Article from ROAPE Volume 33 Number 110
Accidental Sect: How War Made Belief in Sierra Leone

An Accidental Sect: How War Made Belief in Sierra Leone
Vol.33 No.110 (December 2006), pp651-663
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.