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Sierra Leone

Related subjects Africa; African Countries

Republic of Sierra Leone
Flag of Sierra Leone Coat of Arms of Sierra Leone
Flag Coat of Arms
Motto: "Unity - Freedom - Justice"
Anthem:  High We Exalt Thee, Realm of the Free
Location of Sierra Leone
(and largest city)
Official languages English
Demonym Sierra Leonean
Government Constitutional republic
 -  President Ernest Bai Koroma
 -  from the United Kingdom April 27, 1961 
 -  Total 71,740 km² ( 119th)
27,699  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.0
 -  July 2007 estimate 5,866,000 ( 103rd1)
 -  Density 83/km² ( 114th1)
199/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 -  Total $4.921 billion ( 151st)
 -  Per capita $903 ( 172nd)
Gini (2003) 62.9 (high
HDI (2007) 0.336 (low) ( 177th)
Currency Leone ( SLL)
Time zone GMT ( UTC+0)
Internet TLD .sl
Calling code +232
1 Rank based on 2007 figures.

Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a nation in West Africa, comprising three Provinces and one Area. It is bordered by Guinea on the north and Liberia on the south, with the Atlantic Ocean on the west. During the 18th century, Sierra Leone was an important centre of the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans. The capital Freetown was founded in 1787 by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for formerly enslaved African Americans and West Indians who had fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War. In 1808, Freetown became a British Crown Colony, and in 1896, the interior of the country became a British Protectorate. The Crown Colony and Protectorate joined and gained independence in 1961. There was instability due to rebel activities between 1991 and 2002, which were resolved by UN and British forces disarming 17,000 militia and rebels, and the country has been peaceful since then. Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the country.


Early History and Slavery

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 Lyoa (Portuguese for Lion Mountains). Its Italian rendering is Sierra Leone, which became the country's name. During the 1700s the major slave trading base in Sierra Leone was Bunce Island, located about 20 miles into the Sierra Leone River, now called the "Freetown Harbour." The British slave traders on Bunce Island sent many of their captives to the rice plantations of South Carolina and Georgia. But some like Gullah people today inhabiting the coastal regions of these states were taken to America as hired labor, because of their rice-farming skills. They originally came from the Gola Forests of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

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 shore of Sierra Leone on May 15, 1787. They were 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 Black Loyalists, enslaved Africans who had been promised their freedom for joining the British Army during the American Revolution, though they also included other African and Asian inhabitants of London. Disease and hostility from the indigenous people nearly eliminated the first group of colonists. Through the intervention of Thomas Peters, the Sierra Leone Company was established to relocate another group of nearly 2,000 Black Loyalists, originally settled in Nova Scotia. Given the most barren land in Nova Scotia, many had died from the harsh winters there. They established a settlement at Freetown in 1792. This settlement led by Thomas Peters was joined by other groups of freed slaves and became one of Britain's first colonies in West Africa.

Though Sierra Leone was originally planned as a utopian community by Granville Sharp, the English abolitionist, the directors of the Sierra Leone Company refused to allow the settlers to take freehold of the land. Aware of how Highland Clearances benefited the landlord but not the tenant, 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 all areas of Africa. They joined the previous settlers and together became known as Creole or Krio people. Cut off from their homes and traditions by the experience of slavery, they assimilated some aspects of British styles of life and built a flourishing trade on the West African coast. The lingua franca of the colony was Krio, a creole language rooted in eighteenth 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.

Britain and British seafarers – among them Sir Francis Drake, James Hawkins, Forbisher and Captain Brown - played a major role in the transatlantic trade in captured Africans between 1530 and 1810. The Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the Spanish War of Succession, granted Britain, among other things, the exclusive rights over the shipment of captured Africans across the Atlantic. Over 10 millions captured Africans were shipped to the Caribbean Islands and the Americas and many more died during the raids, the long marches to the coast and as a result of the inhuman conditions in the slave ships. Britain outlawed slavery in 1807 – on the 29 March 1807 – and the British marine operating from Freetown took active measures to stop the Atlantic trade in human beings. In 1998 Pope John-Paul II apologized for the role of the catholic church in transatlantic trade. And during their respective African trips both President Bill Clinton (April 1998) and President George W Bush (July 2003) visited the slave fort in the Island Gorée before Dakar, and condemned the slave trade but stopped short of an apology, to avoid providing the basis for compensation claims. But so far neither Britain nor any other European country has so apologized for the crimes of the slave trade. In 2001, on the initiative of left wing groups, members of the European Parliament discussed the possibility of writing off some foreign debts as form of compensation for the slave trade. The suggestion found little or no sympathy among the European parliamentarians.

