Consider Peace: The Story of General Chop Am

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I had tossed and turned for over an hour, sleep had completely evaded me. I didn’t like being away from Tony and the children but this was only a few days of travel and I felt it was so important to accept the request to speak at the Sierra Leone Peace and Reconciliation conference.  But now just one day into the conference I couldn’t sleep, haunted by the stories, perhaps even by this place, I kept tossing and turning unable to settle my mind and spirit.

Enough! I thought to myself, and reached out into the dark  for the television remote. Clicking the remote I let out a sigh of relief as the tv flickered on, allowing some light into the room.  “Silly me, I really am spooked…” I thought out loud.

I started flicking through the channels and paused on the Action Channel… a war movie was on. Truth be told that was the real reason why I could not sleep, it all boiled down to the conversation we had over dinner about the devastating war in Sierra Leone, and the story of General Chop Am.

Now the Sierra Leone conflict was a unique and particularly vile civil war. For over a decade between 1991 and 2002 the West African nation was in the throes of a complex conflict stemming from the thirst for power and control of the country’s natural resources. And while some conflicts are founded on hostilities between different communities, this conflict was unique in that it ripped families apart. And in the expansive dining room of our sprawling hotel a local Freetown resident explained several chilling, often untold, aspects of this war. And so it came to be that over a lovely dinner of fresh fish, jolof rice and salad we were told how the city was divided into sections under control of different militia groups.

The rebels had a pattern for recruitment, they would abduct the eldest son in a family and put these young boys through months of  terror and torture including near death experiences. They would plough them with alcohol and drugs and encourage rape of helpless girls, bullying amongst the boys and utter degradation. Then after what seemed like endless months of mental and physical torture, they would take the boy back to his home, attack his family and instruct the boy to inflict grievous bodily harm on his own mother or face death. This horrifying attack was intended to be the final act of dehumanization. The utter destruction of humanity in these boys. It would ensure end of their relationship with their families. This was in fact the creation of an inhumane, unfeeling, unsalvageable and unforgivable soldier – the creation of a monster. In carrying out these orders the boys were now dead to their families and to their community. They were also dead to themselves… numb, unfeeling and totally lost. Now fully under the control of, and completely loyal to, the militia.

What would then emerge as a result of this brutal inhumane attack was that their siblings in anger would join the opposing rebels, vowing to destory the brother whom they had searched for, and in many cases grieved for, and who came back to utterly destroy his own loved ones. Such was the nature of the Sierra Leonean conflict, and in the midst of this all, the thirst for power and money, the greed for control of Blood Diamonds. It sent shivers down my spine.

But this was only half the story we were told that night – there was also the history behind our grand hotel and the story of General ChopAm…

The hotel that was my home for the next few days, is the largest in Freetown. It was also one of the militia headquarters during the last months of the civil war, the stronghold of one of the rebel groups. Here thousands faced terror, and hundreds had their limbs chopped off under the very roof where I was sleeping.

We were told of a young boy, just ten years of age who was recruited into the rebel force. He, like many others, went through the process of dehumanization. Over a period of time as a child soldier he developed a particular skill, some called it a talent – he could chop of a human limb in one swift, clean cut.

This little boy, would ask his victims,  “Long or short sleeve?” and the subject would have to choose – short sleeve meaning the chop above the arm and long sleeve indicating a chop at the wrist. Then, with incredible dexterity the boy would chop, SWOOSH! And in one swift movement off came the limb, courtesy of a child. His skill earned him great respect among his ranks, everyone spoke of him with great pride amongst his militia group. But outside the camp people spoke of him in whispers, in fear and horror. That is how he earned his name, his rank and title – General ChopAm is what he was called.

Perhaps it is this story that haunted me the most. After all he was younger than my eldest son and my dear nephews. I lay back down on my pillow and thought of him… just a child. He should have been in school playing football and learning maths, science and history. He should have been laughing with friends and playing with siblings, getting love from his parents and guidance from teachers. His innocence was taken from him, and he was turned into a monster. And in turn he inflicted horror upon so many.

I turned again in bed, remembering the words of my father, now a retired military man he had served in the Kenyan contingent of the UN peacekeeping troops in Liberia. He told me of the young rebel child soldiers he would encounter and the conversations they would have. He would ask the boys, “Why do you do this? Put the weapons down and get on with life, this war can do nothing good for you.”

But they would respond candidly in pidgin English, “My Papa is dead, My Mama is dead, my sisters and brothers are dead… Now this gun is my only family!”

