Foday Sankoh

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Foday Sankoh
Foday Sankoh.jpg
Leader of the Revolutionary United Front
In office
Preceded by Position established
Personal details
Born (1937-10-17)October 17, 1937
Masang Mayoso, Tonkolili District, British Sierra Leone
Died July 29, 2003(2003-07-29) (aged 65)
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Nationality Sierra Leonean
Political party Revolutionary United Front
Profession Rebel, Soldier
Ethnicity Temne
Military service
Allegiance Sierra Leone Sierra Leone
Service/branch Sierra Leone Army
Years of service 1956-1971
Rank Corporal

Foday Saybana Sankoh (17 October 1937 – 29 July 2003) was the founder and leader of the Sierra Leone rebel group Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in the 11-year-long Sierra Leone Civil War, starting in 1991 and ending in 2002. An estimated 50,000 people were killed during the war, and over 500,000 people were displaced in neighbouring countries.

Early life and career[edit]

Foday Sankoh was born on 17 October 1937, in the remote village of Masang Mayoso, Tonkolili District in the Northern part of Sierra Leone to an ethnic Temne father and a Loko mother. Sankoh was the son of a farmer.

Sankoh attended primary and secondary school in Magburaka, Tonkolili District and took on a number of jobs in Magburaka before he joined the Sierra Leone army in 1956. He undertook training in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. In 1971, then a corporal in the Sierra Leone army, he was cashiered from the army's signal corps and imprisoned for seven years at the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown for taking part in a mutiny.

On his release he worked as an itinerant photographer in the south and east of Sierra Leone, eventually coming in contact with young radicals.

Sankoh and confederates Rashid Mansaray and Abu Kanu solicited support for an armed uprising to oust the APC government. They then traveled to Liberia, where they reportedly continued recruiting and served with Charles G. Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).

Civil war[edit]

On 23 March 1991, the RUF, led by Foday Sankoh and backed by Charles Taylor, launched its first attack in villages in Kailahun District in the diamond-rich Eastern Province of Sierra Leone.

The RUF became notorious for brutal practices such as mass rapes and amputations during the civil war. Sankoh personally ordered many operations, including one called "Operation Pay Yourself" that encouraged troops to loot anything they could find. After complaining about such tactics, Kanu and Mansaray were summarily executed.

In March 1997, Sankoh fled to Nigeria, where he was put under house arrest and then imprisoned. From this time until Sankoh's release in 1999, Sam Bockarie performed the task of director of military operations of the RUF. During the ten-year war, Sankoh broke several promises to stop fighting, including the Abidjan Peace Accord and the Lomé Peace Accord signed in 1999. Eventually the United Kingdom and ECOMOG intervened with their own small, but professional, military forces, and the RUF was eventually crushed.

Arrest and charges[edit]

Sankoh was later arrested on 17 May 2000 after his soldiers gunned down a number of protesters, killing 19 people, including journalist Saoman Conteh, outside his Freetown home on 8 May 2000.[1] His arrest led to massive celebrations throughout Sierra Leone.[2]

Sankoh was handed to the British. Under the jurisdiction of a UN-backed court,[citation needed] he was indicted on 17 counts for various war crimes, including use of child soldiers and crimes against humanity, including extermination, enslavement, rape and sexual slavery.[3]


Sankoh died in hospital of complications arising from a stroke whilst awaiting trial on the night of 29 July 2003.[4] In a statement by the UN-backed war crimes court, chief prosecutor David Crane said that Sankoh's death granted him "a peaceful end that he denied to so many others".[5]


  1. ^ "Attacks on the Press 2000: Sierra Leone". Committee to Protect Journalists. 19 March 2001. 
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2017-09-25. 
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2017-09-25. 
  4. ^ "Sierra Leone rebel leader Sankoh dies". The Independent. 30 July 2003. 
  5. ^ Foday Sankoh: The Cruel Rebel

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Albert Joe Demby
Vice President of Sierra Leone
Succeeded by
Albert Joe Demby