The colonial era

Bai Bureh
Bai Bureh

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 served as the educational centre of British West Africa as well. 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.

The colonial history of Sierra Leone was not placid. The indigenous people mounted several unsuccessful revolts against British rule and Krio domination. Of these, the most notable was Bai Bureh rebellion against British rule in 1898. Bai Bureh refused to recognised the hut tax the British had imposed in 1893 in Sierra Leone. He did not believe the Sierra Leonean people had a duty to pay taxes to foreigners, and he wanted all British to return to Britain and let the Sierra Leoneans solve their own problems. After refusing to pay his taxes on several occasions, the British issued a warrant to arrest him. In 1896 Bureh declared war on British in Sierra Leone. He brought fighters from several temne villages under his command, as well as fighters from Limba, Loko, Soso, Kissi, and Mandinka villages. He had the advantage over the vastly more powerful British for several months of the war. Hundreds of British troops were killed, and hundreds of Bureh's fighters also died during the war.

Bai Bureh was finally captured on November 11, 1898 and taken under guard to Freetown.

Most of the 20th century history of the colony was peaceful; however, one notable event during the 20th century was the granting of a monopoly on mineral mining to the De Beers run Sierra Leone Selection Trust in 1935, which was scheduled to last for 99 years. The 1951 constitution provided a framework for decolonization. Local ministerial responsibility was introduced in 1953, when Sir Milton Margai was appointed Chief Minister. He became Prime Minister after successful completion of constitutional talks in London in 1960. Independence came in April 1961, and Sierra Leone opted for a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations.

An independent nation

On April 27, 1961, Sir Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to independence from the United Kingdom. Margai, then Chief Minister, became nation's first prime minister, after he had won by large margins in the nation's first general election under universal adult franchise held in May 1962. Margai's Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) also won majority of seat in parliament. Upon Sir Milton Margai's death in 1964, his brother, Sir Albert Margai succeeded him as prime minister. Albert Margai was highly criticized during his three year reign as prime minister. He was accused of corruption and of a policy of affirmative action in favour of the Mende ethnic group. He also attempted to establish a one-party state but met fierce resistance from the opposition All People's Congress (APC). He ultimately abandoned the idea.

In a closely contested general elections in March 1967, Sierra Leone Governor General Henry Josiah Lightfoot Boston declared Siaka Stevens, candidate of the All People's Congress (APC) and Mayor of Freetown as the new prime minister of Sierra Leone. Within a few hours after taking office, Stevens was ousted in a bloodless coup led by Brigadier David Lansana, the Commander of The Republic of Sierra Leone 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. A group of senior military officers overrode this action by seizing control of the government on March 23, 1968, arresting Brigadier 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.

The return to civilian rule led to by-elections beginning in the fall of 1968 and the appointment of an all-APC cabinet. Tranquillity 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 unsuccessful coup plot were tried and executed. In 1977, student demonstrations against the government disrupted Sierra Leone politics.

On April 19, 1971, parliament declared Sierra Leone to be 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 Stevens failed in 1974, the leaders of the unsuccessful coup were executed and in March 1976, he was elected without opposition for a second five-year term as president. In the national parliamentary election that followed in May 1977, the APC won 74 seats and the opposition SLPP won 15. In 1978, a new constitution was adopted, making the country a one-party state. The 1978 referendum made the APC the only legal political party in Sierra Leone.

