Foday Saybana Sankoh

Foday Saybana Sankoh



Foday Saybana Sankoh was the founder and leader of the Sierra Leone rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), during the Sierra Leone Civil War the 1991-2002 and that conflict, the first civil war in the nation’s history then resulted in the death of an estimated fifty thousand people and the displacement of of over half a million people in a nation of just over four million people





in the 1990. Sankoh was born on October 17 1937 in the remote village of Masang Mayoso, Tonkolili District in the Northern part of Sierra Leone to an ethnic Temme father and Loko mother. He also attended primary and secondary school in Magburaka, Tonkolili District and took on several jobs in Magburaka before he joined the Sierra Leone Army in 1956, five years before the nation





gained independence from the Great Britain in the 1961. Sankoh’s military training took place in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. In 1971 while a corporal in the Sierra Leone Army, Sankoh was then expelled from the army’s signal corps and then imprisoned for seven years at the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown for taking part in a mutiny. After he was released from prison, he worked






as an itinerant photographer in the south and east of the Sierra Leone where he first encountered young anti government radicals too. Sankoh and confederates like Rashid Mansaray and Abu Kanu in the late 1980s began calling for an armed uprising to oust the government of Sierra Leone President Joseph Saidu Momah. The three traveled to the neighboring Liberia where they recruited





dissident and exiled Sierra Leoneans for the RUF army. They also fought alongside the Liberian rebel group, the Charles G. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Eventually Taylor would also become the major African political supporter of the RUF. On the March 23, 1991, the Revolutionary United Front RUF also led by the Sankoh and backed by Taylor, launched its first attack



Charles Taylor



of the civil war in the villages in the Kailahun District in the diamond rich Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. RUF soon became notorious for for brutal practices such as mass rapes and amputations of the military opponents and civilians. Sankoh also personally ordered most of the operations under the title “Operation Pay Yourself” that encouraged his troops to loot anything they could





find. Eventually, Sankoh’s allies, Rashid Mansaray and Abu Kanu complained of Sankoh brutal tactics and in response both were summarily executed. In the March 1997, when government forces also began taking back territory occupied by the RUF and Sankoh fled to Nigeria where was put under house arrest and then imprisoned. Two years later in the 1999 Sankoh was released and he returned to Sierra Leone. He was later arrested by





Nigeria peacekeeping forces after his soldiers gunned down several protesters outside his Freetown home in 2000. Sankoh was handed over to the British, and under the jurisdiction of a UN backed court, he was indicted on seventeen counts for various war crimes, including





the use of child soldiers and crimes against humanity which included ethnic extermination, enslavement, rape, and sexual slavery. On the July 29 2003 Sankoh died of complications from a stroke while awaiting trial at age sixty five.