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Sierra Leone

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Republic of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone
Flag Coat of Arms
Motto: "Unity, Freedom, Justice"
Anthem:  High We Exalt Thee, Realm of the Free
and largest city
8°29.067′N 13°14.067′W
Official languages English
National language Krio ( de facto) understood by 95% of the population
Demonym Sierra Leonean
Government Constitutional republic
 -  President Ernest Bai Koroma ( APC)
 -  Vice President Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana ( APC)
 -  Speaker of Parliament Abel Nathaniel Bankole Stronge ( APC)
 -  Chief Justice Umu Hawa Tejan Jalloh
 -  from the United Kingdom 27 April 1961 
 -  Republic declared 19 April 1971 
 -  Total 71,740 km2 ( 119th)
27,699 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.1
 -  July 2009 estimate 6,440,053
 -  Density 79.4/km2 ( 114th1)
205.6/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $4.585 billion
 -  Per capita $759
GDP (nominal) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $1.877 billion
 -  Per capita $311
Gini (2003) 62.9
very high
HDI (2007) Increase 0.365
Error: Invalid HDI value · 180th
Currency Leone ( SLL)
Time zone GMT ( UTC+0)
Drives on the right
Calling code 232
ISO 3166 code SL
Internet TLD .sl
1 Rank based on 2007 figures.

Sierra Leone ( / s ˌ ɛr ə l ˈ n /; Krio: Sa Lone), officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in west Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the north and east, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. Sierra Leone covers a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi) and has a population estimated at 6.5 million. It is a former British Colony and now a constitutional republic comprising three provinces and the Western Area; which are further divided into fourteen districts.

The country has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savannah to rainforests. Freetown is the capital, largest city and economic centre. The other major cities are Bo, Kenema, Koidu Town and Makeni.

English is the official language, spoken at schools, government administration and by the media. Mende is the principal spoken language in the south, and Temne is the principal spoken language in the north. Krio language (a Creole derived from English and several African languages and native to the Sierra Leone Krio people) is the principal spoken language of about 10% of the population but is understood by 95%. Despite its common use throughout the country, the Krio language has no official status.

Sierra Leone is officially home to fourteen ethnic groups, each with its own language and customs. However, the two largest and most dominant are the Mende and Temne, each comprising 30% of the population. The Mende are predominantly found in the South-Eastern region of Sierra Leone and the Temne likewise predominate in Northern Sierra Leone. The Mende have had a long history of political dominance of Sierra Leone. The country is a predominantly Muslim nation with a Christian minority at 10%. Unlike most African nations, Sierra Leone has no serious ethnic and religious divisions. People often marry across tribal and religious boundaries.

Sierra Leone is very rich in mineral resources, possessing most of the known mineral types of the world, many of which are found in significant quantities. The country has relied on mining, especially diamonds, for its economic base; it is among the top 10 diamond producing nations in the world, and mineral exports remain the main foreign currency earner. Sierra Leone is also among the largest producers of titanium and bauxite, and a major producer of gold. The country has one of the world's largest deposits of rutile. Despite this natural wealth, the vast majority of its people live in poverty.

Early inhabitants of Sierra Leone included the Sherbro, Temne and Limba, and Tyra 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 dubbed it Serra de Leão, meaning "Lion Mountains".

Sierra Leone later became an important centre of the transatlantic trade in slaves until 1792 when Freetown was founded by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for formerly enslaved African Americans.

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.

The Sierra Leone Civil War began in 1991 and resolved in 2000 after the struggling Nigerian-led United Nations troops were heavily reinforced by a British force spearheaded by 1st Bn The Parachute Regiment, supported by other elements of the Parachute Regt, SAS, and Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Operation Palliser. The arrival of this force, code-named Operation Palliser, resulted in the defeat of 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.

Sierra Leone is the third-lowest-ranked country on the Human Development Index and eighth-lowest on the Human Poverty Index, suffering from endemic corruption and suppression of the press.


Early history

Fragments of prehistoric pottery from Kamabai Rock Shelter

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 influence of the Songhai Empire, the Islamic faith however became common in 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). The Italian rendering of this geographic formation 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 human beings when Sir John Hawkins shipped 300 enslaved people, acquired 'by the sword and partly by other means', to the new colonies in America.

An 1835 illustration of liberated Africans arriving in Sierra Leone.

Freedom from enslavement

In 1787, a plan was established to settle some of London's " Black Poor" in Sierra Leone in what was called the " Province of Freedom". A number of "Black Poor" arrived off the coast of Sierra Leone on 15 May 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 formerly enslaved Africans, this time nearly 1,200 Black Nova Scotians, most of whom had escaped enslavement 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 Africans and became the first African-American haven for formerly enslaved Africans.

The colony of Freetown in 1856.

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 formerly enslaved Africans 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 mission. In the 1790s, blacks voted for the first time in elections, as did women.

After the collapse of the Sierra Leone Company, the newly-formed African Institution met in 1807 to achieve more success by focusing on bettering the local economy, but it was constantly split between those British who meant to inspire local entrepreneurs and those with interest in the Macauley & Babington Company which held the (English) monopoly on Sierra Leone trade.

Colonial era

Bai Bureh, leader of the 1898 rebellion against British rule

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, Bai Bureh declared war on British in Northern Sierra Leone, with the full support of several prominent native chiefs, including the powerful Kissi chief Kai Londo and the Limba chief Almamy Suluku. Both chief sent warriors and weapons to aid Bai Bureh.

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 11 November 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 98 years.