Siaka Probyn Stevens, who had been President of Sierra Leone for fourteen years, retired from that position in November 1985, although he continued his role as chairman of the ruling APC party. In August 1985, the APC named commander of the Republic of Sierra Leone armed forces, Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, Stevens' own choice, as the party candidate to succeed him. Momoh was elected President in a one-party referendum on October 1, 1985. A formal inauguration was held in January 1986, and new parliamentary elections were held in May 1986. Following an alleged attempt to overthrow president Momoh in March 1987, more than sixty senior government officials were arrested, including Vice-President Francis Minah, who was removed from office and was executed by hanging in 1989, along with five others after being convicted for plotting the 1987 coup.

Multi-party constitution and RUF rebellion

In October 1990, President Momoh set up a constitutional review commission to review the 1978 one-party constitution with a view to broadening the existing political process, guaranteeing fundamental human rights and the rule of law, and strengthening and consolidating the democratic foundation and structure of the nation. The commission, in its report presented January 1991, recommended re-establishment of a multi-party system of government. Based on that recommendation, a constitution was approved by Parliament in July 1991 and ratified in September; it became effective on October 1, 1991. There was great suspicion that Momoh was not serious, however, and APC rule was increasingly marked by abuses of power.

The outbreak of corruption within the government and mismanagement of diamond resources are the main reasons civil war broke out in Sierra Leone. With the breakdown of state structures and the effective suppression of civilian opposition, wide corridors were opened for trafficking of arms and ammunition and drugs, all of which eroded national and regional security and facilitated crime within the country and between Sierra Leone and Liberia and even Guinea.

Besides the internal ripeness, the brutal civil war going on in neighbouring Liberia played an undeniable role for the actual 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 Leone army corporal Foday Sankoh. In return, Taylor was awarded with diamonds from Sierra Leone. The RUF, led by Foday Sankoh and backed by Charles Taylor, launched its first attack in villages in Kailahun District in the diamond-rich Eastern Province of Sierra Leone 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 of the country. Forced recruitment of child soldiers was also an early feature of the rebel strategy

On April 29, 1992, a group of young officers in the Sierra Leonean army including 25 year old Captain Valentine Strasser, Sergeant Solomon Anthony James Musa, Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Nyuma, Colonel Yahya Kanu, Lieutenant Colonel Komba Mondeh, and Captain Samuel Komba Kambo apparently frustrated by the government failure to deal with rebels, the young soldiers launched a military coup, which sent president Momoh into exile in Guinea and they established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) with Colonel Yahya Kanu as its chairman and Head of State of the country. Kanu was assassinated by his fellow members of the NPRC, who accused him of trying to negotiate with the toppled APC administration. On May 1, Captain Valentine Strasser took over as the chairman of the NPRC and Head of State of Sierra Leone. A 26-year-old Sergeant Solomon Musa, one of the leaders of the coup and a best friend of Strasser took over as Vice-Chaiman of the NPRC. Many Sierra Leoneans nationwide rush into the streets to welcome the NPRC Administration from the twenty-three year dictatorial APC regime, that 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 lead APC government in repelling the RUF. More and more of the country fell to RUF fighters, so that by 1995 they held much of the diamond-rich Eastern Province and were on the doorsteps of Freetown. To rectify the situation, 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 Sergeant Solomon James Musa as deputy and appointed Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio to succeed him. Some senior NPRC members including Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Nyuma and Colonel Komba 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 his fellow NPRC members, lead by his deputy Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio. Bio reinstated the Constitution, and called for general elections. 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 (SLPP), after he had defeated John Karefa-Smart of the United National People's Party (UNPP) in the second round of presidential elections in early 1996. 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, put on trial and convicted. He was imprisoned at Freetown's Pademba Road Prison. Some top rank officers in the Sierra Leone Army were unhappy with President Kabbah's decision, and on May 25, 1997, a group of soldiers who called themselves the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) overthrew President 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 of the country's private radio stations 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. Following the reinstatement of Kabbah's government, 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, another unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government by the AFRC resulted in massive loss of life and destruction of property in Freetown and its environs.

