Both Greed and Grievance: Explaining Violence in Sierra Leone’s Civil War

  • G Blank


Explaining the violence of civil war is never a simple task for the scholar. In the case of the Sierra Leone, paradoxically, the task has in some ways been rendered more difficult by the sheer variety of compelling scholarship on the question. This paper seeks to identify the most useful of the explanations offered thus far, and to integrate their insights into a single account of the violence committed by the Revolutionary United Front. “Patrimonialist” approaches are valuable for their emphasis on the socioeconomic conditions that set the stage for war, particularly the impoverishment of youth in the countryside and the growth of a “lumpen” underclass. Both the “greed” and “grievance” versions of the “rationalist” approach identify possible motivations for RUF violence. They present a false dichotomy, however, and a focus on the social composition of the RUF at both the leadership and “foot soldier” levels illustrates this difficulty. Lacking a well-defined ideology and a principled leadership, the “lumpens” of the RUF sought to redress their genuine grievances through predatory, “greedy” behavior. The most convincing explanation, therefore, is one which highlights why Sierra Leone’s violence was fuelled by both greed and grievance.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1597-3778
print ISSN: 1597-3778