Revolutionary United Front

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Revolutionary United Front
Dates of operation1991–2002
Active regionsSierra Leone
SloganPower and wealth to the people
Allies Libya
 Burkina Faso
Opponents Sierra Leone
 United States
 United Kingdom
 New Zealand

The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was a rebel group that fought a failed eleven-year war in Sierra Leone, beginning in 1991 and ending in 2002. It later transformed into a political party, which still exists today. The three most senior surviving leaders, Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao, were convicted in February 2009 of war crimes and crimes against humanity.[1]


The RUF initially coalesced as a group of Sierra Leoneans who led elements of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia across the Liberian border. Their goal was to replicate Charles Taylor's earlier success in toppling the Liberian government.[2]

The RUF was created by Foday Sankoh, of Temne background, and some allies, Abu Kanu, Rashid Mansaray, with substantial assistance from Charles Taylor of Liberia.[3] Initially, the RUF was popular with Sierra Leoneans, many of whom resented a Freetown elite seen as corrupt and looked forward to promised free education and health care and equitable sharing of diamond revenues. However, the RUF developed a reputation internationally for its terrible cruelty towards the civilian population during its decade-long struggle, especially its practice of hacking off limbs to intimidate and spread terror among the population, and its widespread use of child soldiers.[4][5]

When it was first formed, the RUF put forward the slogan, "No More Slaves, No More Masters. Power and Wealth to the People."[6] While its goal was clearly to change the government of Sierra Leone, the RUF gave little indication of what sort of government would replace it. The group did not advocate Marxism or any similar leftist ideology, nor did it advocate extreme nationalism or fascism. It also did not claim to be a force fighting for a certain ethnic group or region.[7] At one point, during ongoing peace negotiations in 1995, RUF published a pamphlet entitled "Footpaths to Democracy: Toward a New Sierra Leone", which contained some rhetorical references to social justice and pan-Africanism.[6]


Foday Sankoh did not stand by his earlier promises of equitably sharing diamond revenues and used these funds to buy arms for himself.[8] With a significant area of the diamond mines under the control of the rebel party, the RUF became singularly focused on protecting its resource base.[8]

Sierra Leone's economy collapsed. Ordinary citizens became trapped between the cruelty of RUF troops and starvation. After a coup by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in 1997, the RUF and AFRC created a joint junta to control the country before being evicted from the capital by the intervention of a Nigerian-led West African force that reinstated President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The war is estimated to have cost the lives of about 200,000 people.[citation needed]

Child soldiers[edit]

Child soldiers were heavily recruited in the Sierra Leone Civil War; a total of 11,000 are thought to have participated in the conflict.[9] Most were used for attacks on villages as well as guard duty for diamond fields and weapons stockpiles. The RUF made extensive use of child soldiers.[10]

Thousands of abducted boys and girls were forced to serve as soldiers or as prostitutes,[11][12] and those chosen to be fighters were sometimes forced to murder their parents.[13] Guerrillas frequently carved the initials "RUF" on their chests,[3][14][15] and officers reportedly rubbed cocaine into open cuts on their troops to make them maniacal and fearless. Before some battles and raids, the children would be given mixtures of cocaine and gunpowder. The gunpowder mixture was called "Brown-brown" and it allowed the cocaine to flow more freely through the blood stream.[5][16][17]

For entertainment, some soldiers would bet on the sex of an unborn baby and then slice open a woman's womb to determine the winner.[18][19] The RUF abducted children aged 7 to 12, but were known to take children as young as 5 year olds. The children were notoriously known by captains and civilians for their unquestionable obedience and enormous cruelty.