An independent nation led by Sir Milton Margai

In 1924, Sierra Leone was divided into a Colony and a Protectorate, with separate and different political systems constitutionally defined for each. Antagonism between the two entities escalated to a heated debate in 1947, when proposals were introduced to provide for a single political system for both the Colony and the Protectorate. Most of the proposals came from the Protectorate. The Creoles, lead by Isaac Wallace-Johnson, naturally opposed the proposals, whose effect would have been to diminish their political power. It was due to the astute politics of Sir Milton Margai, who was the son of a creole man by the name of Tu-borku Metzeger he was raised up by his step father an ethnic Mende and the leading Protectorate politician, that the educated Protectorate elite was won over to join forces with the paramount chiefs in the face of Creole intransigence. Later, Sir Milton [who's real family name was Tu Borku Metzeger]used the same skills to win over opposition leaders and moderate Creole elements for the achievement of independence.

In November 1951, Sir Milton Margai oversaw the drafting of a new constitution, which united the separate Colonial and Protectorate legislatures and—-most importantly—-provided a framework for decolonization. In 1953, Sierra Leone was granted local ministerial powers, and Sir Milton Margai, was elected Chief Minister of Sierra Leone. The new constitution ensured Sierra Leone a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations. In May 1957, Sierra Leone held its first parliamentary election. The SLPP, which was then the most popular political party in the colony of Sierra Leone, won the majority of the seats in Parliament. Margai was also re-elected as Chief Minister by a landslide.

Margai led the Sierra Leonean delegation at the constitutional conferences that were held with British Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod in London in 1960. All members of the Sierra Leonean delegation were prominent and well-respected politicians including Sir Milton's younger brother Sir Albert Margai, John Kareefa Smart, Lamina Sankoh, Kande Bureh, Sir Banja-Tejan Sie, Ella Koblo Gulama, Amadu Wurie, Mohamed Sanusi Mustapha and Eustace Henry Taylor Cummings. Two notable absentees from the delegation were Siaka Stevens, the leader of the opposition APC, and the veteran Creole politician Isaac Wallce-Johnson who were placed under house arrest in Freetown, charged with disrupting the Independence movement.

On 27 April 1961, Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to independence from the United Kingdom. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans across the nation took to the streets to celebrate their independence. The nation held its first general elections on 27 May 1962, and Margai was elected Sierra Leone's first Prime Minister by a landslide. Milton Margai's 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.

An important aspect of Sir Milton's character was his self-effacement. He was neither corrupt nor did he make a lavish display of his power or status. Sir Milton's government was based on the rule of law and the notion of separation of powers, with multiparty political institutions and fairly viable representative structures. Milton Margai used his conservative ideology to lead Sierra Leone without much strife. He appointed government officials with a clear eye to satisfy various ethnic groups. Sir Milton successfully built coalitions from in the 1950s to attain independence without bloodshed. With his genteel nature, Sir Milton Margai employed a brokerage style of politics by sharing political power between political groups and the paramamount chiefs in the provinces.

Upon Margai's death on 28 April 1964, an internal crises within members of the Sierra Leone People's party irrupted as who to succeed Margai as Prime Minister. The parliament of Sierra Leone held an emergency session to elect a new prime minister, the person must be a member of the rulling SLPP party. One of the two leading candidates to succeed Margai as Prime minister was Sir Albert Margai, Sierra Leone's Finance minister and also the younger brother of Sir Milton Margai. The other was Dr. John Karefa-Smart, Sierra Leone's Foreign minister and a close ally of Sir Milton. Sir Albert Margai was elected by a majority vote in Parliament to be the new leader of the SLPP and the next prime minister of Sierra Leone. Sir Albert Margai's leadership was briefly challenged by Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister John Karefa-Smart, an ethnic Sherbro, who questioned Sir Albert's succession to the SLPP leadership position. Kareefa-Smart received little support in Parliament in his attempt to have Margai stripped of the SLPP leadership.

Albert Margai Administration

Sir Albert was sworn in as Sierra Leone's second Prime Minister the same day his brother died at a ceremony held at the Sierra Leone's parliament in Freetown. Soon after Margai was sworn in as Prime Minister, he immediately dismissed Karefa-Smart and several other senior government officials who had served under his elder brother Sir Milton's government, as he viewed them as traitors and a threat to his administration. Sir Albert appointed the Creole politician Cyril B. Rogers-Wright to replace Karefa-Smart.

Unlike his late brother Milton, Sir Albert was opposed to the colonial legacy of allowing the country's Paramount Chiefs executive powers and he was seen as a threat to the existence of the ruling houses across the country. This made him unpopular with the powerful paramount chiefs, most of whom were founding members of the SLPP. To strengthen support for his reform agenda for the party and the country the new Prime Minister brought into the executive of the SLPP and his government younger, western-educated, and more radicallised members of the party including Salia Jusu Sheriff (PhD). The party was thus divided with the traditionalist and more powerful old guard against the new and younger leaders. As Prime Minister Sir Albert Margai opposed Creole domination of the civil service and many ethnic Creoles lost their positions in the civil service as a result. Sir Albert Margai was highly criticized during his tenure as prime minister. He was accused of corruption and of a policy of affirmative action in favour of the Mende ethnic group. During Albert Margai's administration, The Mende increased their influence both in the civil service and the army. Most of the top military and government positions were held by Mendes. Sir Albert also tried to establish a one-party state but with very little support in Parliament, even among his fellow SLPP members and was also met by fierce resistance from the main opposition the All People's Congress (APC), which had become suddenly more popular than the rulling SLPP and ultimately abandoned the idea.

APC political rally in Kabala, Koinadugu District outside the home of supporters of the rival SLPP in 1967.

Under Albert Margai's government, Sierra Leone enjoyed freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Sir Albert tolerated criticism of his government, even by his political opponent. Not a single journalist or politician was killed during his term in office. Sir Albert tolerated criticism or written a libel claim against his government. Under Albert Margai, all Sierra Leoneans had equal access to free and fair trial .Sir Albert had the opportunity to perpetuate himself in power, but he elected not to do so even when the opportunities presented themselves. He had the police and the army on his side and nothing could have prevented him from achieving his ambition to hold on to power, but he chose not to and called for a free and fair elections.

