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War and the Crisis of Youth in Sierra Leone (The International African Library) Hardcover – 28 Mar 2011


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (28 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107004195
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107004191
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,077,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'This book goes more deeply into an understanding of RUF fighters - their beliefs and their atrocities - than previous studies. It is a very important contribution to our understanding of Sierra Leone and its war.' David Keen, London School of Economics and Political Science

'What are the real motivations and goals of rebels that commit atrocities among those for whom they claim to represent? Krijn Peters offers an answer that is as simple as it is profound. Drawing on extraordinary field research in Sierra Leone among former Revolutionary United Front fighters and commanders, Peters finds a deep commitment to an egalitarian millenarian ethos borne of a rejection of a state-sanctioned system of subjugation of young men and women in rural areas. War and the Crisis of Youth in Sierra Leone is among the rare breed of books, essential for scholars and policy analysts, that is sure to make waves for all of the right reasons. It will become a classic for its sober and measured analysis that challenges conventional wisdom and for bringing a critical analysis to bear on the words and actions of members of a violent rebel group.' William Reno, Northwestern University

'War and the Crisis of Youth in Sierra Leone is a startling, behind-the-scenes depiction of Sierra Leone's notorious rebel outfit, the Revolutionary United Front. With compelling clarity and a spotlight on ex-combatant perspectives, Peters challenges readers to set aside easy judgements and take a hard look at thorny wartime realities, including just how a rebel group could be profoundly brutal yet internally coherent. Illuminating links between a predatory prewar society and rationales for predation and misogyny during conflict, Peters leaves the reader with a powerful sense of how and why Sierra Leone's male youth got caught up in war and what the experience did to them. Strongly and thoroughly recommended.' Marc Sommers, The Fletcher School, Tufts University

'War and the Crisis of Youth in Sierra Leone is a work of unique empirical depth and ethnographic knowledge. Peters sheds light on the RUF militia and the role they played during the Sierra Leonean civil war. He illuminates the social logics at play and clarifies the motives behind their constitution, conflict engagement, and conciliation. The book is a crucial contribution to our understanding of one of Africa's most misunderstood and demonized militias.' Henrik Vigh, University of Copenhagen

'War and the Crisis of Youth in Sierra Leone is a welcome addition to the literature on the civil war in this unfortunate land. Not only is this the voice of someone who knows the country and its young people well, but by situating the aetiology of war in terms of a rural crisis as symptomatic of unresolved tensions between landed gerontocracy and déclassé youth, Peters has been able to bring political economy in from the cold, which enabled him to debunk the misguided 'greed not grievance' explanation of those intellectually remote from the problems of Sierra Leone. This is invaluable reading for policy makers and all those interested in how a land once described as the 'Athens of West Africa' slumped to the poorest of the poor.' Tunde Zack-Williams, University of Central Lancashire

'… this book is a well-written summary of the debates surrounding the causes of conflict in Sierra Leone, and is a wonderfully rich representative of one camp in the debate.' Susan Shepler, African Affairs

Book Description

This book addresses the currently incomplete understanding of the conflict in Sierra Leone by focusing on the direct experiences and interpretations of protagonists. It challenges the widely canvassed notion of this conflict as a war motivated by 'greed, not grievance', pointing instead to a rural crisis of unresolved tensions.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is very little insight that I can add to this book that the scholarly reviewers have not already provided.

I bought this book after seeing the comments from Keen and Reno. It was a bittersweet purchase - bitter due to the price, but sweet because Keen and Reno are correct. Speaking as a postgraduate student, this book has been an essential addition to my research on Sierra Leone. It is a considerably strong addition to the 'camp' who emphasise the role of grievances, arguing against the prevailing idea that the RUF was originally and primarily a bandit organisation of marginalised thugs.

I believe that this book will be consistently referenced for discussion of Sierra Leone (and beyond) to the same extent as Paul Richards, Ibrahim Abdullah and Keen.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Rural Roots of Sierra Leone's War 12 Nov. 2011
By Kevin G. Lowther - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Krijn Peters has provided a vital and largely-ignored perspective on the root causes of Sierra Leone's internal conflict during the 1990s. Having interviewed a large cross-section of young men and women who served in the Revolutionary United Front, Peters presents a convincing case that the youth who joined or were abducted by RUF were motivated by their endemic oppression by chiefs, rural elders and other elites. Peters suggests an intriguing historical feedback loop to the widespread existence of domestic slavery during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many RUF youth were identifiably from families blighted by the legacy of domestic slavery. This is a legacy which Sierra Leoneans need to address if the country is to avoid a recurrence of rural, youth-driven instability.

