Africa, Headlines

SIERRA LEONE: Rap Star’s T-shirt A Major Factor In Conflict

Lansana Fofana

FREETOWN, Oct 1 1998 (IPS) - Two years after his death in the United States, Black American rap star, Tupac Shakur, has emerged as a major factor in Sierra Leone’s seven-year civil war.

More than 100 rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and their allies of the defunct Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), this week raided the northern town of Kukuna, on the border with Guinea, sporting T-shirts bearing Tupac’s picture.

“We were awaken by sporadic outbursts of gunfire and in no time, we saw fire blazing from residential homes,” recalls Isa Kanu, a farmer who escaped the attack.

He says his neighbours and friends thought a rap concert was underway in the town. “Never before had we witnessed such a scene. To see young men and women in their hundreds, clad in rap T- shirts and descending on this quiet farming town; we grew suspicious,” he says.

When the dust settled, Kakuna lay in ruins. Dozens of residential homes were razed down, an undisclosed number of people killed and foodstuff looted. Some people had their limbs amputated simply for refusing to set their houses on fire.

“It was an eyesore. I collapsed from the distance where I had taken cover and was only saved by the hand of God,” says Yabom Kamara, a businesswoman.

The amputees are receiving treatment at the Port Loko government hospital in the region.

The raid has become a subject of discussion in Sierra Leone.

The late rap star preached violence, rape and female-bashing, and was reportedly a “gang-banger”, who engaged in gun shootings and other forms of violent exploits, on the streets of California in the United States.

“The rebels are sending the message that violence and destruction are key objectives of their rebellion,” says John Kanu, political analyst in the capital Freetown.

The raid has prompted the people of Kukuna to embark on an anti- Tupac T-shirt campaign. Anyone sporting the T-shirt is branded a rebel and thus subjected to interrogation or some form of punishment.

This is not the first time that music icons have remotely entered the Sierra Leonean conflict.

In the early days of the war, people wearing T-shirts, bearing the late Jamaican reggae idol Bob Marley’s portrait, which were popular with the rebels, were detained or lynched in combat zones.

The government has appealed to Kukuna residents — estimated to be about 50,000 — not take the law into their hands. According to the government, the T-shirts have nothing to do with Sierra Leone’s conflict as they can be bought on the market by anybody.

“People can wear the T-shirt anywhere, but not in Kukuna,” says a farmer from the town. “We know in Kukuna that Tupac T- shirts are the rebels new uniform; we saw it on them”.

“Besides, the T-shirts remind us of the cold-blooded massacres carried out by the rebels in our town, so we’re taking no chances,” he says.

The T-shirt sells for 3 US Dollars and is available in all the major cities of the country.

A Sierra Leonean military official says combat uniform is virtually beyond the reach of the rebels. “A military combat uniform costs more than 10 US Dollars and is not easily accessible to the rag-tag rebels, so they go for cheaper stuffs.”

“In any case, dressing in Tupac’s T-shirts perhaps reinforces the rebels love for violence because Tupac (the rapper) is no good role model, anyway,” he says.

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