Three Military Coups, 1967-1968

After the closely contested general election in March 1967, Sierra Leone Governor General Sir Henry Josiah Lightfoot Boston declared the new prime minister to be Siaka Stevens, an ethnic Limba, the candidate of the All People's Congress (APC) and the mayor of Freetown. Stevens had defeated the incumbent prime minister, Sir Albert Margai, by a narrow margin. Stevens won the majority of the vote in the north of the country and in the western area, including in Freetown. Albert Margai on the other side, won the vast majority of the vote in south-eastern Sierra Leone. Sir Albert conceded defeat and handed power to Siaka Stevens. Stevens was sworn in as Sierra Leone's third prime minister on 17 May 1967 in Freetown. Mere hours after he took office, soldiers stormed the State House and abducted Stevens at gunpoint. The coup was led by Brigadier General David Lansana, an ethnic Mende and the commander of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. Brigadier David Lansana was a prominent supporter of Albert Margai, who had appointed him to the top command in 1964. Brigadier Lansana declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law. He insisted that the determination of the winner of the election should await the election of the tribal representatives in Parliament, mostly from Mende chiefdoms in South-Eastern Sierra Leone.

On 23 March 1968, however, a group of senior army officers led by Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith, an ethnic Creole, in turn seized control of the government, arrested Lansana and suspended the constitution. Martial law was maintained. The group constituted itself as the National Reformation Council (NRC) with Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith as its chairman. In April 1968, the NRC was in turn overthrown by a third group of senior army, who called themselves the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement (ACRM), led by Brigadier General John Amadu Bangura, an ethnic Limba. The ACRM imprisoned Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith and other senior NRC members and restored the constitution. In Bragadier Bangura's first speech, he urged Sierra Leoneans to stay calm and appealed to the military to respect the constitution and stay out of politics. Bangura invited Stevens to the state house and reinstated him as prime minister in a special ceremony. Brigadier Bangura was accused of tribalism in favour of Siaka Stevens.

Stevens government and one party state

Stevens assumed power again in 1968 with a great deal of promise and ambition. Much trust was placed upon him as he championed multi-party politics. Upon taking power from the military, however, he drove the SLPP from competitive politics in general elections using violence and intimidation. To gain support of the military, Stevens retained the popular John Amadu Bangura as the head of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces.

After the return to civilian rule, by-elections were held (beginning in autumn 1968) and an all-APC cabinet was appointed. Calm was not completely restored. In November 1968, Stevens declared a state of emergency after disturbance in the provinces.

Stevens had campaigned on a platform of socialist principles. However, when he became Prime Minister he abandoned his pre-election promises and employed an authoritarian model of governance.

Many senior officers in the Sierra Leone military were disappointed but none could confront Stevens. Brigadier General Bangura, who had reinstated Stevens as Prime Minister, was widely considered the only person who could put the brakes on Stevens. Bangura was a magnetic and popular figure among Sierra Leoneans. The army was devoted to him and this made him potentially dangerous to Steven's new agenda in the shifting political climate of Sierra Leone. In January 1970, Bangura was arrested and charged with conspiracy and plotting to commit a coup against the Stevens government. He was convicted and sentenced to death by execution. On 29 March 1970, Bangura was hanged at the Kissy Road in central Freetown. In March 1971, a group of senior military officials attempted an unsuccessful military coup. The coup leaders were convicted and executed, including several senior officers in the army and some senior government officials.

On 19 April 1971, parliament declared Sierra Leone a republic, with Siaka Stevens as president and Sorie Ibrahim Koroma as Vice President. Under the APC regimes headed by Stevens, the Limba, Stevens' own ethnic group and the Creoles, enjoyed strong influence in the government and civil service. Another 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, the Temne appeared to have emerged as an influential group in the APC government. Guinean troops requested by Stevens to support his government were in the country from 1971 to 1973. In May 1973, general elections were held throughout the country, but the main opposition, the SLPP, boycotted the 1973 general election, alleging widespread intimidation and procedural obstruction.

In 1973, president Stevens and president William Tolbert of Liberia signed a treaty forming the Mano River Union to facilitate trade between Sierra Leone and Liberia, with Guinea joining in 1980 under president Sekou Toure. In 1975, Sierra Leone joined the Economic Community of West African States (commonly known as ECOWAS).

An alleged plot to overthrow president Stevens failed in 1974 and its leaders were executed. In March 1976, Stevens was elected without opposition for a second five-year term as president. On 19 July 1975, 14 senior army and government officials including Brigadier David Lansana, former cabinet minister Mohamed Sorie Forna, Brigadier General Ibrahim Bash Taqi and Lieutenant Habib Lansana Kamara were executed after being convicted for allegedly attempting a coup to topple president Stevens' government.

In early 1977, a major anti-government demonstration by students and youth occurred throughout the country against the APC government and deteriorating economic conditions. Police and the army put down the demonstration.

In the national parliamentary election of May 1977, the APC won 74 seats and the main opposition, the SLPP, won 15. The SLPP condemned the election, alleged widespread vote-rigging and voter intimidation. In 1978, the APC dominant 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. This move lead to another major demonstration in many parts of the country but again it was put down by the army and the police.

Stevens is generally criticised for dictatorial methods and government corruption, but reduced ethnic polarisation in government by incorporating members of various ethnic groups into his all-dominating APC government.

Momoh administration

Siaka Stevens retired in November, 1985 after being in power for 18 years, but continued to be chairman of the APC. The APC named a new presidential candidate to succeed Stevens at their last delegate conference held in Freetown in November 1985. He was Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, the commander of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and Stevens' own choice to succeed him. As head of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces, Major General Momoh was very loyal to Stevens who had appointed him to the position. Like Stevens, Momoh was also a member of the minority Limba ethnic group. Joseph Saidu Momoh was elected President in a one-party parliament as the only contesting candidate. Momoh was sworn in as Sierra Leone's second president in Freetown on 28 November 1985 with Francis Minah (an ethnic Mende) as Vice president. A one party parliamentary elections between APC members were held in May, 1986.