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 February 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 eastern Sierra Leone, Sankoh's forces clashed with the UN troops, and some 500 peacekeepers were taken hostage as the peace accord effectively collapsed.

Government and politics

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
  • The Judiciary

Within the confines of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, 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 The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces. The president appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers (including the vice president), 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 of Sierra Leone, a candidate must gain at least 55 percent of the vote. If no candidate gets the 55 percent requirement, there will be a second-round runoff between the top two candidates with the most votes in the first round. For qualification to be elected President of Sierra Leone, the person must be a Sierra Leonean citizen by birth; Should have attained the age of 40 years; should be a member of a political party; and should be able to speak and read the English language. The current president of Sierra Leone is Ernest Bai Koroma. Koroma was sworn in as president on September 17, 2007, shortly after being declared the winner of a tense run-off election.

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 twelve seats are filled by Paramount chief from each of the country's twelve administrative districts. All members serve five-year terms. To be elected as a member of Parliament, a candidate must be a Sierra Leonean citizen; be at least 21 years old; should be a member of a political party; and should be able to speak and read the English language. 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 seats; and the People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) won 10 seats.

The Judiciary Section 120(1) of the Constitution states that the judicial power of Sierra Leone shall be vested in the judiciary. The judiciary of Sierra Leone, headed by the Chief Justice comprises the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court. These constitute the Superior Court of Jurisdiction. The inferior courts comprise the Magistrates courts and the Local courts. The Magistrates Courts exist in each district. Local courts administer customary law. The president appoints and parliament approves justices for the three courts. The current Chief Justice is Ade Renner Thomas. He was appointed to the position by former president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

Administrative divisions

The 14 districts of Sierra Leone.
The 14 districts of Sierra Leone.

The Republic of Sierra Leone is composed of three provinces and one area called the Western Area; the provinces are further divided into twelve districts. The Western Area is also divided into two districts.

District Capital Area km² Province Population

(2004 census)

Bombali District Makeni 7,895 Northern Province 408,390
Koinadugu District Kabala 12,121 265,765
Tonkolili District Magburaka 7,003 347,197
Port Loko District Port Loko 5,719 453,746
Kambia District Kambia 3,108 270,460
Kenema District Kenema 6,053 Eastern Province 497,948
Kono District Koidu Town 5,641 355,401
Kailahun District Kailahun 3,859 358,190
Bo District Bo 7,003 Southern Province 463,668
Bonthe District Bonthe 3,468 139,687
Moyamba District Moyamba 6,902 260,910
Pujehun District Pujehun 4,105 228,392

Figures taken from this source: Sierra Leone Encyclopedia

The Western Area

  • Comprises Freetown, the nation's capital, and its surrounding countryside. It covers an area of 557 km² and has a population of 1,246,624.

The Western Area is divided into two districts:

  • Western Area Urban District
  • Western Area Rural District

Population of major cities

Sierra Leone's cities with a population over 80,000 (2004 census).

City Population
Freetown 772,873
Bo 149,957
Kenema 128,402
Koidu Town 80,025
Makeni 82,840
Magburaka 144,396
Kailahun 129,658

Foreign relations

Sierra Leone has maintained cordial relations with the west, in particular with the United States. Sierra Leone also maintains diplomatic relations with China, Libya, Iran, and Cuba. Former President of Sierra Leone Siaka Stevens' government had sought closer relations with other West African countries under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The present government is continuing this effort.

Sierra Leone is a member of the United Nations and its specialized agencies, the Commonwealth, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank (AFDB), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Sierra Leone, along with Liberia, and Guinea formed the Mano River Union (MRU). The Mano River Union is primarily designed to implement development projects and promote regional economic integration between the three nations.

Sierra Leone is also a member of the International Criminal Court with a Bilateral Immunity Agreement of protection for the US-military (as covered under Article 98).

The government maintains 16 embassies/high commissioners across the world including presence in Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, People's Republic of China, Iran, Belgium, Germany, United Kingdom, Russia, United Nations, and the United States.