Kevin Lowther, author of 'The African American Odyssey of John Kizell'
A continuation of early work with Paul Richards 5 Mar. 2013
By peace and conflict prof - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
According to Google scholar, far and away Krijn Peters’ most frequently cited work is the 1998 article “’Why We Fight’: Voices of Youth Combatants in Sierra Leone,” co-authored with Paul Richards and published in the journal Africa. His recent book, War and the Crisis of Youth in Sierra Leone, is essentially a continuation of that excellent early work with Richards, a plea to try to understand war by listening to the voices of the young men carrying it out. The key methodological message is to listen to the combatants. The key theoretical contribution is that problems of rural youth are vital to understanding the causes of the war.

It helps to think of Peters as Richards’ student, since there are many deep connections between their work, mainly the insistence on what they call a neo-Durkheimian approach. The first chapter, in particular, repeats Richards’ typology of explanations of civil war as spelled out in No Peace No War: An Anthropology of Contemporary Armed Conflicts (2005, James Currey). Over a decade on, analyses of the war can now generally be placed into one of three camps. The first camp is the “greed not grievance” camp, which the author quickly discards. The second camp (personified by Richards) tries to understand the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels on their own terms. The third camp, represented by Ibrahim Abdullah and other Sierra Leonean intellectuals, refuses to acknowledge any redeeming features in the RUF, and would balk at the description of RUF camps as offering “an alternative society, centred on meritocratic rather than gerontocratic or patrimonial principles” (17).

The main goal of the book, and it is an important one, is to try to understand the war in Sierra Leone from the combatants’ perspective, “focusing on the direct experiences and interpretations of the protagonists of war, and paying special attention to the hitherto neglected cadres of the RUF [rebels]” (10). Peters goes on, “the purpose of focusing on ex-combatants here is not to ‘give the voiceless a voice,’ but to gain a better understanding of why so many young people proved to be vulnerable to militia conscription in general” (11).

I like the description of his methodology as “simplicity itself—go there, listen, report, examine critically, and then try to understand” (12) (as opposed to the sometimes over-romanticized danger described by some others). Peters was one of the very few people interviewing combatants during the war and ex-combatants immediately after the war; and he is right that combatants’ stories have changed somewhat since that time due to the passage of a decade, as well as the effects of massive international intervention and the presence of many researchers. This makes his detailed ethnographic work from the late nineties all the more valuable today.

By now it is not surprising to students of the war in Sierra Leone that all factions, both volunteers and the forcibly recruited, agree about the causes of the outbreak of the war: “lack of education and jobs, and the failure or unwillingness of a ruling elite … to help and include, rather than exploit and exclude, the vulnerable and needy, in particular the young” (13). Peters is intervening in the “crisis of youth” literature, pointing to the structures of youth exclusion and exploitation endemic in Sierra Leone. What sets Peters apart from the rest is his singular focus on rural youth. Personally, I take issue with the central contention that the war is best understood with respect to rural issues. I believe he overstates the importance of customary courts and their manipulation to extract labour and financial means from a rural underclass. The rural argument is a needed corrective to an excessive urban focus, but in my experience forced labour for chiefs was over before the war, and access to education was not the issue so much as it was the quality of the education accessed. Chiefs’ control of forced labour had eroded significantly decades before the onset of the conflict, and we are left wondering why the war happened when it did.

The later chapters of the book discuss, in turn, the functioning of the RUF, their “strategies of bonding,” and the sources of their “homespun political philosophy” (214); contending explanations for RUF atrocities; post-war disarmament and reintegration programs; and the need for agrarian focused reintegration packages for former combatants. Peters takes on the Abdullah camp and their “lumpens” theory directly in the concluding chapter.

For those knowledgeable about the large literature on the war in Sierra Leone, the book covers familiar territory. For those interested more broadly in conflict in Africa, this book is a well-written summary of the debates surrounding the causes of conflict in Sierra Leone, and is a wonderfully rich representative of one camp in the debate
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