President Momoh's strong links with the army and his verbal attacks on corruption earned him much needed initial support among Sierra Leoneans. With the lack of new faces in the new APC cabinet under president Momoh and the return of many of the old faces from Stevens government, criticisms soon arose that Momoh was simply perpetuating the rule of Stevens. The next couple of years under the Momoh administration were characterised by corruption, which Momoh defused by sacking several senior cabinet ministers. To formalise his war against corruption, President Momoh announced a " Code of Conduct for Political Leaders and Public Servants."

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.

Multi-party constitution and Revolutionary United Front rebellion

In October 1990, due to mounting pressure from both within and outside the country for political and economic reform, president Momoh set up a constitutional review commission to review the 1978 one-party constitution. Based on the commission's recommendations a constitution re-establishing a multi-party system was approved by the exclusive APC Parliament by a 60% majority vote, becoming effective on 1 October 1991. By November 1991, political opposition became active once again in Sierra Leone. In late November 1991, president Momoh proposed a multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in the country in October 1992.

There was great suspicion that president Momoh was not serious about his promise of political reform, as APC rule continued to be increasingly marked by abuses of power. The APC was also alleged to have been hoarding arms and planning a violent campaign against the opposition parties ahead of multi-party general elections scheduled for late 1992. Several senior government officials in the APC administration like Dr. Salia Jusu Sheriff, Dr. Abass Bundu, J.B. Dauda and Dr. Sama Banya resigned from the APC government respectively to resuscitate the previously disbanded SLPP. While other senior government officials like Thaimu Bangura, Edward Kargbo and Desmond Luke resigned from the APC and formed their own respective political parties to challenge the ruling APC.

Civil war broke out, mainly due to government corruption and mismanagement of diamond resources and abuse of power by various governments since independence from Britain (Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Report). The brutal civil war going on in neighbouring Liberia played an undeniable role in 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 Saybana Sankoh, an ethnic Temne from Tonkolili District in Northern Sierra Leone. Sankoh was a British trained former army corporal who had also undergone guerrilla training in Libya. Taylor’s aim was for the RUF to attack the bases of Nigerian dominated peacekeeping troops in Freetown who were opposed to his rebel movement in Liberia.In 2003 Foday Sankoh was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for war crimes and crimes against humanity and died under UN custody before the trials could be concluded. Charles Taylor, who is a former president of Liberia, is currently in the Hague at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), where he faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for crimes allegedly committed by Sankoh's RUF in 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 23 March 1991. The government of Sierra Leone, overwhelmed by a crumbling economy and corruption, as well as a demoralised army, was unable to put up significant resistance against the incursion of the RUF. Within a month of entering Sierra Leone from Liberia, the RUF controlled much of Eastern Sierra Leone, including the cash crop production areas of Kailahun and the government diamond mines in Kono District. Forced recruitment of child soldiers was also an early feature of the rebel strategy.

NPRC Junta

On 29 April 1992, a group comprising a colonel and seven junior officers in the Sierra Leonean army, apparently frustrated by the government's failure to deal with the rebels and to pay salaries, launched a military coup which sent president Momoh into exile in Guinea. The officers were Colonel Yahya Kanu, an ethnic Temne; the ethnic Mendes Captain Solomon A. J. Musa; Captain Julius Maada Bio, and Lieutenant Sahr Sandy; ethnic Konos Captain Samuel Komba Kambo and Captain Komba Mondeh; the Creole Captain Valentine E. M. Strasser; and the ethnic Kissi Second Lieutenant Tom Nyuma. Sandy was said to have insisted to his colleagues on the second day of the action that theirs would no longer be a revolt over pay but a revolution to overthrow the APC and the system of one-party politics. Sandy was the only soldier killed during the coup, allegedly by his adoptive uncle, APC member Colonel S.I.M. Turay. Turay was declared wanted for the murder of Sandy by the NPRC junta, but managed to escape to Guinea, where he joined the exiled president. Colonel Yahya Kanu was the very popular commander of the fearless Tiger Battalion which was at the forefront in the war against the RUF under president Momoh. The officers established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). Kanu was not formally declared head of the new junta. In an interview with the BBC Focus on Africa program, he even refused to acknowledge that the revolt was a coup by his men, yet he was seen as the de facto leader of the NPRC.

Later, however, Kanu was arrested and imprisoned by his junior officers, who accused him of trying to negotiate a compromise with the toppled APC administration. Kanu's arrest divided the army into two rival groups, namely, his Tiger Battalion and Tom Nyuma's Cobra Battalion and their respective supporters. On April 29, 1992, Valentine Strasser took over as leader and chairman of the NPRC and Head of State of Sierra Leone. Strasser became the youngest Head of State in the world, just three days after his 27th birthday. 25 year-old S.A.J. Musa, a close friend of Strasser and an officer in Kanu's feared Tiger Battalion, was named Vice-Chairman of the NPRC. Many Sierra Leoneans nationwide rushed into the streets to celebrate the NPRC's takeover from the 23-year dictatorial APC regime, which they perceived as corrupt. The NPRC junta immediately suspended the 1991 Constitution, declared a state of emergency, banned all political parties, limited freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and enacted a rule-by-decree policy, in which soldiers were granted unlimited powers of administrative detention without charge or trial, and challenges against such detentions in court were precluded. The NPRC Junta maintained relations with ECOWAS and strengthened support for Sierra Leone-based ECOMOG troops fighting in Liberia. In his first speech as head of state, Strasser reassured the world of meeting his country's obligations to her creditors, and making a commitment to the IMF and the World Bank to accelerate the economic reform process started by Momoh's government in 1989 aimed at stabilizing the severely crippled economy. Shortly after that, Strasser negotiated a Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) with these two institutions. The junta formed the Supreme Council of State (SCS), made up of only members NPRC—the six surviving leaders mentioned above—chaired by Strasser himself. They also appointed an advisory council of retired senior civil servants and academics, chaired by a retired UN administrator Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. These men were all regarded as untainted by the 23 years of alleged APC mismanagement, corruption and abuse of power.

