Sierra Leone's 350-mi (560-km) Atlantic coastline is made up of a belt (average width 30 mi/50 km) of low-lying mangrove swamps, except for the mountainous Sierra Leone Peninsula (on which Freetown is situated). The coastline is broken by numerous estuaries and has some wide, sandy beaches. Behind the coastal belt is a wooded plateau (average elevation: 1,000 ft/300 m). The eastern half of the country is mostly mountainous and includes Bintimane Peak, Sierra Leone's loftiest point (6,390 ft/1,948 m), located near the Guinea border. Several rivers, including the Great Scarcies (which makes up a section of the boundary with Guinea) and the Mano (which forms part of the border with Liberia), flow through the country to the Atlantic. The headwaters of the Niger River are situated in the mountains of the northeast. In addition to the capital, other cities include Bo, Kenema, and Makeni.
The two main ethnic groups are the Mende, who speak a Mande language and live in the central and southern parts of the country, and the Temne, who speak a W Atlantic language and live in the north. There are also Creoles or Krios, descendants of freed slaves from North America, the West Indies, and other parts of W Africa. The population also contains small numbers of South Asians and Lebanese, who play a major role in the nation's commerce. English is the country's official language and Krio, a mixture of several African languages and English, is the lingua franca. About 60% of the population is Muslim, 30% follows traditional religious beliefs, and 10% is Christian.
Sierra Leone's economy is predominantly agricultural, with about half of its workers engaged in subsistence farming. The principal food crops are rice, cassava, corn, millet, and peanuts. The leading cash crops, most of which are exported, are coffee, cocoa, palm kernels, and palm oil. Poultry, cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats are raised. The fishing industry is also important.
The country has an important mining industry, which is largely controlled by foreign companies. The main minerals extracted are diamonds (the country's major source of hard currency), iron ore, gold, bauxite, and rutile (titanium ore). However, the mining industry, like other areas of the economy, was severely affected by civil strife. The country's few manufactures include refined petroleum and basic consumer goods. There is commercial ship repairing. Sierra Leone has limited rail and highway networks, which mostly serve the central and western parts of the country. Freetown has excellent port facilities; smaller ports are located at Bonthe (on Sherbro Island) and Pepel (near Freetown).
The cost of Sierra Leone's imports is considerably higher than its earnings from exports. The principal imports are foodstuffs, machinery, transportation equipment, fuels, and chemicals; the chief exports are diamonds and other minerals, cocoa, coffee, and fish. Diamond smuggling has been a problem since the 1960s, and during the civil war much of the diamond-mining area fell into the hands of rebel groups. Sierra Leone's leading trade partners are Belgium, Germany, the United States, and Côte d'Ivoire.
Sierra Leone is governed under the constitution of 1991 as amended. The executive branch is headed by the president, who is both head of state and head of government. The president is popularly elected for a five-year term and may serve for two terms The unicameral Parliament has 124 members; 112 are popularly elected and 12 are paramount chiefs who are chosen in separate elections. All members serve five-year terms. Administratively, Sierra Leone is divided into 3 provinces and one area.
The Temne were living along the northern coast of present-day Sierra Leone when the first Portuguese navigators reached the region in 1460. The Portuguese landed on the Sierra Leone Peninsula, naming it Serra Lyoa [lion mountains] after the mountains located there. Beginning c.1500, European traders stopped regularly on the peninsula, exchanging cloth and metal goods for ivory, timber, and small numbers of slaves. Beginning in the mid-16th cent. Mande-speaking people migrated into Sierra Leone from present-day Liberia, and they eventually established the states of Bullom, Loko, Boure, and Sherbro. In the early 17th cent. British traders became increasingly active along the Sierra Leone coast. In the early 18th cent. Fulani and Mande-speaking persons from the Fouta Djallon region of present-day Guinea converted numerous Temne of N Sierra Leone to Islam. Sierra Leone was a minor source of slaves for the transatlantic slave trade during the 17th and 18th cent.
Following the American Revolutionary War (1775-83) attempts were made to resettle freed slaves who had sided with Great Britain in Africa. In 1787, 400 persons (including 330 blacks and 70 white prostitutes) arrived at the Sierra Leone Peninsula, bought land from local Temne leaders, and established the Province of Freedom near present-day Freetown. The settlement did not fare well, and most of the inhabitants died of disease in the first year. A renewed attempt at settlement was made in 1792, when about 1,100 freed slaves under the leadership of the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson landed on the peninsula and founded Freetown. They were joined by about 500 free blacks from Jamaica in 1800. The new colony was controlled by the Sierra Leone Company, which forcefully held off the Temne while the settlers supported themselves by farming.
In 1807, Great Britain outlawed the slave trade, and in early 1808 the British government took over Freetown from the financially troubled company, using it as a naval base for antislavery patrols. Between 1808 and 1864 approximately 50,000 liberated slaves settled at Freetown. Protestant missionaries were active there, and in 1827 they founded Fourah Bay College (now part of the Univ. of Sierra Leone), where Africans were educated. Most of the freedmen and their descendants, known as Creoles or Krios, were Christians. They became active as missionaries, traders, and civil servants along the Sierra Leone coast and on Sherbro Island as well as in other regions of coastal W Africa, especially among the Yoruba of present-day SW Nigeria.The Colonial Era
During the periods 1821 to 1827, 1843 to 1850, and 1866 to 1874, British holdings on the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) were placed under the governor of Sierra Leone. In 1863 an advisory legislative council was established in Sierra Leone. The British were reluctant to assume added responsibility by increasing the size of the colony, but in 1896 the interior was proclaimed a British protectorate, mainly in order to forestall French ambitions in the region, and the Colony and Protectorate of Sierra Leone was established.