In response to the immediate execution of rebels by government forces, the RUF instituted a policy of cutting off the hands of captured soldiers with the intent of sending the message: "You don't hold your weapon against your brother."[20] Brandishing machetes, RUF rebels amputated the hands, arms, and legs of tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans.[20] The RUF indicated that the reason for these actions was that amputees could no longer mine diamonds, which might be used to support government troops.[21]

The election slogan at that time was the people "had power in their hands", so the RUF would hack off hands to prevent people from voting.[21] RUF members are also said to have practised cannibalism.[22][23] Refugee camps were set up for amputees, supported by the government and other relief agencies.[24]

Foreign pressure and intervention[edit]

In March 1997, Sankoh fled to Nigeria, where he was put under house arrest, and then imprisoned. During Sankoh's incarceration, which ended in 1999, Sam Bockarie filled in as director of RUF military operations. In 1999, after enormous pressure by the United States, the United Kingdom, the UN, and various other countries, Sankoh was forced into signing the Lomé Peace Accord on 7 July 1999.[25]

Sankoh was then allowed to return under the conditions of the agreement. However fighting again broke out, and the UN sent peacekeeping troops in hopes of integrating the RUF into a new national army. This intervention failed as well, and by 2000 they held 500 UN peacekeepers hostage until their release was negotiated by Taylor. The UK, Guinea, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and various other nations, sent in professional forces in 2001. The RUF was noted to be weakened, especially decreasing resources, and hence had to suffer several crushing defeats at the hands of the British special forces; which eventually led to the end of the revolution, hence the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone. Sankoh was later captured by a mob[26] and handed to the British Army in Sierra Leone. He was indicted for multiple war crimes by a UN-backed special court. In 2003 Sankoh died in prison before the trial took place.[5]

Four years later, during the sessions of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, prosecutors claimed that Charles Taylor had actively participated in directing the RUF's strategy from Liberia; among the allegations was that he had arranged to transport RUF commanders to Monrovia to meet with them personally.[27]

Political party[edit]

Revolutionary United Front Party
FoundedSeptember 2001
Colors  Yellow
SloganPower and wealth to the people

After peace was established, RUF was transformed into a political party: the Revolutionary United Front Party. In the May 10, 2002 general election the party won 2.2% of popular votes and no seats. Its candidate at the presidential elections, Alimamy Pallo Bangura, received 1.7% of the vote. The party received its highest voting in Kailahun, 7.8% in the parliamentary election.[28][29] It has since drifted into near-irrelevance, only maintaining a small voter base of former rebel fighters.[30]

Electoral history[edit]

Presidential elections[edit]

Election Party candidate Votes % Votes % Result
First round Second round
2002 Alimamy Pallo Bangura 33,074 1.73% Lost Red XN
2007 Did not contest
2012 Eldred Collins 12,993 0.58% Lost Red XN
2018 Gbandi Jemba Ngobeh 12,827 0.51% Lost Red XN
2023 Abdulahi Saccoh 6,796 0.24% Lost Red XN

Parliamentary elections[edit]

Election Leader Votes % Seats +/– Position Government
2002 Alimamy Pallo Bangura 41,997 2.20%
0 / 124
New 4th Extra-parliamentary
2007 Did not contest Extra-parliamentary
2012 Jonathan Kposowa 12,573 0.59%
0 / 124
Steady 0 Increase 5th Extra-parliamentary
2018 Raymond Kartewu 438 0.02%
0 / 146
Steady 0 Decrease 16th Extra-parliamentary
2023 Foday Massaquoi 1,502 0.05%
0 / 149
Steady 0 Increase 6th Extra-parliamentary

Cultural references[edit]


  • Law & Order episode "Blood Money" was centered around the strife in Sierra Leone and the traffic in conflict diamonds
  • Walker, Texas Ranger had an episode entitled "Blood Diamonds" based in part on the RUF which brought to light some of their atrocities as well as the black market trade of blood diamonds for illegal arms.




