Ordinary warscapes in Sierra Leone: the relationship between the Sierra Leone Civil War and its cultural landscape



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The recent civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002) saw massive migrations amongst the civilian population and widespread damage to villages and towns. This study combines elements of military and cultural geography to ask the questions of how the events of the war changed the cultural landscape and how the cultural landscape influenced the course of the war. Fieldwork for this study was conducted during the summer of 2005 in the Eastern Province and included numerous semi-structured interviews regarding the landscape histories of villages, towns, and various temporary camps. These findings revealed that a clear relationship existed between the civil war and the cultural landscape. On the one hand, the war caused dramatic changes in the morphology of the cultural landscape, creating three distinct landscapes (pre-war, wartime, and post-war), while on the other hand the cultural landscape went far to structure the character of the war. In order to understand how the cultural landscape structured the war one must first consider how the landscape was perceived by each major faction (Revolutionary United Front, Sierra Leone Army, and Civil Defense Forces) as presenting a unique set of risks and opportunities. This perception was based in their strategic intentions and capabilities. Intentions can be understood as military objectives (derived from political goals), while capabilities can be understood as factors which constrain and enable action. Since each faction had different military objectives and capabilities they each perceived the landscape in a unique manner and this perception influenced their military operations. It is recommended that cultural geographers begin to study the impacts of war on the landscape and that military geographers expand their focus on the physical landscape by taking into account the role of the cultural landscape and environmental perception.