In December 1992, an alleged coup attempt against the NPRC administration of Strasser, aimed at freeing the detained Colonel Yayah Kanu, was foiled. Sgt. Lamin Bangura (an ethnic Temne) and some junior army officers of the Tiger Battalion were identified as being behind the alleged plot. It led to the execution of seventeen Sierra Leone soldiers, including Sgt. Bangura and Yayah Kanu, and some senior members of the overthrown APC government who had been in detention at the Pa Demba Road prison. These included the notorious Inspector General of Police James Bambay Kamara, key former APC ministers, senior party members and thugs. By mid 1993 Captain Strasser announced a plan to hand over the government to civilian rule by 1996. Dr. James Jonah, who was by then Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, was appointed by the NPRC Junta as the chairman of the new Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC), which was in charge of the demarcation of electoral boundaries and voter registration. In 1994 the NPRC junta proposed a change in the age restriction in the 1991 Sierra Leone constitution which stated only Sierra Leoneans over the age of 40 are eligible for the presidency, thus excluding Strasser and others in the NPRC.

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 (see Within a month they had driven RUF fighters back to enclaves along Sierra Leone’s borders, and cleared the RUF from the Kono diamond producing areas of Sierra Leone. However, Captains Tom Nyuma (Secretary of State East) and Komba Mondeh (Secretary of State Defence), who were regarded outside Freetown as the only "fighters" in the NPRC who dared to lead the troops to attack RUF strongholds in the East and South, were widely credited with these successes against the RUF. During this time corruption had erupted within the senior ranks of both the NPRC and the military, and the junta had become divided between SAJ Musa, on the one side, against Nyuma and Mondeh, on the other. SAJ Musa had become very popular in Freetown for fighting grafts and enforcing strict discipline in the public service and his last-Saturday-of-the-month city cleaning exercises. Nyuma, nicknamed "The Ranger", was seen across the country as the daredevil of the NPRC and the "protector of the East." There was great suspicion among the SCS members that SAJ Musa was planning a coup to topple his friend Strasser, whom he accused of being subservient to the wishes of Nyuma and Mondeh. On 5 Jul 1995, under pressure from Nyuma, Captain Strasser dismissed SAJ Musa as deputy chairman of the NPRC and appointed an ally of Tom Nyuma, the Secretary of State for Information and Broadcasting Captain Julius Maada Bio, to the position. Musa was arrested by soldiers led by Nyuma's men, and was briefly placed under house arrest in Freetown before being sent on to exile in the UK. Senior NPRC members, including Bio (who by now had promoted himself to Brigadier), Nyuma and Mondeh (both promoted to Colonel), were becoming increasingly unhappy with (still-Captain) Strasser's handling of the preparation for the pending elections, the peace negotiation with the RUF, and the transition to democratic civilian rule.

In January 1996, after nearly four years in power, Captain V.E.M. Strasser was ousted in a bloodless "palace" coup led by his NPRC deputy Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio with the support of several senior NPRC members including both Tom Nyuma and Komba Mondeh. Bio claimed that Strasser was attempting to unilaterally amend the age restriction in the constitution in order to perpetuate his hold on power.

Return of democracy and civil war

Bio reinstated the Constitution and called for general elections. In the second round of presidential elections in early 1996, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, an ethnic Mandingo and the candidate of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), won 59% of the vote, over John Karefa-Smart, an ethnic Sherbro and the candidate of the United National People's Party (UNPP) who won 41%. Bio fulfilled his promise of a return to civilian rule, and handed power to Kabbah. President Tejan Kabbah's SLPP party also won a majority of the seats in Parliament.

For years Sierra Leonean soldiers in the lower ranks were not paid a good salary and they were denied privileges and benefits. Soldiers were killed in action and no provision was made for their families. Major Johnny Paul Koroma, an army officer who hailed from the Limba ethnic group, 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. On May 25, 1997, a group of seventeen junior army officers, loyal to Major Koroma, formed the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) led by Corporal Tamba Gborie and Sergent Alex Tamba Brima, both ethnic Kono. They launched a military coup which sent President Kabbah into exile in Guinea. Corporal Tamba Gborie quickly went to the SLBS FM 99.9 headquarters in Freetown to announce the coup and to alert all soldiers to report for guard duty. The AFRC released Koroma from prison and installed him as their chairman and Head of State, with Corporal Tamba Gborie as deputy in command of the AFRC. Koroma suspended the constitution, banned demonstrations, shut down all private radio stations in the country and invited the RUF to join the new junta government, with its leader Foday Sankoh as the Vice-Chairman of the new AFRC-RUF coalition junta government. Within days, Freetown was overwhelmed by the presence of the RUF combatants who came to the city in their thousands. The Kamajors, a group of traditional fighters mostly from the Mende ethnic group under the command of deputy Defense Minister Samuel Hinga Norman, remained loyal to President Kabbah. The Kamajors defended Bo, the country's second largest city, from the Junta and continue their attack against the AFRC and RUF in south-eastern Sierra Leone

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. Twenty-four of these were found guilty and were executed without appeal in October 1998.

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 as UN troops launched Operation Khukri to end the seize. The Operation was successful with Indian and British Special Forces being the main contingents.

