NAT 191108 Former Child soldier ishmael beah-1573210174097
Former Child soldier Ishmael Beah Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: People living in peace often think that war is an isolated event far removed from them, yet the rest of the world is complicit when it doesn’t try to help, says Ishmael Beah, renowned Sierra Leonean author and human rights activist.

“My country doesn’t make weapons of its own, yet when it descended into civil war in the 1990s, we had the weapons to fight. So if we want these conflicts to end, we have to work together,” Beah said, while giving a talk to students at New York University Abu Dhabi Institute last week.

“From my experience, war doesn’t solve any problems. It worsens everything. So the people who care about the country – religious leaders and political and civil leaders – should sit together and solve their problems,” he added.

Life as a child soldier

Beah first rose to prominence in 2007 when his memoir recounting details of his life as a child soldier, A Long Way Gone, was published. Caught in civil conflict in the couth of Sierra Leone, Beah was separated from his parents, and eventually both his brothers, and recruited into the war.

“You’ve lost everything, and you’re angry. You want to hold someone accountable. I had taken shelter at a military base but the coercion, the drugs and the threat of physical violence was enough for me to be recruited,” recalls Beah.

He remembers spending three brutal years as a soldier, a brutal time “when you kill or had to kill to survive”. Eventually, intervention by Unicef saw Beah removed to a rehabilitation centre. When war eventually reached the Sierra Leonean capital, he reconnected with an American facilitator he had met while on a UNICEF trip to New York, and she adopted him and helped him move to the United States.

‘More can be done to protect children’

In 2007, Beah was appointed as the first Unicef Goodwill Ambassador for Children Affected by War. Now, the 38-year-old is based in Los Angeles, with a wife who is herself a child protection specialist, and three beautiful children of his own.

“I wrote [my memoir] so that people would understand the nature of violence, and how people without clear choices have no option but to embrace it. More can definitely be done to protect children from war, like mandating that countries that provide military aid refuse to work with entities that recruit child soldiers,” he said.