Foday Sankoh (17 October 1937 – 29 July 2003) was a Sierra Leonean warlord who founded the Revolutionary United Front, the primary antagonistic faction of the Sierra Leone Civil War that was supported by Liberian President Charles Taylor.
Foday Sankoh was born on 17 October 1937, in the remote village of Masang Mayoso, Tonkolili District in the Northern part of Sierra Leone to an ethnic Temne father and a Loko mother. Sankoh was the son of a farmer.
Sankoh attended primary and secondary school in Magburaka, Tonkolili District and took on a number of jobs in Magburaka before he joined the Sierra Leone army in 1956. He undertook training in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. In 1971, then a corporal in the Sierra Leone army, he was cashiered from the army's signal corps and imprisoned for seven years at the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown for taking part in a mutiny.
On his release he worked as an itinerant photographer in the south and east of Sierra Leone, eventually coming in contact with young radicals.
Sankoh and confederates Rashid Mansaray and Abu Kanu solicited support for an armed uprising to oust the APC government. They then traveled to Liberia, where they reportedly continued recruiting and served with Charles G. Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
The RUF was founded by Sankoh in 1991 and was supplimented by Liberian special forces troops supplied by Taylor, and launched its first attack in villages in Kailahun District in the diamond-rich Eastern Province of Sierra Leone.
The RUF became notorious for brutal practices such as mass rapes and amputations during the civil war. Sankoh personally ordered many operations, including one called "Operation Pay Yourself" that encouraged troops to loot anything they could find. After complaining about such tactics, Kanu and Mansaray were summarily executed.
In March 1997, Sankoh fled to Nigeria, where he was put under house arrest and then imprisoned. From this time until Sankoh's release in 1999, Sam Bockarie performed the task of director of military operations of the RUF. During the ten-year war, Sankoh broke several promises to stop fighting, including the Abidjan Peace Accord and the Lomé Peace Accord signed in 1999. Eventually the United Kingdom and ECOMOG intervened with their own small, but professional, military forces, and the RUF was eventually crushed.
Sankoh himself was arrested on May 17, 2000 and was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a United Nations-supported tribunal, on 17 counts for various war crimes, including use of child soldiers, and crimes against humanity, including extermination, enslavement, rape and sexual slavery. Before he could be formally convicted, however, he passed away due to complications from a stroke on July 29, 2003.