Paul Richards argues that the war in Sierra Leone and other small wars in Africa do not manifest a "new barbarism". What appears as random, anarchic violence is no such thing. The terrifying military methods of Sierra Leone's soldiers may not fit Western models of warfare, but they are rational and effective. The war must be understood partly as "performance", in which techniques of terror compensate for lack of equipment.
Richards points out that Sierra Leone's war is a crisis of modernity. Sierra Leone's youth belongs to a modern, trans-Atlantic culture. In remote diamond-digging camps, young people watch Rambo videos and listen to BBC news. These are part of the cultural resources with which the war is fought. The frustrations of these young people underlie the crisis. Not only the soldiers but most of the commanders are teenagers. Their aspirations are for schools and jobs. Financial stringency and the decay of the patrimonial state led directly to the government's surrender of much of the countryside.
The rain forest is also central to the war. The war is fought in the rain forest and can only be understood in the context of old traditions of social and technical management of the forest. There is no evidence that a crisis of deforestation or overpopulation has contributed to the war.
Rebuilding the state -- and giving young Sierra Leoneans confidence in it -- is essential for peace. But in the meantime, many people are learning to live with war and
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