The situation in the country deteriorated to such an extent that British troops were deployed in Operation Palliser, originally simply to evacuate foreign nationals. However, the British exceeded their original mandate, and took full military action to finally defeat the rebels and restore order. The British were the catalyst for the ceasefire that ended the civil war.

Elements of the British Army, together with administrators and politicians, remain in Sierra Leone to this day, helping train the armed forces, improve the infrastructure of the country and administer financial and material aid. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain at the time of the British intervention, is regarded as a hero by the people of Sierra Leone, many of whom are keen for more British involvement.

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.

Current government

In August 2007, Sierra Leone held presidential and parliamentary elections. However, no presidential candidate won the 50% plus one votes majority stipulated in the constitution on the first round of voting. A runoff election was held in September 2007, and Ernest Bai Koroma, the candidate of the APC and ethnically a half Limba and half Temne from the north was elected president.

By 2007, there had been an increase in the number of drug cartels, many from Colombia, using Sierra Leone as a base to ship drugs on to Europe. It was feared that this might lead to increased corruption and violence and turn the country, like neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, into a narco state. However, the new government of president Koroma quickly amended the laws against drug trafficking in the country, updating the existing legislation from those inherited at independence in 1961, to address the international concerns, increasing punishment for offenders both in terms of higher, if not prohibitive, fines, lengthier prison terms and provision for possible extradition of offenders wanted elsewhere including to the United States of America.

Geography and climate

Satellite image of Sierra Leone
The road from Kenema to Kailahun District.

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 km2 (27,699 sq mi), divided into a land area of 71,620 km2 (27,653 sq mi) and water of 120 km2 (46 sq mi). The country has four distinct geographical regions. In eastern Sierra Leone the plateau is interspersed with high mountains, where Mount Bintumani reaches 1,948 m (6,391 ft), the highest point in the country. The upper part of the drainage basin of the Moa River is located in the south of this region.

The centre of the country is a region of lowland plains, containing forests, bush and farmland, that occupies about 43% of Sierra Leone's land area. The northern section of this has been categorised by the World Wildlife Fund as part of the Guinean forest-savanna mosaic ecoregion, while the south is rain-forested plains and farmland. In the west Sierra Leone has some 400 km (249 mi) of Atlantic coastline, giving it both bountiful marine resources and attractive tourist potential. The coast has areas of low-lying Guinean mangroves swamp. The national capital Freetown sits on a coastal peninsula, situated next to the Sierra Leone Harbour, the world's third largest natural harbour.


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 (78.8 °F) to 36 °C (96.8 °F) during the year.


Logging, mining, slash and burn, and deforestation for land conversion - such as cattle grazing - have dramatically diminished forested land in Sierra Leone since the 1980s. Correspondingly the habitat for the African Wild Dog, Lycaon pictus, has been decreased, such that this canid is deemed to have been extirpated in Sierra Leone.

Until 2002, Sierra Leone lacked a forest management system due to the 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.

The Environmental Justice Foundation has documented how the number of illegal fishing vessels in Sierra Leone's waters has multiplied in recent years. The amount of illegal fishing has significantly depleted fish stocks, depriving local fishing communities of an important resource for survival. The situation is particularly serious as fishing provides the only source of income for many communities in a country still recovering from over a decade of civil war.

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, an important surviving fragment of rainforest in Sierra Leone.

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 modelled 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.

Ernest Bai Koroma, current president of Sierra Leone

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. The president is the highest and most influential position within the government of Sierra Leone.

To be elected president of Sierra Leone, 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.

The current president of Sierra Leone is Ernest Bai Koroma, who was sworn in on 17 September 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 otherwise temporarily unable to fulfill his or her duties. The vice president is elected jointly with the president as his or her running mate. Sierra Leone's current vice president is Samuel Sam-Sumana, sworn in on 17 September 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.

The current parliament in the August 2007 Parliamentary elections is made up of three political parties. The most recent parliamentary elections were held on 11 August 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.

The Sierra Leone Supreme Court in the capital Freetown, the highest and most powerful court in the country

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 Sierra Leone Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the country and its ruling therefore cannot be appealed; High Court of Justice; the Court of Appeal; the magistrate courts; and traditional courts in rural villages. The president appoints and parliament approves Justices for the three courts. The Judiciary have jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matters throughout the country. The current Sierra Leone's Chief Justice is Umu Hawa Tejan Jalloh, who was appointed by President Ernest Bai Koroma and took office on 25 January 2008 upon her confirmation by parliament. She is the first woman in the history of Sierra Leone to hold such position.

Foreign relations

Embassy of Sierra Leone in Washington, D.C.

The Sierra Leone Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Zainab Hawa Bangura is responsible for foreign policy of Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has diplomatic relations that include China, Libya, Iran, and Cuba. Sierra Leone has good relations with the West, including the United States and has maintained historical ties with the United Kingdom and other former British colonies through membership of the Commonwealth of Nations. The United Kingdom has played a major role in providing aid to the former colony, together with administrative help and military training since intervening to end the Civil War in 2000.

Former President Siaka Stevens' government had sought closer relations with other West African countries under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) a policy continued by the current. Sierra Leone, along with Liberia and Guinea form the Mano River Union (MRU) primarily designed to implement development projects and promote regional economic integration between the three countries.

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

Provinces and districts

The 12 districts and 2 areas of Sierra Leone.

