17 October 2012
1.What does Ishmael say the war is about?
Ishmael says nothing about the causes of the war, or what each side was fighting for, or of the overall political and social conditions in Sierra Leone that caused the war. This was a deliberate strategy on the part of Beah, the author. He wanted to present the war through the eyes of a child. As a boy of twelve, when the war first affected him, he had no interest in politics. He had no reason to be interested—his main interest, understandably for a boy of his age, was in singing and dancing to rap music and hanging out with his friends. When the war comes to him, it is for him a battle for personal survival, not a political cause. He is also fueled by feelings of revenge—instilled into him by his army officers—against the rebels because they killed his family. Once again, these are personal feelings not political beliefs. For the reader, then, transported to a land he or she knows nothing about (for the American reader, that is), the war seems not only almost unimaginably brutal but also meaningless. It consists of one side mindlessly killing the other, and vice versa, in skirmishes in small villages. Ishmael does report Lieutenant Jabati’s speeches to his men, in which he says they are defending their country (“We kill them [the rebels] for the good and betterment of this country” [p. 123]), but such appeals to patriotism are not what inspire Ishmael. Ishmael’s ignorance of politics is again stressed when he is in Freetown during his rehabilitation and sees a convoy of cars and military vans. He is told that the new president, Tejan Kabbah, who had won an election eight months earlier is passing by. “I had never heard of this man,” Ishmael writes pointedly. This confirms the tenor of the book as a whole: Ishmael is a boy caught up in a war he knows nothing about for a cause he does not care about.
2.Why was the war fought and what course did it take?
During the 1980s Sierra Leone was a one-party state governed by the All-People’s Congress (APC) party. However, this period was marked by extensive government corruption and abuse of power. Although Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources it became one of the poorest countries in the world because of mismanagement. The civil war in neighboring Liberia helped to create conditions for war in Sierra Leone because a Liberian war leader reportedly sponsored the rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) as a way of destabilizing Sierra Leone, which at the time was a base for a United Nations peacekeeping force. The war broke out in 1991 in villages in eastern Sierra Leone that were near the Liberian border. The aim of the RUF was to seize and control the diamond sector, and in 1991 it took control of the diamond mines in the Kono district. (It is the mining area around Ishmael’s home town of Mogbwemo that the rebels seize in 1993.) In 1992 a military coup took place that established the National Provisional Ruling Council, replacing the civilian government. However, the new military government was powerless to prevent the RUF from controlling much of the country. It was the years immediately after this, from 1993 to January 1996, that Ishmael was a soldier. The war continued after Ishmael was rescued from it, as he himself found out when he went to stay with his uncle in Freetown after his rehabilitation. There had been an election in April 1996, and a civilian government had taken power, but in May 1997 there was another military coup, and the new military government known as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) invited the RUF to participate in it. The following year, when Beah was safely in the United States, the military government was ousted and the civilian government restored. But this did not stop the violence as the AFRC and its RUF allies fought to regain power. Fighting returned to Freetown in 1999, before a peace accord was signed in July...