Long road home: Building reconciliation and trust in post-war Sierra Leone

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The 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone raised the bar of cruel@ as high as an} war in recent memoq. Infamous for mass amputations and kidnapping and recruitment of children into armed forces, Sierra Leone should face severe obstacles to reconciliation between combatants and civilians or combatants from opposing sides. But this is not the case. Sierra Leoneans are strikinglj milling to saj the) forgive and will reconcile uith those responsible for ravaging their villages and their lives. Popular anger is hrected instead at top government officials even though their predecessors, not the). were responsible for the conuption and mismanagement that led to the rebellion. Until Sierra Leoneans see real change in governing practices, the most important fonn of national reconciliation in Sierra Leone, (re)establishing popular trust in the state, tvill be difficult to achleve. Th~s research explores the multiple meanings of reconciliation after mass atrocit), the roles of transitional institutions in promoting reconciliation, and barriers to deep reconciliation. Based on field research In Sierra Leone, including observations of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings. I argue that conciliatoq processes fall into two groups: those that must be evaluated on rational grounds and can be measured (described as 'coming together' or 'coming to agreement-) and those that can onlj be felt (described as 'trust,' 'healing' and 'coming to terms' with the past). Institutional efforts to promote reconciliation strive for measurable outcomes that are too often taken as proxies for deeper, sentient forms of reconciliation. With few organized processes besides the truth commission to promote dlalogue about the past. Sierra Leoneans often turn to religion or their own informal trust-building strategies to fill the gaps. Achieving sentient reconciliation requires more than addressing war-related crimes. Problematic social structures and tensions that contributed to the war must be understood so that post-war transitional processes can avoid replicating them. The Sierra Leone TRC showed that, given a mandate to investigate the broad contex? of war. truth commissions can assist reconciliation bj identiijing these social structures and tensions and thus provide essential information for effective transitional planning.

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Department of Sociology and Anthropology - Simon Fraser University
Thesis type: 
Thesis (Ph.D.)