Bruce Cerew (1980), Nigeria
The story of Bruce’s escape starts in Nigeria when he is twelve. His family is poor, and his father violent. Bruce runs away from home and ends up in Liberia. But there he finds himself in even greater danger. Bruce ends up in the middle of a civil war. He has no idea who is fighting or why they are fighting. Rebels capture him and train him to fight as a child soldier.
Bruce eventually manages to escape, survives the war, and seeks a way to get out of the country. On numerous occasions he hides inside a cargo ship in the port of Monrovia as a way of getting to Europe. All his attempts fail. In 2000 he eventually finds his way into the Netherlands with the help of human smugglers, and arrives by plane at Schiphol.
Situation in Liberia
In the 1990s Liberia was gripped by a civil war that claimed the lives of over 300,000 people and forced many more to flee. Both the regime of Samuel Doe and the rebel forces led by Charles Taylor used extreme violence. Women were systematically raped and children mutilated, soldiers killed and plundered. A feature of this war was the deployment of child soldiers.
Taylor also became involved in the civil war in the neighboring country of Sierra Leone, where he and rebel leader Foday Sankoh fought against the government. Many years of economic inequality, corruption and nepotism mean that much of the population in Sierra Leone lives in poverty, and young people are not optimistic about the future.
Just like Taylor, rebel leader Sankoh in Sierra Leone exploited the dead-end situation of youths by recruiting them for his army. According to the Dutch relief organization War Child, one in ten soldiers is a child, and some 250,000 children are actively deployed in wars around the world.
Intervention by the United Nations eventually resulted in peace in Liberia in 2003. The Sierra Leone Tribunal in The Hague found Taylor guilty of, among other things, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2013 he was sentenced to fifty years in prison.
Causes of conflict
Every conflict and every war starts for its own reasons, or combination of reasons. For example, a corrupt regime, the exclusion of a section of the population on the grounds of religion or ethnicity, poverty or inequality.
In Liberia, President Doe gave preferential treatment to a certain ethnic group, and wealth in Sierra Leone was so unevenly distributed that two rivaling groups emerged. War is also often triggered by disputes about land, if rival groups want to exploit natural resources and earn money. Climate change is a cause of conflict in some areas today. Water and fertile ground are becoming scarce, and so people quarrel about them.
It is difficult to pinpoint one single cause of a war. One problem — related to politics, socio-economics, natural resources or climate — grows over a number of years. And during that time, other circumstances become part of the problem, until war appears to be the only solution.