The protectorate was ruled "indirectly" (i.e., through the rulers of the numerous small states, rather than by creating an entirely new administrative structure) and a hut tax was imposed in 1898 to pay for administrative costs. The Africans protested the tax in a war (1898) led in the north by Bai Bureh and in the south by the Poro secret society; the British quickly emerged victorious and there were no further major armed protests. Under the British, little economic development was undertaken in the protectorate until the 1950s, although a railroad was built and the production for export of palm products and peanuts was encouraged.
After World War II, Africans were given more political responsibility, and educational opportunities were enlarged. In the economic sphere, mining (especially of diamonds and iron ore) increased greatly. The Creoles of the colony, who had been largely excluded from higher government posts in favor of the British, sought a larger voice in the affairs of Sierra Leone. A constitution adopted in 1951 gave additional power to Africans. However, the Creoles were a small minority in the combined colony and protectorate, and in the elections of 1951 the protectorate-based Sierra Leone Peoples party (SLPP), led by Dr. Milton Margai (a Mende), emerged victorious.An Independent Nation
On Apr. 27, 1961, Sierra Leone became independent, with Margai as prime minister. He died in 1964 and was succeeded by his brother, Albert M. Margai. Following the 1967 general elections, Siaka Stevens of the All Peoples Congress party (APC), a Temne-based party, was appointed prime minister by the governor-general (a Sierra Leonian who represented the British monarch). However, a military coup led by Brig. David Lansana in support of Margai ousted Stevens a few minutes after he took the oath of office.
The Lansana government itself was soon toppled and replaced by a National Reformation Council (NRC) headed by Col. Andrew Juxom-Smith. In 1968, an army revolt overthrew the NRC and returned the nation to parliamentary government, with Stevens as prime minister. The following years were marked by considerable unrest, caused by ethnic and army disaffection with the central government. After an attempted coup in 1971, parliament declared Sierra Leone to be a republic, with Stevens as president. Guinean troops requested by Stevens to support his government were in the country from 1971 to 1973. Stevens's APC swept the 1973 parliamentary elections, creating a de facto one-party state; a 1978 referendum made the APC the only legal party. Maj. Gen. Joseph Saidu Momoh succeeded Stevens as president in 1986.
In 1991 a referendum was passed, providing for a new constitution and multiparty democracy. However, in 1992, Momoh was overthrown in a military coup. Capt. Valentine Strasser soon became president, but he was ousted in Jan., 1996, and replaced by Brig. Gen. Julius Maada Bio. Promises of a return to civilian rule were fulfilled by Bio, who handed power over to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, of the Sierra Leone People's party, after the conclusion of elections in early 1996. Kabbah's government reached a cease-fire in the war with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which had launched its first attacks in 1991; rebel terror attacks continued, however, apparently aided by Liberia.
Kabbah was overthrown in May, 1997, by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a military junta headed by Lt. Col. Johnny Paul Koroma. The junta soon invited the RUF to participate in a new government. The United Nations imposed sanctions against the military government in Oct., 1997, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent in forces led by Nigeria. The rebels were subdued in Feb., 1998, and President Kabbah was returned to office in March.
Fighting continued, however, in many parts of the country, with reports of widespread atrocities. Over 6,000 people were killed in fighting in the Freetown area in Jan., 1999, alone. In March, Nigeria announced it would withdraw its forces by May. A peace accord was signed in July between President Kabbah and Foday Sankoh of the RUF. The agreement granted the rebels seats in a new government and all forces a general amnesty from prosecution. The government had largely ceased functioning effectively, however, and at least half of its territory remained under rebel control.
In October, the United Nations agreed to send peacekeepers to help restore order and disarm the rebels. The first of the 6,000-member force began arriving in December, and the Security Council voted in Feb., 2000, to increase the UN force to 11,000 (and subsequently to 13,000). In May, when nearly all Nigerian forces had left and UN forces were attempting to disarm the RUF in E Sierra Leone, Sankoh's forces clashed with the UN troops, and some 500 peacekeepers were taken hostage as the peace accord effectively collapsed.
An 800-member British force entered the country to secure W Freetown and evacuate Europeans; some also acted in support of the forces (including Koroma's AFRC group) fighting the RUF. After Sankoh was captured in Freetown, the hostages were gradually released by the RUF, but clashes between the UN forces and the RUF continued, and in July the West Side Boys (part of the AFRC) clashed with the peacekeepers. In the same month the UN Security Council placed a ban on the sale of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone in an attempt to undermine the funding of the RUF. In late August, Issa Sesay became head of the RUF; also, British troops training the Sierra Leone army were taken hostage by the West Side Boys, but were freed by a British raid in September.
General elections scheduled for early 2001 were postponed in Feb., 2001, due to the insecurity caused by the civil war. In May, 2001, sanctions were imposed on Liberia because of its support for the rebels, and UN peacekeepers began to make headway in disarming the various factions. Although disarmament of rebel and progovernment militias proceeded slowly and fighting continued to occur, by Jan., 2002, most of the estimated 45,000 fighters had surrendered their weapons. In a ceremony that month, government and rebel leaders declared the civil war to have ended; an estimated 50,000 persons died in the conflict. Subsequently, a tribunal established (2002-9) by Sierra Leone and the United Nations tried and convicted Issa Sesay and two other surviving leaders of the RUF of war crimes.
Elections were finally held in May, 2002. President Kabbah was reelected, and his Sierra Leone People's party won a majority of the parliamentary seats. In June, 2003, the UN ban on the sale of Sierra Leone diamonds expired and was not renewed. The UN disarmament and rehabilitation program for Sierra Leone's fighters was completed in Feb., 2004, by which time more 70,000 former combatants had been helped.
