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A Long Way Gone

by Andreas Gesser

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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
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By Ishmael Beah
Sierra Leone:
Geography and Basic Facts: Sierra Leone is a country located on the west coast of Africa, bordering Guinea, Liberia, and the Atlantic Ocean. The capital is Freetown. The country is filled with mountains and mangrove swamps, and the climate is hot and humid with heavy rainfall during many of the non-winter months. The population in Sierra Leone is about 6.16 million, and the country is about the size of South Carolina. ("Sierra Leone").
Important Features: Sierra Leone contains many natural resources, including diamonds, gold, and many agricultural products. However, the country is still extremely poor due to “low production, poor export performance, large budget deficits, shortage of essential goods, and deterioration of infrastructure.” The mining industry also is the main source of exports and foreign investment. Rare but lucrative diamonds (referred to as" blood diamonds") are present in the southern and eastern countryside of the country ("Sierra Leone").
History and War:
Conflict and Civil War (1991-2002): The Sierra Leone Civil War began in 1991, when Foday Sankoh, commanding the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), attempted to overthrow the government on the basis of ending corruption. The militia took control of the diamond-rich territory in east and south, fighting fiercely against the Sierra Leone government forces (Sierra Leone Army and Civil Defense Forces). After much fighting, RUF forces signed the Abidjan Peace Accord, ceasing the war. However, in 1997, a faction of former Sierra Leone Army officers staged a coup with RUF, and two power ruled the capital with terror. Eventually, RUF was driven out of Freetown and continued the civil war in the countryside. The war ended once RUF was finally defeated after disobeying the country's peace treaty as they advanced to capture the capital (Momodu).
Child Soldiers: About 10,000 child soldiers fought for the rebels (RUF) or the national Sierra Leone forces combined. Both sides have been accused of serious human rights violations involving extrajudicial killings and execution, and the frequent use of drugs amongst all ages of troops. The RUF forces were ruthless to many civilians, murdering and amputating civilians, and often killing boys who refused to join them (Child Soldiers International).
Journey: The map above shows the journey of Ishmael Beah, first a soldier fighting in the south, then in rehabilitation in Freetown, and finally fleeing the country to Guinea.
A Long Way Gone:
Former child-soldier, Ishmael Beah, recalls his youth and the very unfortunate events he witnessed and committed, in his memoir A Long Way Gone.
Essential Passage:
"The lieutenant then ordered us, 'Remove your magazines, put your weapons on safety, and put them on the ground.'... the lieutenant turned around and faced us. 'You have been great soldiers and you all know that you are part of this brotherhood... But your work here is done, and I must send you off. These men will put you in school and find you another life.'... What was happening?... We thought that we were part of the war until the end. The squad had been our family... I still didn’t know what was going on, but I was beginning to get angry, anxious. I hadn’t parted with my gun since the day I became a soldier" (Beah 267).
Effects of Time and Place: Like many of the other child soldiers, Ishmael's perception of life was completely transformed once he became a soldier. Despite running from the gruesome violence of war for more than a year as a civilian, he became the exact violent, merciless, and inhumane figure he feared when a soldier. When he and others were fortunately removed from the war, as shown in the passage above, all the boys become exposed to their harsh false realities. As Ishmael discusses in his memoir, these false realities were only able to be enforced, by the frequent use of drugs and the violent standards set by commanders and superiors.
Author: Ishmael's family was killed by RUF forces when he was twelve years old. He joined the Sierra Leone Government forces at thirteen and fought for two years. At fifteen, he was placed in rehabilitation, by UNICEF, for several months. He lived in Freetown, with his uncle, and traveled to New York City to speak on behalf of the child soldier crisis in front of the UN. After returning to Freetown, he soon fled to New York, as rebel forces took control over the capital (Beah).
Additional Activities: Here is a link to some of the work Ishmael is currently doing currently, as Unicef’s first advocate for Children Affected by War, and a vocal human/child rights spokesperson ("Ishmael Beah").
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Us-Oh6RCNM0
Work Cited:
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