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Foday Sankoh

Foday Sankoh




Foday Saybana Sankoh, born on October 17, 1937, in the remote village of Masang Mayoso in Sierra Leone, became a significant figure in the country's history as the founder of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). His leadership of this rebel group played a pivotal role in the 11-year-long Sierra Leone Civil War, which began in 1991 and ended in 2002, leaving behind a devastating toll of an estimated 50,000 deaths and over 500,000 displaced individuals across neighboring countries.

Sankoh's early life was rooted in the rural landscapes of Sierra Leone, where he was born to an ethnic Temne father and a Loko mother, both of whom were farmers. Despite his humble beginnings, Sankoh pursued education, attending primary and secondary school in Magburaka, Tonkolili District. However, his life took a different turn when he joined the Sierra Leone army in 1956, undergoing training in Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

In 1971, Sankoh faced a significant setback when, as a corporal in the Sierra Leone army, he participated in a mutiny and was subsequently cashiered and imprisoned for seven years at the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown. Upon his release, he transitioned to work as an itinerant photographer, which led him to connect with young radicals who shared his desire for change.

Sankoh, alongside Rashid Mansaray and Abu Kanu, embarked on a mission to solicit support for an armed uprising against the government, ultimately traveling to Liberia, where they aligned themselves with Charles G. Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). This alliance laid the foundation for the formation of the RUF.

Under Sankoh's leadership, the RUF launched its first attack on March 23, 1991, in villages in Kailahun District, marking the beginning of a brutal civil war. The RUF gained notoriety for its ruthless tactics, including mass rapes and amputations, with Sankoh personally ordering operations such as "Operation Pay Yourself," which encouraged looting by troops.

Despite signing peace accords, Sankoh repeatedly broke promises to halt fighting, leading to continued conflict. His arrest in May 2000, following the killing of protesters outside his home, marked a turning point. Charged with various war crimes, Sankoh's death in 2003, while awaiting trial due to complications from a stroke, brought an end to his tumultuous life. He was buried in his hometown of Magbruka, leaving behind a legacy stained by violence and suffering.


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