UN forces returned primary responsibility for security in the area around the capital to Sierra Leone's police and armed forces in Sept., 2004; it was the last part of the country to be turned over. Some UN peacekeepers remained to assist the Sierra Leone government until the end of 2005. Parliamentary elections in Aug., 2007, gave a majority of the seats to opposition All People's Congress (APC), and after a runoff, Ernest Bai Koroma, of the APC, was elected president.
See R. G. Saylor, The Economic System of Sierra Leone (1967); J. Cartwright, Politics in Sierra Leone, 1947-67 (1970); A. B. Sibthorpe, The History of Sierra Leone (4th ed. 1971); C. P. Foray, Historical Dictionary of Sierra Leone (1977); G. O. Roberts, The Anguish of Third World Independence: The Sierra Leone Experience (1982).
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Early inhabitants of Sierra Leone included the Sherbro, Temne and Limba peoples, and later the Mende, who knew the country as Romarong, and the Kono who settled in the East of the country. In 1462, it was visited by the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra, who gave it its name Serra de Leão, meaning 'Lion Mountains'. Sierra Leone became an important centre of the transatlantic slave trade, until 1787 when Freetown was founded by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for formerly enslaved African American and West Indians. In 1808, Freetown became a British Crown Colony, and in 1896, the interior of the country became a British Protectorate; in 1961, the two combined and gained independence. Over two decades of government neglect of the interior followed by the spilling over of the Liberian conflict into its borders eventually led to the Sierra Leone Civil War, which began in 1991 and was resolved in 2000 after the United Nations led by Nigeria defeated the rebel forces and restored the civilian government elected in 1998 to Freetown. Since then, almost 72,500 former combatants have been disarmed and the country has reestablished a functioning democracy. The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up in 2002 to deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since 1996.
Archaeological finds show that Sierra Leone has been inhabited continuously for at least 2,500 years, populated by successive movements from other parts of Africa. The use of iron was introduced to Sierra Leone by the 9th century, and by AD 1000 agriculture was being practiced by coastal tribes. Sierra Leone's dense tropical rainforest largely protected it from the influence of any precolonial African empires and from further Islamic colonization, which were unable to penetrate through it until the 18th century.
European contacts with Sierra Leone were among the first in West Africa. In 1462, Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra mapped the hills surrounding what is now Freetown Harbour, naming shaped formation Serra de Leão (Portuguese for Lion Mountains). Its Italian rendering is Sierra Leone, which became the country's name. Soon after Portuguese traders arrived at the harbour and by 1495 a fort that acted as a trading post had been built. The Portuguese were joined by the Dutch and French; all of them using Sierra Leone as a trading point for slaves. In 1562 the English joined the trade in slaves when Sir John Hawkins bought 300 slaves.
In 1787, a plan was implemented to settle some of London's Black Poor in Sierra Leone in what was called the "Province of Freedom". A number of Black Poor and White women arrived off the coast of Sierra Leone on May 15 1787, accompanied by some English tradesmen. This was organized by the St. George's Bay Company, composed of British philanthropists who preferred it as a solution to continuing to financially support them in London. Many of the Black poor were African Americans,who had been promised their freedom for joining the British Army during the American Revolution, but also included other African and Asian inhabitants of London.
Disease and hostility from the indigenous people nearly eliminated the first group of colonists. Through intervention by Thomas Peters, the Sierra Leone Company was established to relocate another group of former slaves, this time nearly 1,200 Black Nova Scotians, most of whom had escaped slavery in the United States. Given the most barren land in Nova Scotia, many had died from the harsh winters there. They established a settlement at Freetown in 1792 led by Peters. It was joined by other groups of freed slaves and became the first Afro-American haven for ex-slaves.
Though the English abolitionist Granville Sharp originally planned Sierra Leone as a utopian community, the directors of the Sierra Leone Company refused to allow the settlers to take freehold of the land. Knowing how Highland Clearances benefited Scottish landlords but not tenants, the settlers revolted in 1799. The revolt was only put down by the arrival of over 500 Jamaican Maroons, who also arrived via Nova Scotia.
Thousands of slaves were returned to or liberated in Freetown. Most chose to remain in Sierra Leone. These returned Africans were from many areas of Africa, but principally the west coast. They joined the previous settlers and together became known as Creole or Krio people. Cut off from their homes and traditions, they assimilated some aspects of British styles of inhabitants and built a flourishing trade of flowers and beads on the West African coast. The lingua franca of the colony was Krio, a creole language rooted in 18th century African American English, which quickly spread across the region as a common language of trade and Christian proselytizing. British and American abolitionist movements envisioned Freetown as embodying the possibilities of a post-slave trade Africa.
In the early 20th century, Freetown served as the residence of the British governor who also ruled the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and the Gambia settlements. Sierra Leone also served as the educational centre of British West Africa. Fourah Bay College, established in 1827, rapidly became a magnet for English-speaking Africans on the West Coast. For more than a century, it was the only European-style university in western Sub-Saharan Africa.
During Sierra Leone's colonial history, indigenous people mounted several unsuccessful revolts against British rule and Krio domination. The most notable was the Hut Tax war of 1898. Its first leader was Bai Bureh, a Temne chief who refused to recognize the British-imposed tax on "huts" (dwellings). The tax was generally regarded by the native chiefs as an attack on their sovereignty. After the British issued a warrant to arrest Bai Bureh alleging that he had refused to pay taxes, he brought fighters from several Temne villages under his command, and from Limba, Loko, Soso, Kissi, and Mandinka villages. Bureh's fighters had the advantage over the vastly more powerful British for several months of the war. Hundreds of British troops and hundreds of Bureh's fighters were killed. Bai Bureh was finally captured on November 11, 1898 and sent into exile in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), while 96 of his comrades were hanged by the British.