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 Capital Area km2 Province Population (2004 census) Population (2008 estimates)
Bombali District Makeni 7,985 Northern Province 408,390 424,100
Koinadugu District Kabala 12,121 265,758
Port Loko District Port Loko 5,719 455,746 483,752
Tonkolili District Magburaka 7,003 347,197 370,425
Kambia District Kambia 3,108 270,462 299,725
Kenema District Kenema 6,053 Eastern Province 497,948 522,656
Kono District Koidu Town 5,641 335,401
Kailahun District Kailahun 3,859 358,190 389,253
Bo District Bo 5,473.6 Southern Province 463,668 527,131
Bonthe District Mattru Jong 3,468 129,947 137,155
Pujehun District Gandorhun 4,105 228,392 262,073
Moyamba District Moyamba 6,902 260,910
Western Area Urban District Freetown 3,568 Western Area 1,272,873 1,473,873
Western Area Rural District Freetown 4,175 174,249 205,400

Major cities

Freetown (population 1,070,200) The capital, largest city and economic centre of Sierra Leone.
Koidu Town (population 111,800) Sierra Leone's fourth largest city and a major centre for diamond trade. The city is located in Kono District, the richest diamond producing District in Sierra Leone
City 2004 census Current population estimate
Freetown 772,873 1,070,200
Bo 149,957 215,474.
Kenema 128,402 164,125.
Koidu Town 80,025 111,800
Makeni 82,840 105,900
  • The populations quoted above for the five largest cities are estimates from the sources cited. Different sources give different estimates. Some claim that Magburaka should be included in the above list, but one source estimates the population at only 14,915, whilst another puts it as high as 85,313.


Diamond miners in Kono District.

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.

Rich in minerals, Sierra Leone has relied on mining, especially diamonds, for its economic base. The country is among the top 10 diamond producing nations in the world. 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 $250–300 million US$. Some of that is smuggled, where it is possibly used for money laundering or financing illicit activities. Formal exports have dramatically improved since the civil war with efforts to improve the management of them having 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 is perhaps best known for its blood diamonds that were mined and sold to De Beers and other diamond conglomerates during the civil war, and whose monies were used to buy the weapons that fueled the atrocities of the civil war. 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.

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.


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.

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 used at some hotels and restaurants. There are a few internationally linked automated teller machines that accept Visa cards in Freetown operated by ProCredit Bank.


A Mende woman in the village of Jojoima in Kailahun District

The 2009 UN estimate of Sierra Leone's population is 6.4 million. 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 up to 269,000 (149,957 in the 2004 census). Other cities with an estimated population over 100,000 are Kenema, Koidu Town, and Makeni.

Sierra Leonean children in Koindu, Kailahun District playing next to a school damaged during the Sierra Leone Civil War

Although English is the official language spoken at schools, government administration, and by the media, Krio (language derived from English and several African languages and native to the Sierra Leone Krio people) is the most widely spoken language in virtually all parts of Sierra Leone. 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. In December 2002, Sierra Leone’s President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah named Bengali as an "official language" in recognition of the work of 5,300 troops from Bangladesh in the peace-keeping force.

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 life expectancy of Sierra Leone is 41 years.


Sierra Leone religious sects
Religion Percent
African indigenous

Followers of Islam are estimated to comprise 60% of Sierra Leone's population according to the Inter-Religious Council (IRC) or 71.3% (4,059,000) according to the Pew Research Centre estimate. Muslims predominate in all of the country's three provinces and plus the Western Area, though formerly they were concentrated in the north, with the south being mainly Christian. According to the CIA Factbook, followers of Christianity comprise about 10% of the total population. Others follow African indigenous religion, though many inhabitants combine traditional beliefs with one of the newer faiths. There are small numbers of adherents to other faiths such as Bahāʾī, Hinduism, and Judaism.

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 diversity of Sierra Leone has seldom led to conflict.

Ethnic groups

Ethnic groups of Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone government officially recognizes fourteen ethnic groups, each with its own language and custom. Unlike most African nations, Sierra Leone has no serious ethnic divisions and no serious religious divisions. People often married across tribal and religious boundaries.

The two largest and most dominant are the Mende and Temne, each comprises 30% of the population (about 1,888,000 members each). The Mende predominate in the South- Eastern Provinces; the Temne likewise predominate in the Northern Province. Sierra Leone's national politics centres on the competition between the north, dominated by the Temne and the south-east dominated by the Mende.

The third largest ethnic group are the Limba at (8.5%) of the population and they are a close ally of the Temne. The Limba are primarily found in Northern Sierra Leone, particularly in Bombali District and they are descendants of one of the earliest inhabitants of the country. Sierra Leone's first president Siaka Stevens and the country's second president Joseph Saidu Momoh are ethnic Limba.

The fourth largest ethnic group are the Kono people at around (7.6%) of the population and they are primarily found in Kono District in Eastern Sierra Leone. The Kono are primarily diamond miners and farmers.

After the Kono, are the Mandingo (also known as Mandinka) at (7.4%) (they are the descendants of the Mandinka traders from Guinea who immigrated to Sierra Leone between 1840 to about 1898). The Mandinka predominantly found in the east and the northern part of the country, and they are the largest inhabitant of the large towns, most notably Kabal and Falaba in Koinadugu District in the north and Yengema, Kono District in the east of the country. Historically, the Mandinka intense rivals have been the Temne and Limba. Sierra Leone's third president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is an ethnic Mandingo.

After the Mandinka, are the Fula at (6%) (descendants of 17th- and 18th-century Fulani settlers from the Fouta Djalon region of Guinea) they live primarily in the north and the Western Area of Sierra Leone. Some notable ethnic Fula include the country current chief justice Umu Hawa Tejan Jalloh

Behind the Fula, are the Creole (at 5%) (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) are primarily found in the capital city of Freetown and its surrounding Western Area. Creole culture is unlike that of all other ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, and it is typical of Western culture and ideals. Former Sierrer Leone's Head of State Valentine Strasser is an ethnic Creole.

Much smaller ethnic groups are the Kuranko, in the north; the Loko in the north, with the Susu and Yalunka in the far north in Kambia District around the border with Guinea. The Kissi and the much smaller group of Vai are further inland in Kailahun District in the East next to the border with Liberia. On the coast in Bonthe District in the south are the Sherbro.

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.

List of Sierra Leoneans


Second grade class in Koidu Town.