See also[edit]


  1. ^ "S Leone war crimes trio convicted". Al Jazeera English. February 25, 2009. Archived from the original on 2012-10-25. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  2. ^ Adekeye Adebayo, Liberia's Civil War, 2002, p. 90, citing Paul Richards, Fighting for the Rainforest: War, Youth, and Resources in Sierra Leone, (Oxford, James Currey, 1996) and papers presented by Ibraham Abdullah, Patrick Muana, and David Keen at University College London, 21 October 2005. Full bibliographical information is at Adebayo, p. 98.
  3. ^ a b David M. Crane "Indictment proceedings of the special court for Sierra Leone Case No. SCSL - 2004-15-PT". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27., Special Court for Sierra Leone (February 5, 2004)
  4. ^ John Quiñones (January 7, 2006). "WNT:Sierra Leone Amputees - ABC News". Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c David M. Crane "Terrorism Knowledge Base". Archived from the original on 2007-10-18.
  6. ^ a b "Footpaths to Democracy". Archived from the original on 2007-06-14.
  7. ^ "GlobalSecurity.Org".
  8. ^ a b Taylor Baines, "When Crime Pays: West African Leaders' Brutality Reaps Rewards"., Global Policy Forum, (February 1, 2001)
  9. ^ "What's Going On: Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone"., UN
  10. ^ "Brutal child army grows up". BBC News. May 10, 2000. Archived from the original on 2012-03-15. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  11. ^ Peter Takirambudde, "Sierra Leone Rebels Forcefully Recruit Child Soldiers". 31 May 2000., Human Rights Watch (May 31, 2000)
  12. ^ "The child soldiers of Sierra Leone"., BBC News
  13. ^ Joseph Opala, "What The West Failed To See In Sierra Leone"., Washington Post (May 14, 2000)
  14. ^ "UN: Sierra Leone should widen control". BBC News. September 19, 2001. Retrieved January 4, 2010., Washington Post (September 19, 2001)
  15. ^ Douglas Farah "Children Forced to Kill"., Washington Post (April 8, 2000)
  16. ^ Mar Roman, Roman, Mar (April 19, 2007). "Former Child Soldiers Seek Redemption". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 22, 2010., The Associated Press (April 19, 2007)
  17. ^ "Sierra Leone - Childhood - a casualty of conflict" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-21. Retrieved 2007-07-05., Amnesty International (31 August 2000)
  18. ^ "Foday Sankoh, an African revolutionary". The Economist. 7 August 2003., The Economist (August 7th, 2003)
  19. ^ "Evidence of torture and human rights abuses Sierra Leone". Archived from the original on 2006-10-07., Medical Foundation for the care of victims of torture
  20. ^ a b Sorious Samura, "Return to Freetown". CNN. February 7, 2001. Retrieved May 22, 2010., CNN (December 23, 2001)
  21. ^ a b "Diamond trade fuels bloody wars". CNN. Archived from the original on January 16, 2007., CNN (January 18, 2001)
  22. ^ Brown, Derek (May 17, 2000). "Who is Foday Sankoh?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved March 26, 2010.
  23. ^ "The rebels advance in Sierra Leone". The Economist. January 7, 1999., The Economist (January 7th, 1999)
  24. ^ "Sierra Leone - Building the Road to Recovery". Archived from the original on 2012-09-07., Monograph, No 80, (March 2003)
  25. ^ "Crimes of War". Archived from the original on 2007-02-11.
  26. ^ "'I am the scorpion. I captured the lion'". The Guardian. London. May 18, 2000. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  27. ^ "Alleged Taylor-RUF Racket Detailed".[Monrovia] New Democrat, 14.96 (2007-06-06): 1, 10.
  28. ^ "Sierra Leone Web - Election Coverage". Archived from the original on 2002-08-06.
  29. ^ "As RUF Merges with APC, Youth Groups Say 'Ernest Koroma is Salone's Saviour: Sierra Leone News". Archived from the original on 2012-02-09. Retrieved 2007-07-23.
  30. ^ Söderberg Kovacs, Mimmi (April 2021). "The Legacy of a Revolution that Never Happened: The Post-War Politics of Former Rebel Party RUFP in Sierra Leone". Government and Opposition. 56 (2): 245–259. doi:10.1017/gov.2019.23. ISSN 0017-257X.
  31. ^ Beah, Ishmael (February 13, 2007). A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-10523-5.

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