The defeat of the natives in the Hut Tax war ended large scale organised resistance to colonialism; however resistance continued throughout the colonial period in the form of intermittent rioting and chaotic labour disturbances. Riots in 1955 and 1956 involved "many tens of thousands" of natives in the protectorate.
One notable event in 1935 was the granting of a monopoly on mineral mining to the Sierra Leone Selection Trust run by De Beers, which was scheduled to last 99 years. The 1951 constitution provided a framework for decolonization, granting limited self-government from 1953, when Sir Milton Margai became Chief Minister and Prime Minister in 1958 after further constitutional changes. After the completion of constitutional talks in London in 1960 independence came on the 27 April 1961 the date of the start of the Hut Tax War of 1898. Sierra Leone opted for a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations.
On April 27, 1961, Sir Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to Independence from the United Kingdom. The country's first Prime Minister became Milton Margai, the veteran medical doctor who had been appointed Chief Minister after the Colonial Legislative Council and the Protectorate Assembly were unified in 1951. His political party, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), won by large margins in the nation's first general election under universal adult suffrage in May 1962. It also won majority of seat in parliament. Upon his death in 1964, his brother, Sir Albert Margai succeeded him as prime minister. Sir Albert was highly criticized during his three-year rule as prime minister. He was accused of corruption and of a policy of affirmative action in favour of the Mende ethnic group. He also tried to establish a one-party state but met fierce resistance from the opposition All People's Congress (APC) and he ultimately abandoned the idea. Under the SLPP Administration of Albert Margai, The Mende increased their influence both in the civil service and the army. Most of the top military and government positions were held by members of the Mende ethnic group. As a result, benefits accrued to Mende-dominated areas in the south-east of the country.
In closely contested general elections in March 1967, Sierra Leone Governor General Henry Josiah Lightfoot Boston declared the new prime minister to be Siaka Stevens, candidate of the All People's Congress (APC) and Mayor of Freetown. Hours after taking office, Stevens was ousted in a bloodless coup led by Brigadier David Lansana, the Commander of the Armed Forces, on grounds that the determination of office should await the election of the tribal representatives to the house. Stevens was placed under house arrest and martial law was declared. But a group of senior military officers overrode this action by seizing control of the government on March 23, 1968, arresting Lansana and suspending the constitution. The group constituted itself as the National Reformation Council (NRC) with Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith as its chairman. In April 1968, the NRC was overthrown by a group of military officers who called themselves the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement (ACRM), led by Brigadier John Amadu Bangura. The ACRM imprisoned senior NRC members, restored the constitution and reinstated Stevens as Prime Minister. Under the APC regimes headed by Stevens, The Limba retained strong influence in the government and civil service. During the 1970s, the other major ethnic group, the Temne joined the Mende in opposition to the APC government. But after Stevens appointed an ethnic Temne, Sorie Ibrahim Koroma as vice-president in 1978, the Temne appeared to have emerged as the second most influential group in the government, after the Limba.
The return to civilian rule led to by-elections beginning in fall 1968 and the appointment of an all-APC cabinet. Calm was not completely restored. In November 1968, Stevens declared a state of emergency after provincial disturbances. In March 1971 the government survived an unsuccessful military coup and in July 1974 it uncovered an alleged military coup plot. The leaders of both plots were tried and executed. In 1977, student demonstrations against the government disrupted Sierra Leone politics.
On April 19, 1971, parliament declared Sierra Leone a Republic. Siaka Stevens, then prime minister, became the nation's first president. Guinean troops requested by Stevens to support his government were in the country from 1971 to 1973. An alleged plot to overthrow president Stevens failed in 1974, its leaders were executed, and in March 1976 he was elected without opposition for a second five-year term as president. In the national parliamentary election of May 1977, the APC won 74 seats and the main opposition, the SLPP won 15. The SLPP, who condemned the election, alleged widespread vote-rigging and voter intimidation. In 1978, parliament approved a new constitution making the country a one-party state. The 1978 referendum made the APC the only legal political party in Sierra Leone.
Siaka Stevens retired in November, 1985 after being President for 14 years, but continued to be chairman of the APC. The APC named a new presidential candidate to succeed Stevens. He was Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, the commander of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, and Stevens' own choice to succeed him. like Stevens, Momoh was also a member of the minority Limba ethnic group. Joseph Saidu Momoh was elected President in a one-party referendum on November 28, 1985. An inauguration was held in January 1986, and a one party parliamentary elections beween APC members were held in May, 1986.
After an alleged attempt to overthrow President Momoh in March 1987, more than 60 senior government officials were arrested, including Vice-President Francis Minah, who was removed from office, convicted for plotting the coup, and executed by hanging in 1989 along with 5 others.
Civil war broke out, mainly due to government corruption and mismanagement of diamond resources. Besides the internal ripeness, the brutal civil war going on in neighbouring Liberia played an undeniable role for the outbreak of fighting in Sierra Leone. Charles Taylor - then leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia -reportedly helped form the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under the command of former Sierra Leonean army corporal Foday Sankoh. In return, Taylor received diamonds from Sierra Leone. The RUF, led by Sankoh and backed by Taylor, launched its first attack in villages in Kailahun District in eastern Sierra Leone from Liberia on March 23, 1991. The government of Sierra Leone, overwhelmed by a crumbling economy and corruption, was unable to put up significant resistance. Within a month of entering Sierra Leone from Liberia, the RUF controlled much of the Eastern Province. Forced recruitment of child soldiers was also an early feature of the rebel strategy.