In Liberia, the civil war was just as horrifying. Fueled by mysticism and witchcraft some rebels took to eating the hearts of those they killed… Children turned into killers, militia eating people, a delicacy they called it… Women were raped in massive numbers, it was the norm… Survival was about fleeing, could you make it across the border? Could you make it to safety? Families destroyed, innocence ended, death, destruction, horror…

It was all too much… I rolled off the bed and got on my hands and knees. And tears streaming down my face I prayed…
“Dear Father, thank you! Thank you! Thank you Father for the for the peace and stability that you have given us! Thank you for allowing our children to be children. We have been at the brink and you pulled us back, thank you Father for saving us from the devastation of war. Let us never take for granted the peace that you have given us! Lord, help these nations recover from their experiences, grant them peace and stability. Never again Lord should they endure such terror. And dear Lord, please forgive us for our ignorance and failings, so often Father we do not understand what we are doing. Dear Father, grant us peace always.”

Consider now a world where you cannot protect your loved ones, your partner, your children, your parents…

Consider a world where there are no rules and he who has might, through brute force, takes what he will…
Consider then what happens to the babies and the elderly, to the women and the children…
Consider what happens to men and boys who are either recruited into battle or killed…
Consider the girls and women turned into vessels for rape and enslavement…

While there is no doubt that in every society there will be conflicting interests, driven by various factors including but not limited to race, religion, tribe, clan, gender, class, status etc, the very existence of these differences should not be used to undermine the importance of peace and stability.

I therefore humbly ask that you consider now what peace is and take a moment to thank the Lord for it… lest He takes our ingratitude to heart and teaches us a lesson we will not forget for generations to come.

May the good and great Lord bless us all with enduring peace.

Afro-optimist * Wife * Mother * Child of God TV Host * Writer * Producer * Entrepreneur * Philanthropist

14 Comments on "Consider Peace: The Story of General Chop Am"

  1. penny says:

    THANKYOU GOD FOR KENYA

  2. kashu says:

    thank you for the story, It opens my eyes…..may peace prevail, always!

  3. kinyua says:

    Indeed you are a role model and God’s child.I pray that God will continue to use you and bless you immensely. You are a woman without limits!

  4. Titus Mutwiri says:

    Julie, you are an inspiration of its own kind and a sense of reason to all and sundry. Always longed to meet you but now through this blog am happy I can tap from the source. God bless you

  5. Debra says:

    Julie you are phenomenal. I have discovered your blog today after finding links to your poem. I must confess that I have misjudged you. I have officially found a role model.

  6. Angela Hatier says:

    Jules the tales are sad. You might want to watch the war witch also. God is with us all

  7. Peninah says:

    Dear Father, thank you! Thank you! Thank you Father for the for the peace and stability that you have given us! Thank you for allowing our children to be children. We have been at the brink and you pulled us back, thank you Father for saving us from the devastation of war. Let us never take for granted the peace that you have given us! Lord, help these nations recover from their experiences, grant them peace and stability. Never again Lord should they endure such terror. And dear Lord, please forgive us for our ignorance and failings, so often Father we do not understand what we are doing. Dear Father, grant us peace always.

  8. Lucy says:

    Thank you Julie. So often we take for granted the blessings God has given us. Let us look for the positive in each and everyone of us and uplift each other, thereby uplift our beloved country. Thank you God for our beautiful country and its people.

  9. The story made tears to trickle down my cheeks.The holy Qur’an says-if you save one soul it is as if you have saved the whole of mankind.And if you kill one soul it is as if you have killed the whole of mankind.Good people let us preach peace wherever we will be.No one was created from leftovers of creation.We all form part of human family.The formal education we go through, should be a sufficient ground for all and sundry to appreciate and embrace the value of all of humanity irrespective of its cultural base.JULIE PLIZ VISIT-www.maulidali.blogspot.com to an article tittled KENYA A LAND OF DIVERSITY and other stories.You can also join a group i formed on facebook-FIGHTING TRIBALISM IN KENYA:WE ARE ONE PEOPLE WITH COMMON INTEREST.Currently it has 600+ members.

  10. Wencx says:

    Nice and motivating article, as a former military myself, with an opportunity to have travelled to Sudan, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan for the sole purpose of bringing peace through many initiatives. Insecurity / war is not pretty. God bless Kenya and protect us from such ugly situations.

  11. George obuya says:

    I bless the lord because of you Julie: may the good Lord continue to blessing. We should never take the peace we enjoy for granted.

  12. Owaahh says:

    Oh wow! I just got round to reading this. This is powerful Julie, the untold stories of such boys who were dehumanized. What do they do now? Did anyone ever offer them psychological rehabilitation and help? Does one even recover from such lows?

  13. Ruth says:

    Thank you for being a vessel of inspiration as well as pricking our conscience in what we do as we exercise our freedom

  14. Blandina says:

    I teared up reading this. It sent chills throughout my whole body. Talk of missed childhood, talk of children that even adults run away from. Indeed, we should not take the peace we enjoy for granted. We thank God for that, that our children can afford to be children

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