In recent months, Tomdispatch writers have been on the global road. David Morse returned to the embattled Southern Sudan, accompanying three “lost boys” from a bitter, forgotten civil war; Rebecca Solnit went to the impoverished state of Chiapas, Mexico to meet with the women of the Zapatista rebel movement (“Revolution of the Snails”); and Nick Turse voyaged to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta to encounter two victims of a past American War (“Two Men, Two Legs, and Too Much Suffering”), who, thanks largely to the response of American Vietnam veterans, will now receive new artificial legs.
Today, Ann Jones, who, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, spent several years as a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan focusing on the lives of women and wrote a moving book, Kabul in Winter, about her experience, takes us to West Africa and into the chilling nightmare of women’s lives in war-torn lands. This is the first of a series of reports she will be writing for Tomdispatch in the coming months. Tom
The War against Women
A Dispatch from the West African Front
By Ann JonesKailahun, Sierra Leone — Greetings from a war zone that’s not Iraq. And not Afghanistan either.
I’m checking in from West Africa, where I’ve been working with women in three neighboring countries, all recently torn apart by civil wars: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire. The Iraq debacle has monopolized attention and obscured these “lesser” wars — now officially “over” — but millions of West African women are struggling to recover. For them, the war isn’t really over at all, not by a long shot. This is the war story that’s never truly told. Let me explain.
Surely you remember these conflicts. Liberia’s war came in three successive waves lasting 14 years altogether, from 1989 to 2003. Sierra Leone’s war started in 1991 when guerillas of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone, trained in Liberia, invaded their own country. The war drew many players and lasted until January 2002, a decade in all. In Côte d’Ivoire, a civil war started in 2002 when northern rebels attempted a coup to oust President Laurent Gbagbo, but by that time the international community had decided to act to prevent any further destabilization of the region. French, African, and later UN peacekeepers stepped in and a treaty was signed in 2003.
So, officially, these countries are no longer “war zones.” Accords have been signed. Peacekeeping forces are on duty or close at hand. The UN and international aid agencies are assisting “recovery.” Some arms have been surrendered; some refugees have returned from exile. Some men are making mud bricks and building huts to replace the spacious houses of embossed concrete and tile that once graced towns and villages throughout the region. Officially, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire are now designated “post-conflict zones,” but they are so fractured, so traumatized, and — especially in the cases of Liberia and Sierra Leone — so devastated and impoverished that they cannot be said to be securely at peace either. Sierra Leone has replaced Afghanistan as the poorest country on the planet and, like Afghanistan, it is a nation of widows.