierra Leone, overwhelmed by a crumbling economy and corruption, was unable to put up significant resistance. Within a month of entering Sierra Leone Reitred Coporal Sankoh Revolutinary United Front controlled much of the Eastern Province.
Fighting continued in the ensuing months, with the RUF gaining control of the diamond mines in the Kono district and pushing the Sierra Leone army back towards Freetown. On April 29, 1992, a group of young soldiers led by Capt. Valentine Strasser, apparently frustrated by the government's failure to deal with rebels, launched a military coup which sent president Momoh into exile in Guinea. They established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) with Yahya Kanu as its chairman. But Kanu was assassinated by fellow NPRC members, who accused him of trying to negotiate with the toppled APC administration. On May 4, 1992,Captain Valentine Strasser took over as chairman of the NPRC and Head of State of Sierra Leone.
The NPRC proved to be nearly as ineffectual as the Momoh government in repelling the RUF. More and more of the country fell to RUF fighters, so that by 1995 they held much of the countryside and were on the doorstep of Freetown. To retrieve the situation, the NPRC hired several hundred mercenaries from the private firm Executive Outcomes. Within a month they had driven RUF fighters back to enclaves along Sierra Leone’s borders.
In January 1996, after nearly four years in power, Strasser was ousted in a coup by fellow NPRC members led by his deputy Maada Bio. As a result of popular demand and mounting international pressure, the NPRC agreed to hand over power to a civilian government. Bio reinstated the Constitution and called for presidential and parliamentary elections, which were held in April 1996. In the second round of presidential elections in early 1996, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, candidate of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) defeated John Karefa-Smart of the United National People's Party (UNPP). Kabbah was a diplomat who had worked at the UN for more than 20 years.
Parliamentary elections were conducted, for the first time, under the system of proportional representation.
In 1996, Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma was allegedly involved in an attempt to overthrow the government of President Kabbah. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned at Maxium Prison in Freetown. But some top ranking Army officers were unhappy with this decision, and on May 25, 1997, a group of soldiers who called themselves the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) overthrew President Kabbah's government. The AFRC released Jonny Paul Koroma from prison and installed him as their chairman and Head of State of the country. The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council later invited the RUF to join the government.
In March 1998 the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces ousted the AFRC junta after 10 months in office, and reinstated the democratically elected government of President Kabbah. In October 1998, the United Nations agreed to send Peacekeepers to help restore order and disarm the rebels. The RUF’s renewed attempts to overthrow the government in January 1999 brought the fighting to parts of Freetown, leaving thousands dead and wounded. ECOMOG forces drove back the RUF attack several weeks later.
With the assistance of the international community, President Kabbah and RUF leader Sankoh on July 7, 1999, signed the Lome Peace Agreement, which made Sankoh Vice President and gave other RUF members positions in the government. The accord called for an international peacekeeping force run initially by both ECOMOG and the United Nations. The UN Security Council established the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) in 1999, with an initial force of 6,000. ECOMOG forces departed in April 2000. Almost immediately, however, the RUF began to violate the agreement, most notably by holding hundreds of UNAMSIL personnel hostage and capturing their arms and ammunition in the first half of 2000. On May 8, 2000, members of the RUF shot and killed as many as 20 people demonstrating against the RUF violations outside Sankohs house in Freetown. As a result, Sankoh and other senior members of the RUF were arrested and the group was stripped of its positions in government.
After the events of May 2000, a new cease-fire was necessary to reinvigorate the peace process. This agreement was signed in Abuja in November of that year. However, Demobilization, Disarmament, Reintegration (DDR) did not resume, and fighting continued. In late 2000, Guinean forces entered Sierra Leone to attack RUF bases from which attacks had been launched against Liberian dissidents in Guinea. A second Abuja Agreement, in May 2001, set the stage for a resumption of DDR on a wide scale and a significant reduction in hostilities. As disarmament progressed, the government began to reassert its authority in formerly rebel-held areas. By early 2002, some 72,000 ex-combatants had been disarmed and demobilized, although many still awaited re-integration assistance.
On January 18, 2002 President Kabbah declared the civil war officially over. In May 2002 President Kabbah was re-elected to a 5-year term in a landslide victory for the SLPP. The RUF political wing, the RUFP, failed to win a single seat in parliament. The elections were marked by irregularities and allegations of fraud, but not to a degree to significantly affect the outcome.
On July 28, 2002 the British withdrew a 200-man military contingent that had been in country since the summer of 2000, leaving behind a 105-strong military training team to work to professionalize the Sierra Leonean army. In November 2002, UNAMSIL gradually began drawing down personnel until the end of its formal peacekeeping mission in December 2005. Following the end of the UNAMSIL mandate, the UN established the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), which assumed a peacebuilding mandate.