UK army head still fighting for the victims in Sierra Leone

The civil war in Sierra Leone became a byword for savagery. Marauding militias, often using child soldiers, killed and raped across the land. The country’s natural riches turned to a curse, with predators, both domestic and foreign, engaged in a fierce struggle to control mines producing the highly lucrative “blood diamonds”.

Ten years on, peace has broken out in the West African state. There is relative political stability, a programme - broadly successful - to reintegrate the armed groups and a number of ongoing reconstruction projects. Sierra Leone, backed by the billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros, now presents itself as one of the region's successful investment opportunities.

However, for many in Sierra Leone the long years of strife and poverty have left a legacy of hardship. Particularly vulnerable are those who are physically handicapped, either through deliberate mutilations or disease. They are the ones, says General Sir David Richards, who will especially need help and must not be forgotten.

Richards, now the head of the British Army, led the UK military mission to Sierra Leone in the late 90s which was credited with helping to end the internecine war. He has remained involved in promoting welfare in that country and will take part tomorrow evening at a seminar ‘Sierra Leone: Past, Present, Future’ at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

Gen Richards said “It is really important that we continue to build on our original success and do not risk the future of a people who continue to deserve, as much if not more in my view than any in the world, our strong support.

“The event will bring together a somewhat eclectic group - soldiers, journalists, Sierra Leonians from a variety of fields - who made common and determined cause to save a people when the rest of the world was about to dump on them. What has been achieved in Sierra Leone, especially by the efforts of its own people, is a fascinating and uplifting tale and has, I think, many lessons for today and other places.”

Such was the extent of Sir David’s involvement in all aspects of public life in Sierra Leone that he became known there by the Media as the ‘Shogun’. He campaigned actively to raise £20 million in international funding and the commander’s advice was valued by the country's President Ahmed Tejan Kabah. But some in the Foreign Office in London were weary of him "shooting from the hip" as they put it, or "telling some unpalatable truths", as he said.

Richards came out of Africa undamaged by the political and diplomatic machinations to become the head of Nato forces in Afghanistan, the first non-American to command US troops since the Second World War, where he applied some of the lessons learned in Sierra Leone such as winning over rebel fighters. In turn they now form part of the blueprint presented by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, to conduct the ‘surge’ taking place with Barak Obama’s announcement of 30,000 extra troops.

Funds raised from the event tomorrow evening will go to the Paul School for the Blind at the town of Bo where around 65 children live in squalid conditions. Many lost their eyesight to sadistic acts by rebel fighters, some have found their way to the school after being abandoned by their families.

General Richards’ daughter, Joanna, has worked at the Paul Centre and its sister organisation the Milton Margai School for the Blind. His wife Caroline is involved in running the Afghan Appeal Fund which has raised several hundred thousand pounds in aid for children in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the UK support group for the project said that at the Paul School “the boys' dorm has 19 beds for 42 boys whilst the girls dorm has seven beds between 23. The lavatories are completely repellent and infested with insects and the pupils wash from buckets in their dorms... The school is more than just a place of learning. Disabled people in Sierra Leone, and the blind especially, are considered worthless to society. A large proportion of blind children are abandoned, and it is only thanks to schools such as the Paul School that these children have an education, or even a roof over their heads and a daily meal. The children are overwhelmed that this event is in aid of them.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high