Former child soldiers from Sierra Leone employed as mercenaries in Iraq

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 April 2016

child-soldier

Under the watchful eye of president Ernest Bai Koroma and his cohorts, children as young as 15 have been carted away to fight a war that has nothing to do with them or their country, for as little as £10 (Le70,000) a day.

What is poignant is that, these young children were being sold off by the very people that should have provided secure and caring, post-war rehabilitation programme to transform their lives and become active and productive citizens in Sierra Leone.

Being a body bag carrier or a soldier in any war environment at any age is bad enough. But being removed from your homeland, after losing your loved ones in a cruel war for which you were not responsible, to go and fight another man’s war in another country, is worse than slavery.

And all this – done under the watchful eye and authority of the president of Sierra Leone, who cannot pretend he knew nothing about this inhumane trafficking, taking place in the corridors of State House.

In the UK, a young person starting their first job will be paid more than £5 (Le35,000) an hour, or £40 (Le210,000) for a day’s work.

But these young Sierra Leoneans, sold off to go and fight in Iraq – one of the most dangerous countries in the world, were promised £10 (Le70,000) a day. Why? How much did ministers in the Koroma government, who signed the contract with the recruiting company receive per child?

child-soldier-in-sierra-leone-pic-ap-88239223According to a story published yesterday, Monday 18 April 2016 in the UK Guardian Newspaper,  a former senior director at a British firm says that it employed mercenaries from Sierra Leone to work in Iraq because they were cheaper than Europeans and did not check if they were former child soldiers.

This is the story published in the Guardian yesterday:

James Ellery, who was a director of Aegis Defence Services between 2005 and 2015, said that contractors had a “duty” to recruit from countries such as Sierra Leone, “where there’s high unemployment and a decent workforce”, in order to reduce costs for the US presence in Iraq.

“You probably would have a better force if you recruited entirely from the Midlands of England,” Ellery, a former brigadier in the British army, told the Guardian. “But it can’t be afforded. So you go from the Midlands of England to Nepalese etc etc, Asians, and then at some point you say I’m afraid all we can afford now is Africans.” He said the company had not asked recruits if they were former child soldiers.

Aegis Defence Services, which is chaired by Sir Nicholas Soames, a Tory MP and Winston Churchill’s grandson, had a series of contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to provide guards to protect US military bases in Iraq from 2004 onwards.

From 2011 the company broadened its recruitment to take in African countries, having previously employed people from the UK, the US and Nepal.

Contract documents say that the soldiers from Sierra Leone were paid $16 (£11) a day. A documentary, The Child Soldier’s New Job, to be broadcast on Monday in Denmark alleges that the estimated 2,500 Sierra Leonean personnel who were recruited by Aegis and other private security companies to work in Iraq included former child soldiers.

“When war gets outsourced, then the companies tries to find the cheapest soldiers globally. Turns out that that is former child soldiers from Sierra Leone. I think it is important that we in the west are aware of the consequences of the privatisation of war,” the film’s maker, Mads Ellesøe, said.

Chi Onwurah, a Labour MP and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Africa, said: “There’s an inherent racism in paying security guards less depending on the country they are coming from when they are facing the same risks as a guard from the UK.”

Aegis was founded in 2002 by Tim Spicer, the former Scots Guards officer who was at the centre of the 1998 “arms to Africa” scandal, in which his previous company Sandline was found to be breaching sanctions by importing 100 tonnes of weapons to Sierra Leone in support of the government.

Ellery, Aegis’ director of operations at the time of the Iraq contracts, previously served as chief of staff to the UN’s mission in Sierra Leone, at the time when the organisation was responsible for demobilising thousands of former child soldiers.

Interviewees in the documentary provided detailed testimony of serving as child soldiers, and documents showing their employment with Aegis.

One interviewee, Gibrilla Kuyateh, told the film’s makers: “Every time I hold a weapon, it keeps reminding me of about the past. It brings back many memories.” In extended footage seen by the Guardian he said he was kidnapped at the age of 13 by rebels who also killed his mother.

He described how the rebels forced him to amputate people’s limbs, “not always with a sharp instrument”, and trained him to fire an AK-47 that he said he struggled to carry because he was so small.

When Sierra Leone’s civil war ended in 2002, the international community spent millions of dollars giving former militia members the skills to use in peacetime. A UN mission demobilised more than 75,000 fighters, including nearly 7,000 children, at an estimated cost of $36.5m. The total number of children demobilised is understood to be far higher.

Sierra Leone remains one of the world’s poorest countries, and the documentary charts how from 2009 onwards private military firms turned to it, along with Uganda and Kenya, for cheap labour to guard military installations in Iraq.

Ellery, who said he was speaking in a personal capacity, told the Guardian that it would be “quite wrong” to ask whether people had ever been child soldiers, as it would penalise people for things they had often been forced into doing.

He pointed out that under UN rules, child soldiers are not liable for war crimes. “They are, once they reach 18, in fact citizens with full rights to seek employment, which is a basic human right. So we would have been completely in error if, having gone to Sierra Leone, we excluded those people.”