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. Two thirds of the adult population of the country are illiterate. 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 enrolment 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: Fourah Bay College, founded in 1827 (the oldest university in West Africa), and Njala University, primarily located in Bo District. Njala University was established as 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 Kailahun Government Hospital at its reopening in 2004. It is the main hospital that serves Kailahun District.

Health care is provided by the government and others. Since April 2010, the government has instituted the Free Health Care Initiative which commits to free services for pregnant and lactating women and children under 5. This policy has been supported by increased aid from the United Kingdom and is recognised as a progressive move that other African countries may follow. The country has a very high infant mortality and a very low life expectancy. The maternal death rates are also the highest in the world, at 2,000 deaths per 100,000 live births. The country suffers from epidemic outbreaks of diseases including yellow fever, cholera, lassa fever and meningitis. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the population is 1.6 percent, higher than the world average of 1 percent but lower than the average of 6.1 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.


The Military of Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), are the unified armed forces of Sierra Leone responsible for the territorial security of Sierra Leone's border and defending the national interests of Sierra Leone within the framework of its international obligations. The armed forces were formed after independence in 1961, on the basis of elements of the former British Royal West African Frontier Force present in the country. The Sierra Leone Armed Forces currently consist of around 15,500 personnel, comprising the largest Sierra Leone Army, the Sierra Leone Navy and the Sierra Leone Air Wing. The president of Sierra Leone is the Commander in Chief of the military, with the Minister of Defence responsible for defence policy and the formulation of the armed forces. The current Sierra Leone Defense Minister is Ret. Major Alfred Paolo Conteh. The Military of Sierra Leone also has a Chief of the Defence Staff who is a uniformed military official responsible for the administration and the operational control of the Sierra Leone military. Brigadier General Alfred Nelson-Williams who was appointed by president Koroma succeeded the retired Major General Edward Sam M’boma on 12 September 2008 as the Chief of Defense Staff of the Military.

Before Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961 the military was known as the Royal Sierra Leone Military Force. The military seized control in 1968, bringing the National Reformation Council into power. On 19 April 1971, when Sierra Leone became a republic, the Royal Sierra Leone Military Forces were renamed the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Force (RSLMF). The RSLMF remained a single service organization until 1979, when the Sierra Leone Navy was established. It then remained largely unchanged for 16 years until in 1995 when Defence Headquarters was established and the Sierra Leone Air Wing formed. This gave the need for the RSLMF to be renamed the Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone (AFRSL).

Law enforcement

Law enforcement in Sierra Leone is primarily the responsibility of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP). Sierra Leone Police was established by the British colony back in 1894 and is one of the oldest police forces in West Africa. The key mission of the Sierra Leone Police include to prevent crime, to protect life and property, to detect and prosecute offenders, to maintain public order, to ensure safety and security, to enhance access to justice. The Sierra Leone Police is headed by the Inspector General of Police, the professional head of the Sierra Leone Police force and is appointed by the President of Sierra Leone. Each one of Sierra Leone's 14 districts is headed by a District Police commissioner who is the professional head of their respective district. The Districts Police Commissioners report directly to the Inspector General of Police at the Sierra Leone Police headquarters in Freetown. The current Inspector General of Police is Brima Acha Kamara who was appointed to the position by former president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.


see also: Palm-wine music, Gumbe, Afropop


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


There are ten regional airports in Sierra Leone, and one international airport. The Lungi International Airport located in the coastal town of Lungi in Northern Sierra Leone is the primary airport for domestic and international travel to or from Sierra Leone. Passengers cross the river to Aberdeen Heliports in Freetown by hovercraft, ferry or a helicopter. Helicopters are also available from the airport to other major cities in the country. The airport has paved runways longer than 3,047m. The other airports have unpaved runways, and seven have runways 914 to 1,523 metres long; the remaining two have shorter runways.

Prohibition from E.U. air operations

This country appears on the E.U. list of prohibited countries with regard to the certification of airlines. This means that no airline which is Sierra Leone registered may operate services of any kind within the European Union. This is due to substandard safety standards.


Sierra Leone has the third largest natural harbour in the world, where international shipping berth at the Queen Elizabeth II Quay in Government Wharf in central Freetown. There are 800 km (497 mi) of waterways in Sierra Leone, of which 600 km (373 mi) are navigable year-round. Major port cities are Bonthe, Freetown, Sherbro Island and Pepel.


There are 11,700 kilometres (about 7,270 miles) of highways in Sierra Leone, of which 936 km (582 mi) are paved (about 8% of the roads). Sierra Leone highways are linked to Conakry, Guinea, and Monrovia, Liberia.



Sierra Leonean football star Sheriff Suma just after a Leone Stars training session on 4 Sept. 2008 at the National Stadium in Freetown.

Football is by far the most popular sport in Sierra Leone. The national football team, popularly known as the Leone Stars, represents the country in international competitions. It has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup but 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. Some well known Sierra Leonean footballers include the team captain Mohamed Kallon, Julius Gibrilla Woobay, Al Bangura, Paul Kpaka, Rodney Strasser, Ahmed Deen, Samuel Barlay, Kewullay Conteh Albert Jarrett and Kei Kamara

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.


The Sierra Leone cricket team represents Sierra Leone in international cricket competitions, and is among the best in West Africa. It became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council in 2002. It made its international debut at the 2004 African Affiliates Championship, where it finished last of eight teams. But at the equivalent tournament in 2006, Division Three of the African region of the World Cricket League, it finished as runner-up to Mozambique, and just missed a promotion to Division Two.

In 2009 the Sierra Leone Under-19 team finished second in the African Under-19 Championship in Zambia, thus qualifying for the Under-19 World Cup qualifying tournament with nine other teams. However, the team was unable to obtain Canadian visas to play in the tournament, which was held in Toronto.


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 players.

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