Geography and climate

Satellite image of Sierra Leone, generated from raster graphics data supplied by The Map Library
Satellite image of Sierra Leone, generated from raster graphics data supplied by The Map Library

Sierra Leone is located on the west coast of Africa, north of the equator. With a land area of 71,740 square kilometers (27,699 square miles). Sierra Leone is bordered by Guinea to the north and northeast, Liberia to the south and southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.

There are a wide variety of ecological and agricultural zones to which people have adapted. 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, and finally a mountainous plateau in the east, where Mount Bintumani rises to 1,948 meters (6,390 ft). The climate is tropical, with two seasons determining the agricultural cycle: the rainy season from May to November, followed by the dry season from December to May, which includes harmattan, when cool, dry winds blow in off the Sahara Desert. The national capital Freetown sits on a coastal peninsula, situated next to the Sierra Leone Harbour, the world's third largest natural harbour. This prime location historically made Sierra Leone the centre of trade and colonial administration in the region.


Sierra Leone is 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. In addition to this 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 the mining sector in general, and diamonds in particular, for its economic base. 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 Sierra Leone’s formal economy was destroyed in the country’s civil war. Since the cessation of hostilities in January 2002, massive infusions of outside assistance have helped Sierra Leone begin to recover. Much of Sierra Leone’s recovery will depend on the success of the Government of Sierra Leone's efforts to limit official corruption, which many feel was the chief culprit for the country’s descent into civil war. A key indicator of success will be the effectiveness of government management of its diamond sector.

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. Also, the government works with several foreign donors to operate integrated rural development and agricultural projects.

Mineral exports remain Sierra Leone's principal foreign exchange earner. Sierra Leone is a major producer of gem-quality diamonds. Though rich in this resource, the country has historically struggled to manage its exploitation and export. Annual production estimates range between $250-300 million. However, not all of that passes through formal export channels, although formal exports have dramatically improved since the days of civil war. The balance is smuggled, where it is possibly used for money laundering or financing illicit activities. Efforts to improve the management of the export trade have met with some success. In October 2000, a UN-approved export certification system for exporting diamonds from Sierra Leone was put into place that led to a dramatic increase in legal exports. In 2001, the Government of Sierra Leone 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. Sierra Rutile was then the largest nonpetroleum United States investment in West Africa. The export of 88,000 tons realized $75 million in export earnings in 1990. The company and the Government of Sierra Leone concluded a new agreement on the terms of the company's concession in Sierra Leone in 1990. Rutile and bauxite mining operations were suspended when rebels invaded the mining sites in 1995, but exports resumed in 2005.

Despite its successes and development, the Sierra Leone economy still faces some significant challenges. There is a high rate of 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.


Sierra Leone’s currency is the Leone. The central bank of the country is the Bank of Sierra Leone which is located in the capital, Freetown. The bank is run by the bank Governor and directors. This Governor is Dr. Samura Kamara. The central Bank objectives include:

  • promotion of monetary stability and sound financial structure
  • maintenance of the internal and external values of the Leone
  • promotion of credit and exchange conditions
  • issuance and distribution of notes and currency in the country
  • conducive to balanced economy growth
  • formulation and implementation of monetary policy
  • banker and advisor to the Government in financial and economic matters
  • management of domestic and foreign debt
  • acting as custodian of the country’s reserve approved foreign exchange
  • acting as banker to the Commercial Banks
  • supervision and regulation of activities of commercial banks and other financial institutions
  • administration of the operations of structural adjustment programmes where the bank has specific responsibilities
  • diamond certification

the Bank of Sierra Leone is a 100 percent state-owned corporate body.

Sierra Leone operates a floating exchange rate system and foreign currencies can be exchanged at any of the commercial banks, recognised foreign exchange bureaux and most hotels.

Credit Card use is limited in Sierra Leone, though they may be utilised at some hotels and restaurants, for which visitors should check in advance with local managements. Sierra Leone does not have internationally linked ATM machines.