On April 29, 1992, a group of six young soldiers in the Sierra Leonean army, Apparently frustrated by the government's failure to deal with rebels, the young soldiers launched a military coup which sent president Momoh into exile in Guinea. They were second lieutenant Solomon A.J. Musa, Colonel Tom Nyuma, Brigadier-General, Julius Maada Bio, Colonel Yahya Kanu, Captain Samuel Komba Kambo, Lieutenant Colonel Komba Mondeh and were lead by a 25 year old captain Valentine Strasser. The soldiers established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) with Yahya Kanu as its chairman. But Kanu was assassinated by fellow NPRC members, who accused him of trying to negotiate with the toppled APC administration. On May 4, 1992, 25 year old Valentine Strasser took over as chairman of the NPRC and Head of State of Sierra Leone. S.A.J Musa, one of the leaders of the coup and a close friend of Strasser took over as Vice-Chairman of the NPRC. Many Sierra Leoneans nationwide rushed into the streets to welcome the NPRC Administration from the 23 year dictatorial APC regime, which was perceived as corrupt. The NPRC junta immediately suspended the 1991 Constitution, declared a state of emergency, limited freedom of speech, and freedom of the press and enacted a rule-by-decree policy. The army and police officers were granted unlimited powers of administrative detention without charge or trial, and challenges against such detentions in court were precluded.
The NPRC proved to be nearly as ineffectual as the Momoh-led APC government in repelling the RUF. More and more of the country fell to RUF fighters, and by 1995 they held much of the diamond-rich Eastern Province and were at the edge of Freetown. In response, the NPRC hired several hundred mercenaries from the private firm Executive Outcomes. Within a month they had driven RUF fighters back to enclaves along Sierra Leone’s borders. During this time corruption had erupted within senior NPRC members. On July 5, Strasser dismissed his childhood friend Musa as deputy charman of the NPRC and appointed Julius Maada Bio to succeed him. Some senior NPRC members, including Bio, Nyuma and Mondeh, were unhappy with Strasser's handling of the peace process. In January 1996, after nearly four years in power, Strasser was ousted in a coup by fellow NPRC members led by his deputy Maada Bio. Bio reinstated the Constitution and called for general elections. In the second round of presidential elections in early 1996, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, candidate of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) defeated John Karefa-Smart of the United National People's Party (UNPP) and a member of the minority Sherbro ethnic group. Bio fulfilled promises of a return to civilian rule, and handed power to Kabbah, who was from the Mende-dominated Kailahun District in the south-east of Sierra Leone and a member of the minority Mandingo ethnic group. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's SLPP party also won majority of the seats in Parliament.
In 1996, Major General Johnny Paul Koroma was allegedly involved in an attempt to overthrow the government of president Kabbah. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned at Freetown's Pademba Road Prison. But some top rank Army officers were unhappy with this decision, and on May 25, 1997, a group of soldiers who called themselves the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) overthrew Kabbah. The AFRC released Koroma from prison and installed him as their chairman and Head of State of the country. Koroma suspended the constitution, banned demonstrations, shut down all private radio stations in the country and invited the RUF to join his government. After 10 months in office, the junta was ousted by the Nigeria-led ECOMOG forces, and the democratically elected government of president Kabbah was reinstated in March 1998. Hundreds of civilians who had been accused of helping the AFRC government were illegally detained. Courts-martial were held for soldiers accused of assisting the AFRC government. 24 of these were found guilty and were executed without appeal in October 1998. On January 6, 1999, AFRC made another unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government, causing many deaths and much destruction of property in and around Freetown.
In October, the United Nations agreed to send peacekeepers to help restore order and disarm the rebels. The first of the 6,000-member force began arriving in December, and the UN Security Council voted in February 2000 to increase the force to 11,000, and later to 13,000. But in May, when nearly all Nigerian forces had left and UN forces were trying to disarm the RUF in eastern Sierra Leone, Sankoh's forces clashed with the UN troops, and some 500 peacekeepers were taken hostage as the peace accord effectively collapsed. The hostage crisis resulted in more fighting between the RUF and the government.
Between 1991 and 2001, about 50,000 people were killed in Sierra Leone's civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes, and many became refugees in Guinea and Liberia. In 2001, UN forces moved into rebel-held areas and began to disarm rebel soldiers. By January 2002, the war was declared over. In May, Kabbah was reelected president. By 2004, the disarmament process was complete. Also in 2004, a UN-backed war crimes court began holding trials of senior leaders from both sides of the war. In December 2005, UN peacekeeping forces pulled out of Sierra Leone.
In August 2007, Sierra Leone held presidential and parliamentary elections. However, no presidential candidate won a majority of votes. A runoff election was held in September, and Ernest Bai Koroma was elected president.
Sierra Leone is located on the west coast of Africa, between the 7th and 10th parallels north of the equator. Sierra Leone is bordered by Guinea to the north and northeast, Liberia to the south and southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The country has a total area of 71,740 square kilometers (27,699 square miles), divided into a land area of 71,620 square kilometers and water of 120 square kilometers. There are country has four distinct geographical regions. In eastern Sierra Leone is an interior region of large plateaus interspersed with high mountains, where Mount Bintumani reaches 1,948 meters (6,390 ft) the highest point in the country. The upper part of the drainage basin of the Moa River is located in the south of the region. In the central part of the country is region of lowland plains, containing forests, bush and farmland, that occupy about 43% of Sierra Leone's land area. Starting in the west, Sierra Leone has some 400 kilometres (250 miles) of coastline, giving it both bountiful marine resources and attractive tourist potential. This is followed by low-lying mangrove swamps, rain-forested plains and farmland. The national capital Freetown sits on a coastal peninsula, situated next to the Sierra Leone Harbor, the world's third largest natural harbour. This prime location historically made Sierra Leone the centre of trade and colonial administration in the region.
