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Online Exclusive: Movie Review: Empire in Africa

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Sierra Leone has some of the richest exports of any country, including diamonds, iron and bauxite, and yet is considered by the United Nations to be the poorest nation in the world. This is largely due to the exploitation of Sierra Leone's resources by foreign interests sending all profits abroad, leaving the small African nation to starve. The conflict, and the suffering it subsequently inflicted, was largely caused by the hands of a government more interested in the foreign influence from business than the well being of their populace. The actions of the government led to the rise of several rebel groups who fought for the control and redistribution of wealth and resources in the country, leading to one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history. It's this Sierra Leone conflict that's the main topic of the documentary The Empire of Africa.

Unlike the recent Hollywood depiction seen in Blood Diamond, The Empire in Africa doesn't gloss over the facts, displaying an extremely real, brutal depiction of the massacres taking place. The images contained in Empire are often extremely disturbing and sometimes go beyond what's needed to demonstrate these horrors. During the conflict, common punishment included dismemberment by machete and other gruesome instruments. Director Phillipe Diaz goes out of his way to show the many victims, and the unjustified wounds they endured for supporting the rebels, subverting the government, or visa versa, depending on where they were at the time. Where the film sometimes oversteps is in the display of the torture of innocents, including children, and the graphic depiction of the murder of obviously unarmed citizens. Though it could be defended as an unabashed portrayal of the atrocities, it comes off as exploitative at times.

On July 7, 1999, a peace treaty was signed between the government and the rebel factions, an event which marks the beginning of the film. Showing the many human faces of this conflict, the filmmakers begin with a series of interviews to let the people who were there tell the story. Ranging from former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, to leaders and spokespeople from the Revolutionary United Front, the rebel factions involved in the conflict, the filmmakers certainly couldn't be accused of partisanism. The Empire of Africa unflinchingly depicts the horrors of the civil war, the political exposition for the comflict, and the unreasonable influence that the international business community had on the conflict.

This conflict is depicted in a raw, exposed way. Graphic depictions of burnt bodies, disembodied limbs and starving children are common. The Empire in Africa is a stark, stirring documentary that brings the conflict of Sierra Leone to the international audience that caused it. In closing, the film points out that as of May 2005 the country of Sierra Leone was still led by the same president from the horrible 10 year conflict, and with their natural resources being controlled by outside sources, Sierra Leone is still the poorest country in the world.

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