The 2007 estimate of Sierra Leone's population stands at 5,866,000, the majority being youth and children. Freetown, with an estimated population of 1,070,200, is the capital, largest city and the hub of Sierra Leone economy, commercial, educational and cultural centre of the country. Bo is the second city with a population of 349,957. Other major cities with a population of over 100,000 are Kenema, Koidu Town, Makeni, Magburaka and Kailahun.

Although English is the official language spoken at schools and government administration, Krio (language derived from English and several African languages and is native to The Sierra Leone Krio people) is the Lingua franca. The Krio language is widely spoken throughout the country. The Language unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other.


The population of Sierra Leone is comprised of fourteen ethnic groups, each with its own language and costumes. The two largest of these are the Mende and Temne, each comprises 30% of the population, together they represent 60% of the country's total population. The Mende predominate in the Southern and the Eastern Provinces; the Temne likewise predominate in the Northern Province. The remaining 40% is split between twelve ethnic groups, including tthe third largest ethnic group the Limba who represent about 9.8% of the population. Like their ally the Temne, the Limba primarily live in the Northern Province. Sierra Leone's politics have traditionaly been dominated by two ethnic groups, the Mende and Limba. The country's two dominant political party, The Sierra Leone's People's Party (SLPP) is traditionaly based among the Mende in the south of the country, while the All People's Congress (APC) is based among the Limba and Temne in the north. The fourth largest ethnic group, the Kono comprises 8.6% of the population. The Kono are mostly found in the Eastern Province, particularly in the diamond-rich Kono District. The Krio (descendants of freed slaves from the West Indies, North America, and Britain landed in Freetown between 1787 and about 1855) make up about 3.5% of the population and their language is widely spoken throughout the Country. Most Krios live in the Western Area, particularly in the nation's capital Freetown. Other minority ethnic groups are the Mandingo, Sherbro, Loko, Kissi, Kuranko, Fula, Susu, Yalunka and the Sierra Leonean-Lebanese (descendants of Lebanese settlers who came to Sierra Leone during the late 19th century) Most of the country's businesses and local shops are run by the Lebanese community.


The Sierra Leone constitution provides freedom of religion and the government generally protects this right, and does not tolerate its abuse.

With regard to religion in Sierra Leone, the predominant faith is Islam, which is practiced by around 60% of the population; 30% adhere to Christianity; and 10% adhere to their indigenous religions.

Unlike many other African countries, the religious and tribal mix of Sierra Leone rarely cause religious or tribal conflict.


Education System

Sierra Leone has an education system with six years of primary school (Class 1-6), and six years of secondary school (Form 1-6); secondary schools are further divided into Junior secondary school (Form 1-3) and Senior secondary school (Form 4-6). Primary schools usually start from ages 6 to 12, and secondary schools usually start from ages 13 to 18. Primary Education is free and compulsory in government-sponsored public schools.

The country's two main Universities are the Fourah Bay College, the oldest university in West Africa, founded in 1827, and Njala University in Njala, Moyamba District and Bo, founded in 1963. Teacher training colleges and religious seminaries are found in many parts of the country.


There are a number of systems of transport in Sierra Leone, which possesses road, air, water infrastructure, including a network of highways and several airports.


There are ten Regional airports in Sierra Leone, and one international airport, called the Lungi International Airport, located in the city of Lungi, across the sea from Freetown. It serves as the primary airport for domestic and international travel to or from Sierra Leone. Passengers have the choice of hovercraft, ferry or a helicopter to cross the river to Aberdeen Heliports in Freetown. Helicopters are also available from the airport to other major cities in the country. The airport has paved runways (the length of which exceeds 3,047m). Of the remaining airports, all of which having unpaved runways, seven have runways of lengths between 914 and 1,523 metres; the remaining two having runways of shorter length.


Sierra Leone has the third largest natural harbour in the world where shipping from all over the globe berth at Freetown's famous Queen Elizabeth II Quay in Government Wharf in central Freetown. There are 800 km of waterways in Sierra Leone, of which 600 km are navigable year-round. Major port city of Sierra Leone are Bonthe, Freetown, Sherbro Island and Pepel.