The climate is tropical, with two seasons determining the agricultural cycle: the rainy season from May to November, and a dry season from December to May, which includes harmattan, when cool, dry winds blow in off the Sahara Desert and the night-time temperature can be as low as 16 °C (60.8 °F). The average temperature is 26 °C (78.8 °F) and varies from around 26 °C (80 °F) to 36 °C (90 °F) during the year.
Until 2002, Sierra Leone lacked a forest management system due to a brutal civil war that caused tens of thousands of deaths. Deforestation rates have increased 7.3% since the end of the civil war. On paper, 55 protected areas covered 4.5% of Sierra Leone as of 2003. The country has 2,090 known species of higher plants, 147 mammals, 626 birds, 67 reptiles, 35 amphibians, and 99 fish species.
In June 2005, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Bird Life International agreed to support a conservation-sustainable development project in the Gola Forest in southeastern Sierra Leone, the most important surviving fragment of rain forest in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. The current system of government in Sierra Leone, established under the 1991 Constitution, is modeled on the following structure of government: the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary
Within the confines of the 1991 Constitution, supreme legislative powers are vested in Parliament, which is the law making body of the nation. Supreme executive authority rests in the president and members of his cabinet and judicial power with the judiciary of which the Chief Justice is head.
The president is the head of state, the head of government and the commander-in-chief of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Police. The president appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers, which must be approved by the Parliament. The president is elected by popular vote to a maximum of two five-year terms.
To be elected president, a candidate must gain at least 55% of the vote. If no candidate gets 55%, there is to be a second-round runoff between the top two candidates with the most votes in the first round. Presidential candidates must be Sierra Leonean citizens by birth; must be at least 40 years old; must be able to speak, read and write the English language; must be a member of a political party and must not have any criminal conviction. The current president of Sierra Leone is Ernest Bai Koroma, who was sworn in on September 17, 2007, shortly after being declared the winner of a tense run-off election over the incumbent Vice president, Solomon Berewa of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).
Next to the president is the Vice president, who is the second-highest ranking government official in the executive branch of the Sierra Leone Government. As designated by the Sierra Leone Constitution, the vice president is to become the new president of Sierra Leone upon the death, resignation, or removal of the president by parliament and to assume the Presidency temporarily while the president is abroad, or otherwise temporarily unable to fulfill his or her duties. The vice president is elected jointly with the president as his or her running mate. To be elected as Vice president, a candidate must be a Sierra Leonean citizen by birth, must be at least 40 years old, must be able to speak, read and write English, must be a member of a political party, and must not have any criminal conviction. The current Sierra Leone's vice president is Samuel Sam-Sumana, who was sworn in on September 17, 2007.
The Parliament of Sierra Leone is unicameral, with 124 seats. Each of the country's fourteen districts is represented in parliament. 112 members are elected concurrently with the presidential elections; the other 12 seats are filled by paramount chiefs from each of the country's 12 administrative districts. All members serve five-year terms. The most recent parliamentary elections were held on August 11, 2007. The All People's Congress (APC), won 59 of 112 parliamentary seats; the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) won 43; and the People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) won 10. To be qualified as Member of Parliament, the person must be a citizen of Sierra Leone, must be at least 21 years old, must be able to speak, read and write the English language with a degree of proficiency to enable him to actively take part in proceedings in Parliament; and must not have any criminal conviction
Since independence in 1961, Sierra Leone's politics has been dominated by two major political parties, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), and the ruling All People's Congress (APC), although other minor political parties have also existed but with no significant supports.
The judicial power of Sierra Leone is vested in the judiciary, headed by the Chief Justice and comprising the Supreme Court, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the inferior courts, which comprise the Magistrates courts and the Local courts. The Magistrates Courts exist in each district. Local courts administer customary law. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country and its ruling therefore cannot be appealed. The president appoints and parliament approves Justices for the three courts. The current Sierra Leone's Chief Justice is Umu Hawa Tejan Jalloh, who was appointed by President Ernest Bai Koroma and took office on January 25, 2008 upon his confirmation by parliament. She is the first woman in the history of Sierra Leone to hold such position
The government maintains 16 embassies and high commissioners across the world including in Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, China, Iran, Belgium, Germany, United Kingdom, Russia, United Nations, and the United States.
The Republic of Sierra Leone is composed of three provinces: the Northern Province, Southern province and the Eastern province and one other region called the Western Area. The provinces are further divided into 12 districts, and the districts are further divided into chiefdoms, except for the Western Area.
|District||Area km²||Province||Population (2004 census)||Population (2008 estimates)|
|Bombali District||Makeni||7,985||Northern Province||408,390||420,561|
|Port Loko District||Port Loko||5,719||453,746||477,978|
|Kenema District||Kenema||6,053||Eastern Province||497,948||515,461|
|Kono District||Koidu Town||5,641||335,401|
|Bo District||Bo||5,473.6||Southern Province||463,668||515,945|
|Districts||Area km²||Region||Population (2004 census)|
|Western Area Urban District||Freetown||82||Western Area||772,873|
|Western Area Rural District||Freetown||475||Western Area||174,249|
|City||2004 census||Current population estimate||Image|
Sierra Leone is slowly emerging from a protracted civil war and is showing signs of a successful transition. Investor and consumer confidence continue to rise, adding impetus to the country’s economic recovery. There is greater freedom of movement and the successful re-habitation and resettlement of residential areas. In 2001, Sierra Leone attracted US$4 million in foreign direct investment.
