An accidental sect: how war made belief in Sierra Leone

P. Richards

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Idealists consider beliefs cause wars. Realists consider wars cause beliefs. The war in Sierra Leone offers some scope to test between these two views. The main rebel faction, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was, sociologically speaking, an accidental sect. It lost its original ideologues at an early stage, and absorbed others with a different orientation as a result of military misfortunes. Bombing reinforced the sectarian tendencies of an enclaved movement, and belief proliferated. This confounded military assessments that the movement could be rapidly brought to heel by a private military intervention sponsored by British and South African mineral interests. The movement became an uncontrollable juggernaut, driven by strange sacrificial notions directed against rural populations it had once set out to liberate. The war in Sierra Leone is consistent with the Durkheimian argument that performance forges collective representations. Dealing with armed insurgency in Africa requires appreciation of the artefactual and circumstantial character of social and religious beliefs
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)651-663
    Number of pages12
    JournalReview of African Political Economy
    Issue number110
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


    Dive into the research topics of 'An accidental sect: how war made belief in Sierra Leone'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this