8. Sierra Leone Civil War 1991–2002
Sierra Leone shares a long border with Liberia—a hot, swampy stretch of wetland that unfurls for nearly 300 kilometers (200 mi). Politically, the two countries are also intertwined. This was especially the case in the 1990s. Thanks to Charles Taylor’s intervention, an insurgency that could have been quashed erupted into a merciless decade-long war.
The spark that lit the fuse was the frighteningly incompetent reign of President Joseph Momoh, a guy so corrupt he’d make Putin look like Lincoln. When his regime stopped paying even the army, ex-Corporal Foday Sankoh whipped up a rebellion and seized towns along the Liberian border. Backed by Charles Taylor, they were initially considered heroes. That didn’t last.
Before a year had passed, Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was accused of raping and mutilating civilians. Unfortunately for ordinary people, the army was just as bad. With its low rations and lack of pay, the army found it impossible to keep soldiers in line. Like Iraqi troops defecting to ISIS, many of Sierra Leone’s soldiers became “sobels”—soldiers by day, rebels by night. In effect, the two sides in the conflict wound up blurring into a single force that did nothing but terrorize civilians.
Sobels were later found to have tortured civilians in hideous ways during the conflict. Some forced their victims into committing cannibalism. Thanks to Taylor’s funding of the rebels and the proxy resource wars being fought over the country’s diamonds, the war reached a point where it had no end in sight. It wasn’t until the UN sent in 17,000 troops backed by the British army that the endless terror finally stopped. By then, 50,000 people were dead. Even today, girls who were sold into sex slavery during the conflict are still waiting for assistance or justice.