Rich in minerals, Sierra Leone has relied on mining, especially diamonds, for its economic base. It is perhaps best known for its blood diamonds that are mined and sold for high prices. In the 1970s and early 1980s, economic growth rate slowed because of a decline in the mining sector and increasing corruption among government officials. By the 1990s economic activity was declining and economic infrastructure had become seriously degraded. Over the next decade much of the formal economy was destroyed in the country’s civil war. Since the end of hostilities in January 2002, massive infusions of outside assistance have helped Sierra Leone begin to recover. Much of the recovery will depend on the success of the government's efforts to limit corruption by officials, which many feel was the chief cause for the civil war. A key indicator of success will be the effectiveness of government management of its diamond sector.
Mineral exports remain the main foreign currency earner. Sierra Leone is a major producer of gem-quality diamonds. Though rich in diamonds, it has historically struggled to manage their exploitation and export. Annual production of Sierra Leone's diamond estimates range between $250-300 million U.S dollar. Some of that is smuggled, where it is possibly used for money laundering or financing illicit activities. But formal exports have dramatically improved since the civil war. Efforts to improve the management of exports have had some success. In October 2000, a UN-approved certification system for exporting diamonds from the country was put in place and led to a dramatic increase in legal exports. In 2001, the government created a mining community development fund, which returns a portion of diamond export taxes to diamond mining communities. The fund was created to raise local communities' stake in the legal diamond trade.
Sierra Leone has one of the world's largest deposits of rutile, a titanium ore used as paint pigment and welding rod coatings. Sierra Rutile Limited, owned by a consortium of United States and European investors, began commercial mining operations near the city of Bonthe, in the Southern Province, in early 1979. It was then the largest non-petroleum US investment in West Africa. The export of 88,000 tons realized $75 million in export earnings in 1990. In 1990, the company and the government made a new agreement on the terms of the company's concession in Sierra Leone. Rutile and bauxite mining operations were suspended when rebels invaded the mining sites in 1995, but exports resumed in 2005.
About two-thirds of the population engages in subsistence agriculture, which accounts for 52.5% of national income. The government is trying to increase food and cash crop production and upgrade small farmer skills. The government works with several foreign donors to operate integrated rural development and agricultural projects.
Despite its successes and development, the Sierra Leone economy still faces significant challenges. There is high unemployment, particularly among the youth and ex-combatants. Authorities have been slow to implement reforms in the civil service, and the pace of the privatisation programme is also slacking and donors have urged its advancement.
Credit card use is limited in Sierra Leone, though they may be used at some hotels and restaurants. Visitors should check in advance with local managements. Sierra Leone does not have internationally linked automated teller machines (ATM).
The 2008 CIA estimate of Sierra Leone's population is 6,294,774 Freetown, with an estimated population of 1,070,200, is the capital, largest city and the hub of the economy, commercial, educational and cultural centre of the country. Bo is the second city with an estimated population of 269,000. Other cities with a population over 100,000 are Kenema, Koidu Town and Makeni.
Although English is the official language spoken at schools and government administration, Krio (language derived from English and several African languages and native to the Sierra Leone Krio people) is used as lingua franca in virtually all parts of the country. The Krio language is spoken by 97% of the country's population and unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other
According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Sierra Leone had a population of 8,700 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2007. Nearly 20,000 Liberian refugees voluntarily returned to Liberia over the course of 2007. Of the refugees remaining in Sierra Leone, nearly all were Liberian.
The population of Sierra Leone comprises 16 ethnic groups, each with its own language and costume. The two largest are the Mende and Temne, each comprises 30% of the population (about 1,888,432 members each). The Mende predominate in the South-Eastern Provinces; the Temne likewise predominate in the Northern Province. The third largest are the Limba, who represent about 9% of the population (about 566,529 members). Like their close ally the Temne, the Limba live mostly in the Northern Province. The fourth largest are the Kono, they make up about 8% (about 503,581 members) and are primarily found in Kono District, where they form the largest ethnic group. The fifth largest are the Mandingo, they make up 7% of the population (about 465,813 members) and they predominate in Kabala, the capital and largest city of Koinadugu District; they also form the largest ethnic group in Yengema, the second largest town in Kono District. The sixth largest are the Krio (descendants of freed West Indians slaves from the West Indies and freed African American slaves from the United States which landed in Freetown between 1787 and about 1885) make up 5% (about 314,738 members) and they are primarily found in the capital city of Freetown and its surrounding Western Area. The remaining 11% come from small minority ethnic groups: the Fula (about 225,000 members), Kissi (about 189,000 members),Sherbro (about 180,000 members), Kuranko (about 180,000 members), Loko (about 150,000 members), Susu (about 130,000 members), Yalunka (about 45,000 members), Vai (about 25,000 members) and the Sierra Leonean-Lebanese (descendants of Lebanese settlers who settled in Sierra Leone during the late 19th century).
In the past, Sierra Leoneans were noted for their educational achievements, trading activity, entrepreneurial skills, and arts and crafts work, particularly wood carving. Many are part of larger ethnic networks extending into several countries, which link West African states in the area. But the level of education and infrastructure has declined sharply over the last 30 years.
The Sierra Leone constitution provides freedom of religion and the government generally protects this right and does not tolerate its abuse. Unlike many other African countries, the religious and ethnic mix of Sierra Leone rarely cause religious or tribal conflict.
Media in Sierra Leone began with the introduction of the first printing press in Africa at the start of the nineteenth century. A strong journalistic tradition developed with the creation of a number of newspapers. In the 1860s, the country became a journalist hub for Africa, with professionals travelling to the country from across the continent. At the end of the nineteenth century, the industry went into decline, and when radio was introduced in the 1930s, it became the primary communication media in the country. The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) was created by the government in 1934 making it the earliest English language radio broadcaster service in West Africa. The service began broadcasting television in 1963, with coverage extended to all the districts in the country in 1978.