There are 11,700 kilometres of highways in Sierra Leone, of which 936 km are paved. Sierra Leone highways are linked to Conakry, Guinea, and Monrovia, Liberia.



Football (soccer) is by far the most popular sport in Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone national football team, popularly known as the Leone Stars, represents the country in international football competitions. The team has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup but they have participated in the 1994 and 1996 African Cup of Nations. The country's national television network, The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) broadcasts the live match, along with several radio stations throughout the country.

The Sierra Leone National Premier League is the top football league in Sierra Leone. The league is controlled by the Sierra Leone Football Association. East End Lions and Mighty Blackpool are the two biggest and most successful football clubs in the country, but Kallon F.C. is closing in on them. 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 nickname 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.

Many Sierra Leoneans follow the major European football leagues, Particularly the English Premier League, Italian Serie A, and Spain La Liga. Cinema are often overcrowed as fans gather to watch the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Inter Milan matches that are being shown live on television. Many Sierra Leoneans follow the UEFA Champions League more than the CAF Champions League. It is common in Sierra Leone to find local children nicknamed Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Francesco Totti, Ronaldinho, Steven Gerrard, Patrick Vieira, Lionel Messi and Filippo Inzaghi.


The Sierra Leone cricket team represents Sierra Leone in international cricket competitions, and is among the best in West Africa. They became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council in 2002. They made their international debut at the 2004 African Affiliates Championship, where they finished last out of the eight teams. They returned at the equivalent tournament in 2006, Division Three of the African region of the World Cricket League, where they had a major improvement, this time finishing as runners-up to Mozambique, and only just missing out on promotion to Division Two.


The Sierra Leone national basketball team represents Sierra Leone in international men's basketball competitions and is controlled by the Sierra Leone Basketball Federation. The squad is mostly home-based, with a few foreign-based players.


Logging, mining, slash and burn, and deforestation for alternative land use - such as cattle grazing - have produced a dramatic decrease of forested land in Sierra Leone since the 1980s.

Until 2002, Sierra Leone lacked a forest management system due to a brutal civil war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. On paper, 55 protected areas covered 4.5 percent 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 rainforest in Sierra Leone.

Deforestation rates have increased 7.3 percent since the end of the civil war.

Sierra Leone in literature and film

Two major Hollywood films have so far been produced that relate to Sierra Leone. Steven Spielberg’s Film " Amistad" (1997 with Morgan Freeman, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Mathew McCounaghey) is about an 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship that was travelling towards the Northeast Coast of America. But much of the plot revolves around the court-room drama that lead to the historic supreme court decision recognizing the captives rights to freedom. The heroic role of Sengbe Pieh (Cinque), who organized and led the revolt was virtually marginalized. Edward Zwick’s film Blood Diamond (2006 Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou) is about conflict diamonds mined in Sierra Leone, Angola and Congo and sold in major diamond cutting centers – Antwerp, Tel Aviv and Mumbai – to finance (and prolong) 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. But the action is focused mostly on Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a white mercenary from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), who trades arms for diamonds with an RUF commander (Corporal Foday Sankoh) and Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an American journalist covering the war and investigating the illegal diamond trade. The role of De Beers Group, which is the major player in the diamond trade, was bracketed out. It has been suggested that the company pressured the producers of the film to include a disclaimer saying the events are fictional and in the past - De Beers has denied this. This film and the Nollywood Video films (Nigerian Productions) on Blood Diamonds have establish Sierra Leone as the Blood Diamond Country in the minds of people all over the world.

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 written about the "diamonds or minerals for weapons" trade - including Hugh Paxton's horror/action novel and Ishmael Beah ("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 written by Retired Captain Francis Ken Josiah was recently published in United States.

Other Sierra Leone writers of note include Abioseh Nicol ( "The Truly Married Woman And Other Stories"), Robert Wellesley Cole ( "Kossoh Town Boy"), Syl Cheney-Coker ( "The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar"), William Conton ( "Kissimi Kamara"), Amadu Yullisa Maddy ( "No Past, No Present, No Future") and Sheikh Gibril Kamara ( "The Spirit of Badenia).

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