War as smoke and mirrors: Sierra Leone 1991-2, 1994-5, 1995-6

P. Richards

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    36 Citations (Scopus)


    The present paper assesses the implications of various observations of war in Sierra Leone¿cross-border operations of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in 1991-2, an RUF attack on Bo in December-January 1994-5, and disruptions by private security companies of the 1995-6 peace process. The material supports the view that a basic mechanism of war is ritual action. But the scope of war-as-ritual must be properly specified. Events involved rites in the air as well as on the ground. The paper draws military agents of private security companies more fully into the picture. The strategic impact of these mercenary elements upon the course of the war was probably less than claimed. On the other hand, impact upon its ritual aspects may have been underestimated. A focus upon ritual dynamics helps make sense of a war that seems inexplicable in terms of its material incentives or ideological motives.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)377-402
    Number of pages26
    JournalAnthropological Quarterly
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


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