Print media is not widely read in Sierra Leone, especially outside Freetown, partially due to the low levels of literacy in the country. In 2007 there were 15 daily newspapers in the country, as well as those published weekly. Among newspaper readership, young people are likely to read newspapers weekly and older people daily. The majority of newspapers are privately-run and are often critical of the government. The standard of print journalism tends to be low due to lack of training, and people trust the information published in newspapers less than that found on the radio.
Radio is the most-popular and most-trusted media in Sierra Leone, with 85% of people having access to a radio and 72% of people in the country listening to the radio daily. These levels do vary between areas of the country, with the Western Area having the highest levels and Kailahun the lowest. Stations mainly consist of local commercial stations with a limited broadcast range, combined with a few stations with national coverage. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) runs one of the most popular stations in the country, broadcasting programs in a range of languages. Content includes news of UN activities and human rights information, as well as music and news. The UN missions will withdraw in 2008 and the UN Radio's future is uncertain. There is also a government station run by the SBLS that transmits on FM and short-wave. FM relays of BBC World Service, Radio France Internationale and Voice of America are also broadcast.
Outside the capital Freetown television is not watched by a great many people. There are two national, free terrestrial television stations in Sierra Leone, one run by the government SBLS and the other a private station, ABC Television-Africa (ABC). In 2007, a pay-per-view service was also introduced by GTV as part of a pan-African television service. Internet access in Sierra Leone has been sparse but is on the increase, especially since the introduction of wireless services across the country. There are nine Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating in the country. Freetown has a city wide wireless network and Internet cafes and other businesses offering internet access. Problems experienced with access to the Internet include an intermittent electricity supply and a slow connection speed in the country outside Freetown.
The Sierra Leone constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and freedom of the press; however, the government maintains strong control of media, and at times restricts these rights in practice. Some subjects are seen as taboo by society and members of the political elite; imprisonment and violence have been used by the political establishment against journalists. Under legislation enacted in 1980, all newspapers must register with the Ministry of Information and pay sizable registration fees. The Criminal Libel Law, including Seditious Libel Law of 1965, is used to control what is published in the media. In 2006, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah committed to reforming the laws governing the press and media to create a freer system for journalists to work in, but in 2007, Sierra Leone was ranked as having the 121st least-free press in the world, with the press less-free, in comparison to other countries, than in 2006.
Education in Sierra Leone is legally required for all children for six years at primary level (Class P1-P6) and three years in junior secondary education, but a shortage of schools and teachers has made implementation impossible. The Sierra Leone Civil War resulted in the destruction of 1,270 primary schools and in 2001 67 percent of all school-age children were out of school. The situation has improved considerably since then with primary school enrollment doubling between 2001 and 2005 and the reconstruction of many schools since the end of the war. Students at primary schools are usually 6 to 12 years old, and in secondary schools 13 to 18. Primary education is free and compulsory in government-sponsored public schools.
The country has two universities, the University of Sierra Leone, founded as Fourah Bay College in 1827, the oldest university in West Africa, founded in 1827, and Njala University, primarily located in Bo District, which was established as a the Njala Agricultural Experimental Station in 1910 and became a university in 2005. Teacher training colleges and religious seminaries are found in many parts of the country.
The Sierra Leone National Premier League is the top football league, controlled by the Sierra Leone Football Association. The two biggest and most successful football clubs are East End Lions and Mighty Blackpool, but Kallon F.C. has enjoyed contemporary success. Kallon F.C. won the Premier League and the Sierra Leonean FA Cup in 2006, and eliminated 2006 Nigerian Premier League Champions Ocean Boys FC in the 2007 CAF Champions League first qualifying round, but later lost to ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast in the second qualifying round for the group stage.
The Sierra Leone U-17 football team, nicknamed the Sierra Stars, finished as runner-up at the 2003 African U-17 Championship in Swaziland, but came in last place in their group at the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland.
Edward Zwick’s 2006 film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio is about conflict diamonds mined in Sierra Leone, Angola and Congo, and sold in major diamond cutting centers to finance armed conflicts in Africa. The film is centered in Sierra Leone and portrays many of the atrocities, including the practice of cutting off people's limbs to spread fear and insecurity in the country side and to gain control over the diamond, gold, bauxite and rutile mining areas.
Andrew Niccol's 2005 film Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage charts the rise and fall of Yuri Orlov, from his early days in the early 1980s in Little Odessa, selling guns to mobsters in his local neighbourhood, through to his ascension through the decade of excess and indulgence into the early 90s, where he forms a business partnership with an African warlord and his psychotic son; who's payments are fueled by conflict diamonds based out of Sierra Leone.
Sweet Salone is the cinema verite style independent film by Sieh (C-ya)Samura, which introduces audiences to the new urban music culture and generation of Sierra Leone. Sweet Salone features many of the country's most famous music artists and is the most comprehensive collection of Sierra Leonean music artists in a single feature length production.
In literature, Sierra Leone is the setting for Graham Greene's classic novel The Heart of the Matter, which deals with diamond smuggling during World War II. Since the rebel incursion in the early 1990s a number of books have been written about the trade in diamonds or minerals for weapons. These include Hugh Paxton's horror/action novel; Amadou Kourouma's posthumously published book about roving rebel war soldiers, such the late Sam Bockarie, who fought in Liberia and Sierra Leone and was killed fighting in Côte d’Ivoire; and Ishmael Beah's book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Hugh Paxton's novel Homunculus juxtaposes the realities of the war in Sierra Leone with a fantasy of the exploitation of the war for the trade in blood diamonds and for the testing, demonstration and sale by auction of bio-weapons to a select clientele of international arms dealers and mercenaries. Trial by Rebellion by retired Captain Francis Ken Josiah was recently published in United States.
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