He added that Aegis was strict on physical health requirements. “The moment they [recruitment agents] start sending us people who are blind in one eye or have Aids, that’s it. Contract over.

“Because those sort of things, although they sound facetious, are big problems in Africa, because you don’t want people dying after you’ve put them through expensive training and then they die because they’ve got Aids and so on,” he said.

Aegis was taken over last year by GardaWorld, a Canadian security company. Graham Binns, Aegis’s former CEO and GardaWorld’s senior managing director, told the Guardian: “We worked very closely with our audited, vetted and authorised agents to recruit, vet and screen our professionals. Our agents were authorised [as was the employment of individuals] by the relevant national government of the countries from which we recruited.

“Aegis takes issues pertinent to our industry, such as post-traumatic stress very seriously, and has worked closely with experts in the field to develop and implement procedures for the management of trauma risk.”

Soames declined to comment.

 

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4 Comments

  1. President Ernest Koroma should have learnt from the past that you can’t play with the lives of Sierra Leoneans especially the youths without any consequence.

    Let him first think about Ghaddafi of Libya who was the source of all the devastation that happened in our country, because he helped train Charles Taylor who is now behind bars as a war criminal. This is because he played with the blood of Sierra Leoneans.

    Foday Sankoh the rebel leader who died in prison; Blaise Campore of Burkina Faso who trained rebels; Ivory Coast that sponsored Taylor to launch the destruction all finally tasted the bitterness of war.
    All of those leaders and countries only harvested the type of seed they planted which were evil seeds.

    So be very careful President Ernest Koroma because the blood of Sierra Leonean YOUTHS cannot be used as a means to satisfy your personal greed or vain ambitions.

  2. Is the northern-led APC party and government a curse or blessing in Sierra Leone? Why is it that any time APC is in power, extreme human suffering, retrogression, danger and/or disaster must continue to unfold?

    Either in the form of natural disaster like the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Epidemic that killed tens of thousands of poor and ordinary Sierra Leoneans or the HIV-AIDS responsible for the death of thousands of Sierra Leoneans; or the biggest APC flooding that occurred in 2015 or the collapse of most of the outdated bridges in Sierra Leone; or the continued death of pregnant women and their babies because Sierra Leone has the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world at 270 deaths per 100,000 children.

    According to UNICEF “If you’re a child born in Sierra Leone you have a more than one in four chance of not living to see your fifth birthday.” Sierra Leone also has the worst record for prenatal care, with one in eight women dying during pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a one in 76 average in the rest of the developing world and one in 8,000 in the developed world.

    Under the watch of the northern-led APC government headed by the World’s Best President (Ernest Obai Koroma), the environmental disasters continue to destroy the leftover infrastructures in the country and killing thousands of Sierra Leoneans living in shanty towns.

    But Ernest Koroma and his northern-led APC government do not care about the environmental destruction nor the deaths of poor Sierra Leoneans or the pile of rotten garbage all over city Freetown.

    So whether it is out of hunger for money or Aid promised by the Lebanese government, the NORTHERN-LED APC GOVERNMENT signed a contract with Lebanon to import its garbage to Sierra Leone.

    For goodness sake, Sierra Leone invented garbage; Freetown is filthily rich with garbage, so why import garbage from another country when Freetown has plenty?

    Who does that? Seriously, who does that? I have not heard of a president or any other country in the world that imports rotten garbage from another poor country.

    Like Sierra Leone, Lebanon lacks the technological know how to recycle its huge garbage into something useful for its country, like electricity, quality fertilizer for agricultural use etc. So they decided to locate the cheapest country that lacks pride and human dignity to export their garbage.

    Where is the pride and dignity of those in power? Are they not ashamed of how the world defines them? The shortsighted and destructive governance of the APC government was directly responsible for the northern-led Foday Sankoh’s rebel war.

    That useless, hateful and most inhumane war ever fought in the world, battered the image of Sierra Leone and destroyed the last hope left in most Sierra Leoneans. The RUF war killed more than 70,000 innocent people including women, young babies, old people, wiped out villages, put many innocent families into total extinction and destroyed most of the infrastructure in the country.

    APC destroyed the economy of Sierra Leone, turned middle class Sierra Leoneans into poor and haggard people, instituted corruption, intimidation and built a culture based on deceit and lies. APC is an undemocratic institution, they dislike critical minds and don’t care about education (den say Bailor Barrie, you say Davidson Nicol).

    Today, the banks are all looted, the country is bankrupt, 75% of Sierra Leoneans are living and dying in poverty; the international donors are tired of wasting money on the most corrupt government in the world; the few mining areas are under the control of Ernest Obai Koroma and his family, even if it means importing garbage or send ex-child soldiers to the war zone in Iraq.

    I am embarrassed and ashamed of my country. Is APC a curse or blessing in Sierra Leone?

  3. My God, how low the rulers in Sierra Leone are! Can there be any evil that they haven’t yet reached?
    The in-humanity is astounding. When will they cease their evil ways???

  4. Only in Sierra Leone this could happen and no one is demanded to answer or be investigated. Welcome to Paolo’s world, or did the defense ministry do this in collaboration with the social welfare Department . I hope the UN especially the ILO will intervene to see where labour laws were infringed.

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