Boys in arms find peace a trial

Karl Maier in Bo, Sierra Leone, meets the child soldiers who are trying to rediscover life as civilians

Wood shavings fall to the ground at a makeshift workshop behind the Catholic Pastoral Centre as Foday Mustapha pushes a plane along a board in his daily struggle to build a new life.

Foday is 17. Shirtless and wearing cut-off shorts, he looks like a normal apprentice carpenter until he unveils the scars on his legs from the shrapnel wounds he suffered during his former life as a soldier on the front line of Sierra Leone's four-year civil war.

"One time we were at Mobai and were ordered to attack a rebel base near Baiima," he said, speaking of towns in the far eastern part of the country.

"We went there, and then the rebels counter-attacked. Most of us children were at the front, and many of us were killed. It was very bad."

Foday volunteered for the army at the age of 13 in August 1991, four months after the Revolutionary United Front rebels launched the civil war and forced his family to flee the eastern town of Pendembu.

"They killed my younger brother, my stepmother and my uncle," he says. "The rebels infiltrated the region, burnt people's houses, and I don't agree with that." He became one of an estimated 2,000 children fighting for Captain Valentine Strasser's military government. As many children fight with the rebels. It is a story repeated across Africa, from Liberia to Mozambique, where tens of thousands of youngsters have become child soldiers.

"They are ideal soldiers. They have no responsibilities and they obey orders," said Dr Edward Nahim, a psychiatrist and chairman of the board of Children Affected by War (CAW), a project started by Irish Catholic priests and financed by the EU to reintegrate child soldiers into society.

"On the government side, most of the children join voluntarily, to revenge the death of their relatives or simply because having a gun gives them prestige and they can be like Rambo. It's a game they enjoy."

The army is to blame, said Emmanuel Foyoh, a CAW field worker who monitors the children in the southern city of Bo. "They are used as hunting dogs, and whenever there is a battle, the older soldiers who have wives and children retreat to the back and leave the children at the front."

Drugs were a major part of Foday's life, as they are for most soldiers in Sierra Leone, government or rebel. "Our superiors put gunpowder in our food and gave us brown pills which they called cocaine to take with our drink," Foday recalled. "The drugs make your heart strong, make you feel that you are not afraid of anything."

Drug use in the army is now "out of control," Dr Nahim said. "It is usually a combination of marijuana, alcohol, and gunpowder. Over time the soldiers become delirious. They don't know what they are doing any more." The use of drugs may account for the soldiers' often barbaric behaviour, such as mutilations and the severing of heads, carried out by both the rebel government armies, Dr Nahim added.

When Foday and several hundred other child soldiers were demobilised in June 1993, they were difficult to handle.

"They were very aggressive, hyper-alert, often fighting, and they did not sleep properly for the first several months," said Fr Mick Hickey, who administers the CAW programme. "They would not take any orders unless from military officers. They had a disdain for civilian life."

Some like Foday made the transition. Others were unable to cope. "Many children have returned to the war because they cannot adjust to this type of civilian life," Mr Foyoh said. "Society is training these children to become bandits."

Sayo Kamara, who enlisted three years ago, at the age of 14, has made the break. He is now top of his class at the Bo commercial secondary school and recently went on the radio to urge children at the front to quit the army. He hopes to work one day for the United Nations.

"Most of my friends are deformed or have been killed," he said at his home behind the Bo military hospital. "One of my friends, Ibrahim Kaikai, came to the hospital last month because he had been shot in the foot. I told him about my new life, but he said he would never leave the army until the war is finished. All of his family has been displaced, and he has no place except the army."

That sense of place is what Mr Foyoh and his fellow field workers, Ignatius Samuels and Ismael Ibrahim, are attempting to create for the 18 former child soldiers in Bo, by enlisting the support of relatives and neighbours in development projects. Residents of one neighbourhood have donated a piece of land to start a rice-growing scheme. But they lack the estimated pounds 300 in start-up costs.

The future of the country may depend on their ability to obtain the funds for the rice project and others like it, Mr Samuels said.

"What is going to happen to these children after the war if they have nothing to do? There are few jobs, and all they know what to do is fight. We must bring them into society".

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup