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Sierra Leone



Republic of Sierra Leone

CAPITAL: Freetown

FLAG: The national flag is a tricolor of green, white, and blue horizontal stripes.

ANTHEM: Begins "High we exalt thee, realm of the free, Great is the love we have for thee."

MONETARY UNIT: The leone (Le) is a paper currency of 100 cents. There are coins of ½, 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, and notes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 leones. Le1 = $0.00041 (or $1 = Le2,452.91) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is employed.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Independence Day, 27 April; Bank Holiday, August; Christmas, 2425 December; Boxing Day, 26 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Easter Monday, Whitmonday, 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', and Milad an-Nabi.



Situated on the west coast of Africa, Sierra Leone has an area of 71,740 sq km (27,699 sq mi), extending 338 km (210 mi) ns and 304 km (189 mi) ew. Comparatively, the area occupied by Sierra Leone is slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina. It is bounded on the n and e by Guinea, on these by Liberia, and on the s and w by the Atlantic Ocean, with a total boundary length of 1,360 km (845 mi), of which 402 km (250 mi) is coastline. In addition to the mainland proper, Sierra Leone also includes the offshore Banana and Turtle islands and Sherbro Island, as well as other small islets.

Sierra Leone's capital city, Freetown, is located on the Atlantic Coast.


The Sierra Leone Peninsula in the extreme west is mostly mountainous, rising to about 884 m (2,900 ft). The western part of the country, excluding the Peninsula, consists of coastal mangrove swamps. Farther east, a coastal plain extends inland for about 100160 km (60100 mi); many rivers in this area are navigable for short distances. Stretches of wooded hill country lead east and northeast to a plateau region generally ranging in elevation from 300 to 610 m (1,000 to 2,000 ft). There are peaks of over 1,830 m (6,000 ft), reaching a maximum of 1,948 m (6,390 ft) at Loma Mansa (Bintimani) in the Loma Mountains.


Temperatures and humidity are high, and rainfall is heavy. The mean temperature is about 27°c (81°f) on the coast and almost as high on the eastern plateau. There are two distinct seasons: the dry season, from November to April, and the wet season, over the rest of the year, with the heaviest precipitation in July, August, and September. Rainfall is greatest along the coast, especially in the mountains, where there is more than 580 cm (230 in) annually, but it averages more than 315 cm (125 in) a year in most of the country, with 366 cm (144 in) at Freetown. The relative humidity ranges from an average of 80% during the wet season to about 50% during the dry season.


About 2535% of the land area, mostly in the north, consists of savanna or grasslands; 2025%, mostly in the south-center, is low bush; another 2025%, in the southeast, is secondary forest or high bush; 1020% is swampland; and 35% is primary rain forest.

The emerald cuckoo, which has been described as the most beautiful bird in Africa, is found in Sierra Leone, although it has disappeared from the rest of West Africa. Other species include the Senegal firefinch, common bulbul, little African swift, Didric cuckoo, bronze manakin, cattle egret (or "tickbird"), and many birds that breed in Europe but winter in Sierra Leone. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses are indigenous to the river regions of the coastal plain. As of 2002, there were at least 147 species of mammals, 172 species of birds, and over 2,000 species of plants throughout the country.


Water pollution is a significant problem in Sierra Leone due to mining by-products and sewage. The nation has about 160 cu km of renewable water resource, with 89% of annual withdrawals used for farming and 4% for industrial purposes. Only 75% of the nation's city dwellers and 46% of those living in rural areas have access to improved water sources. The nation's cities have produced an average of about 0.3 million tons of solid waste per year.

Population pressure, leading to an intensification of agriculture, has resulted in soil depletion, while lumbering, cattle grazing, and slash-and-burn farming have decimated the primary forest. By 1985, deforestation had progressed to a total of 23 square miles. Agricultural lands are gradually replacing forestlands due to the need for food by a population that increased by 80% during the period between 1963 and 1990. The forests of the Sierra Leone Peninsula are protected. The Sierra Leone River Estuary is a Ramsar wetland site. As of 2003, only 2.1% of Sierra Leone's total land area was protected. Government agencies with environmental responsibilities include the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Forestry, Ministry of Mines, Ministry of Lands and Human Development, Ministry of Energy and Power, and Ministry of Economic Planning and National Development.

Hunting for food has reduced the stock of wild mammals, and Cutamba Killimi National Park, which has some wildlife species found only in this part of West Africa, is exploited by poachers. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 12 types of mammals, 10 species of birds, 3 types of reptiles, 2 species of amphibians, 8 species of fish, 4 species of invertebrate, and 47 species of plants. Threatened species in Sierra Leone include the white-breasted Guinea fowl, Diana monkey, the African sharp-nosed crocodile, and several species of shark.


The population of Sierra Leone in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 5,525,000, which placed it at number 107 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 41% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 97 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.3%, a rate the government viewed as too high. Contributing to the high growth rate is the low rate of contraception use, at 3.9% of married woman. The projected population for the year 2025 was 8,663,000. The overall population density was 77 per sq km (199 per sq mi), with the Sierra Leone Peninsula the most densely populated region of the country.

The UN estimated that 37% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.59%. The capital city, Freetown, had a population of 921,000 in that year. Other main towns are Koindu, Bo, Kenema, and Makeni.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS has had a significant impact on the population of Sierra Leone. The UN estimated that 7% of adults between the ages of 1549 were living with HIV/AIDS in 2001. The AIDS epidemic causes higher death and infant mortality rates, and lowers life expectancy.


Historically, there has been considerable movement over the borders to and from Guinea and Liberia. In the mid-1980s, the number of nonnative Africans was estimated at 30,000. Since the civil war in 1991, hundreds of thousands of refugees have left Sierra Leone. Of these refugees, 250,000 went to Guinea, 120,000 went to Liberia, and 4,000 went to The Gambia. Repatriation by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began in February 1997, as 1,400 returned home from Liberia and Mali. By February 1998, UNHCR planned to repatriate 240,000 refugees from Guinea, Liberia, and The Gambia. With the signing of the Lomé peace agreement in 1999, UNHCR planned for the repatriation of the remaining 450,000 Sierra Leonean refugees seeking asylum in the subregion, mainly in Guinea and Liberia, but also in Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia, and Nigeria. As of 1999, Sierra Leoneans made up UNHCR's largest refugee caseload in Africa. The total number of migrants in the country in 2000 was 47,000, including remaining refugees. In 2004, some 26,271 refugees returned to Guinea and Liberia. However, in that same year there were yet another 65,437 refugees in Sierra Leone, 61,192 from Liberia, and 138 asylum seekers.

In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated zero migrants per 1,000 population. This was a significant drop from -18.7 per 1,000 in 1990. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


The African population is composed of some 20 native ethnic groups, constituting 90% of the total population. The two largest are the Mende (about 30% of the population) and Temne (about 30%). Other peoples, making up the remaining 30% of the African populace, include the Bullom, Fulani, Gola, Kissi, Kono, Koranko, Krim, Kru, Limba, Loko, Malinke, Sherbro, Susu, Vai, and Yalunka. Creoles, descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who settled in the Freetown area in the late 18th century, account for the remaining 10% of the total population. Refugees from Liberia's recent civil war also live in Sierra Leone, along with small numbers of Europeans, Lebanese, Pakistanis, and Indians.


English is the official language; however, it is used regularly only by the literate minority. The Mende and Temne languages are widely spoken in the south and north, respectively. Krio, the mother tongue of the Creoles, derived largely from English, with words added from various West African languages, is the lingua franca and a first language for about 10% of the population, but is understood by 95%.


Reliable data on the exact numbers of practitioners of major religions is not available. However, most sources estimate that the population is 60% Muslim, 30% Christian, and 10% practitioners of traditional indigenous religions. Muslims were traditionally concentrated in the northern part of the country, and Christians in the south. However, an ongoing civil war has prompted relocation by large masses of the population. Reportedly, many syncretic practices exist, with up to 20% of the populace practicing a mixture of either Muslim or Christianity with traditional indigenous religions. Certain Muslim and Christian holidays are recognized as national holidays. The Inter-Religious Council serves an important role in civil society and works to promote the peace process within the country.


In 1970 there were more than 580 km (360 mi) of railway, but by the end of 1975, following an IBRD recommendation, Sierra Leone had dismantled most of its rail system and replaced it with new roadways; since the mid-1980s, only 84 km (52 mi) of narrow-gauge railway has remained, connecting the closed iron mines at Marampa with the port of Pepel, on the Sierra Leone River. The line remains operable but is in limited use. In 2002, Sierra Leone had about 11,700 km (7,270 mi) of roads, of which some 904 km (562 mi) were paved. In 2003, there were 29,650 registered motor vehicles, including 20,300 automobiles, and 9,350 commercial vehicles.

Freetown has one of the finest natural harbors in the world, with an excellent deepwater quay, built in 1953. In 1970, work was completed on an extension that provides the port with berth facilities for six to eight ships and about 24 hectares (60 acres) of storage area. Pepel specializes in the export of iron ore, and Point Sam, the Sherbro River terminal, handles bauxite and rutile. Bonthe and Sulima are other ports. As of 2005, the merchant marine consisted of two petroleum tankers of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 7,435 GRT. Sierra Leone has many rivers, however, some are navigable only over short distances for about three months of the year, during the rainy season. Of the 800 km (497 mi) of waterways, 600 km (373 mi) are navigable year round.

In 2004 there were an estimated 10 airports, however, as of 2005, only one had a paved runway, and there were also two heliports. An international airport at Lungi is connected by ferry to Freetown, across the bay. Extension of the runway was completed in 1968, bringing the airport to top-class international airport standard. It is served by about a dozen international airlines with regular flights to Europe, North and South America, and the rest of West Africa. Domestic service operates from Hastings Airfield, 22 km (14 mi) from Freetown, linking the capital to nearly all the large provincial towns.

The national air carrier, founded in 1961 as Sierra Leone Airways, was reconstituted in 1982 as Sierra Leone Airlines, under the management of Alia-Royal Jordanian Airline, which holds a 20% share. In 2003, about 14,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights.


Archaeological research indicates that by ad 800 the use of iron had been introduced into what is now Sierra Leone and that by ad 1000 the coastal peoples were practicing agriculture. Beginning perhaps in the 13th century, migrants arrived from the more advanced savanna lands to the north and east.

European contact began in 1462 with the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra, who gave the mountainous Peninsula the name Sierra Leone ("Lion Mountains"). From the 16th to the early 19th century, the region was raided for slaves for the Atlantic trade, and later in the 19th century, it was ravaged by African war leaders and slavers.

The colony of Sierra Leone was founded by British philanthropists to relieve the horrors of this slave trade. Granville Sharp, a leader in the movement to abolish slavery, planned it as a home for African slaves freed in England. In 1787, he sent out the first settlers to what he called "The Province of Freedom." In the following year, one of the Temne kings and his subordinate chiefs sold and ceded a strip of land on the north shore of the Sierra Leone Peninsula to Capt. John Taylor on behalf of the "free community of settlers, their heirs and successors, lately arrived from England, and under the protection of the British Government." A few years later, they were joined by settlers of African origin from England, Nova Scotia (freed slaves who, as loyalists, had fled the American Revolution), and Jamaica.

The Sierra Leone Company, of which Sharp was a director, was formed in 1791 to administer the settlement. The land did not prove as fertile as described, and the settlement was the victim of attacks by neighboring tribes and by a French squadron. The burden of defense and settlement proved too heavy for the company, and Sierra Leone was transferred to the crown in 1808. The colony received additions of land up to 1861 through various treaties of friendship and cession from the local chiefs.

After 1807, when the British Parliament passed an act making the slave trade illegal, the new colony was used as a base from which the act could be enforced. Beginning in 1808, hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of slaves were freed each year, most of them remaining in Sierra Leone. In 1896, a British protectorate was declared over the hinterland of Sierra Leone, which was separate from the colony. Revolts in 1898 were provoked mainly by attempts to extend British colonial jurisdiction into the protectorate.

A 1924 constitution provided for the election of three members to a Legislative Council on a restricted franchise, and the constitution of 1951 provided for an elected majority, resulting in African rule. In 1957, the Legislative Council was replaced by a House of Representatives, most members of which were elected, and the literacy requirement for voters was dropped. In 1958, Milton Margai became Sierra Leone's first prime minister; in 1960, he led a delegation to London to establish conditions for full independence.


Sierra Leone became an independent country within the Commonwealth of Nations on 27 April 1961. Milton Margai continued as prime minister until his death in 1964, when he was succeeded by his half-brother, Albert Margai, who held office until the national elections in March 1967. The outcome of the elections was disputed, but the All-People's Congress (APC) claimed a plurality of the seats in the House of Representatives. Before Siaka Stevens, chairman of the APC, could take office as prime minister, he was ousted in a bloodless coup led by the army chief, Brig. David Lansana. Martial law was declared, and a National Reformation Council remained in control for 13 months, until 18 April 1968, when it was overthrown by the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement, a military group that formed the National Interim Council. On 26 April 1968, Stevens was installed as prime minister of a civilian government. Continuing political unrest prompted the declaration of a state of emergency in 1970 and a ban on the newly created United Democratic Party, an opposition group whose leaders were arrested.

In 1971, after an abortive military coup which was suppressed with aid from Guinea, a new constitution was adopted. The country was declared a republic on 19 April 1971. Two days later, Siaka Stevens, then prime minister, became the nation's first president. National elections were held in May 1973, and the APC won a nearly unanimous victory following the decision of the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party to withdraw its candidates because of alleged electoral irregularities. An alleged plot to overthrow Stevens failed in 1974, and in March 1976, he was elected without opposition for a second five-year term as president. In 1978, a new constitution was adopted, making the country a one-party state.

An economic slowdown, coupled with revelations of government corruption, led to a general strike in September 1981, called by the Sierra Leone Labour Congress; some labor leaders and other government critics were temporarily detained under emergency regulations, but the government met a key demand of the strikers by moving to reduce the prices of basic commodities. Violence and irregularities marked the parliamentary elections held in 1982, which were limited to the APC.

Stevens did not run for reelection as president in 1985, yielding power to his handpicked successor, Maj. Gen. Joseph Saidu Momoh, the armed forces commander, whose nomination by the APC was ratified in his unopposed election in October 1985. Parliamentary elections were held in May 1986. Following an alleged attempt to assassinate Momoh in March 1987, over 60 persons were arrested, including First Vice President Francis Minah, who was removed from office. An extensive reshuffling of the cabinet followed. Further reports of alleged coup attempts followed.

In April 1991, Sierra Leone was invaded from Liberia by forces commanded by Liberian rebel, Charles Taylor. Domestic support within Sierra Leone mounted and by 29 April 1992, Momoh was overthrown in a military coup. Momoh fled to Guinea. A National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) was created but, shortly afterward, on 2 May, the head of the five-member junta, Lt. Col. Yahya, was arrested by his colleagues and replaced by 29-year-old Capt. Valentine Strasser, who was formally designated head of state.

The Strasser government soon began ruling by a series of decrees and public notices limiting political freedoms. The NPRC dissolved parliament and political parties. Strasser talked of returning Sierra Leone to multiparty democracy, but his main goal was to end the fighting in the southeast where the forces of the National Patriot Front of Liberia (NPFL) and Sierra Leone dissidents were engaging a weakly-committed Sierra Leone armed force. Forces from the ECOWAS Monitoring Group sought to create a buffer along the boundary between the two countries. A rebellion led by Foday Sankoh of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) simmered throughout 1993, although it seemed to falter as the Liberian rebels across the border lost ground. Facing a military stalemate, in November 1993 Strasser announced a unilateral cease-fire, an amnesty for rebels, and issued a timetable for a transition to democracy.

Through 1992 and 1993, Strasser used the security situation to consolidate his power. In December 1992, the government executed 26 alleged coup plotters from the Momoh government. In mid-1993, Strasser arrested his vice president, Capt. Solomon Musa. Policy was formulated and implemented by the NPRC, which established a Supreme Council of State comprising NPRC members, military officers and one civilian.

In 1996, Deputy Brig. Gen. Julius Maada Brio ousted Strasser and provided him safe conduct out of the country. Presidential and parliamentary elections took place in February 1996, but were opposed violently by rebel forces resulting in 27 deaths. Neither candidate, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (United Peoples Party) or Dr. John Karefa-Smart, received a majority of the vote and a runoff election was held on 15 March 1996. Kabbah won the election with 59.4% of the vote.

In May 1997, Maj. Johnny Paul Koromah of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) overthrew Kabbah. Clashes between the rebels and Nigerian troops followed, forcing 12,000 Freetown residents to flee the capital. With ECOMOG's support, President Kabbah returned from exile on 10 March 1998. However, rebel forces remained firmly in control of the north, the Kono diamond field, and areas along the Liberian border.

A violent rebel offensive in January 1999 led by the AFRC and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) forced the evacuation of diplomatic and foreign aid personnel from Freetown. As many as 5,000 residents were killed, 150,000 dislocated, and 20% of Freetown was destroyed. Rebels amputated the hands and feet of thousands of civilians "to send a message" to the government. Human rights reports documented unspeakable abuses on all sides. The attack was repelled, but rebels gained control of two-thirds of the country.

In March 1999, President Kabbah was forced to grant temporary amnesty to Corporal Foday Sankoh of the RUF. Sankoh received four ministerial positions and three deputies, bringing the rebel presence in government to seven. Peace talks resumed, and a cease-fire was signed in May. In July, Jesse Jackson and ECOWAS chairman, Gnassingbe Eyadema, were present at the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord. In December 1999, ECOMOG forces began their withdrawal to be replaced by 11,000 UN observer troops (UNAMSIL), which eventually reached a troop strength of 17,000.

Disgruntled over the distribution of ministries in the unity government, the RUF resumed war in early May 2000, captured 500 UN personnel, and advanced to within 25 miles of the capital. However, on 17 May, Foday Sankoh was captured and eventually died in government custody in July 1993. Liberian President Charles Taylor, a supporter of the RUF, helped obtain the release of some of the peacekeepers, but insisted that Sankoh be part of the solution to the war. By June 2000, the rebels offered to trade their remaining captives for Sankoh's release, but the trade never materialized. Instead UNAMSIL routed the RUF and other armed groups, and concluded a peace agreement, which became fully effective January 2002. President Kabbah and his party won overwhelming victories at the presidential and parliamentary polls that followed on 14 May 2002.

Kabbah proceeded with restructuring and downsizing the army and security forces, and began to prosecute war criminals under a UN Special Court. In October 2002, Kabbah established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to accelerate emotional healing. The TRC's mandate expired in April 2004. By February 2003, some 1,400 people had provided testimony containing information about 3,000 victims who had suffered more than 4,000 violations, including 1,000 deaths and 200 cases of rape and sexual abuse. Militarily, nearly 50,000 combatants were demobilized and disarmed of some 15,000 weapons. Koroma, who escaped from the police in a failed coup attempt in 2003, had not been heard from and was presumed dead. In May 2003, authorities in Liberia produced the corpse of Col. Mosquito, the RUF bush commander.

UNAMSIL completed the first phase of its downsizing in late 2002 and in early May 2005, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the remaining troops except for a small rapid reaction force would be phased out by end of 2005. In local elections on 22 May 2004the first such elections in over 30 yearsthe strong showing of the main opposition party APC sent a general message of discontent to the SLPP.

In June 2004, the first UN Special Court of War Crimes began its first trial of leaders of the pro-government militias, the Civil Defense Force (the Kamajors), and the RUF. In March 2005, trials for the AFRC defendants began. By early 2006, 13 people had been indicted (three posthumouslyFoday Sankoh, Sam 'Mosquito' Bockarie, and Johnny Paul Koroma). Charles Taylor, who also faced charges under the Court, was exiled in Nigeria. The Nigerian government said that it would consider an extradition request from a democratically elected government of Liberia, but newly-elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had not made extradition a priority of her new government.


A new constitution came into force on 1 October 1991, replacing the June 1978 constitution and subsequent modifications. However, it was suspended by the military junta after the 29 April 1992 coup. Shortly thereafter, the parliament and political parties were dissolved and the NPRC ruled by decree through a Supreme Council of State (SCS) and a Council of State Secretaries (CSS-Cabinet). In November 1993 they announced a timetable leading to multiparty democracy and general elections in 1996. The constitution was suspended after the military coup in May 1997, but came into force again following the reinstatement of the Kabbah government in March 1998. A government of national unity formed in October 1999 as part of the Lomé Accords, but was short-lived.

In February 2002, a district block (proportional) representation system for the election of MPs came into force, replacing the first-past-the-post constituency system, which would be reinstated for the 2007 elections. As of 2005, the unicameral parliament had 124 seats112 elected by popular vote and 12 filled by paramount chiefs elected in separate polls; members serve five-year terms. President Kabbah had indicated that he would step down after completing his current five-year term.


Party politics in Sierra Leone have a long and lively history. The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), formed in 1951, dominated politics from its inception until 1967, when the All People's Congress (APC) claimed to have won a plurality of the seats in a disputed parliamentary election. The SLPP combined the Sierra Leone Organization Society, founded in the protectorate in 1946, and the Freetown People's Party, founded in the colony by the Rev. Etheldred Jones, also known as Lamina Sankoh. Although the SLPP won only two of the seven seats open to election in 1951, it was given recognition when the indirectly elected protectorate members and eight paramount chiefs joined with it. In 1953, Milton Margai became chief minister, and in 1957, the SLPP won 26 of the 39 seats being contested.

During the pre-APC period, the National Council of Sierra Leone (NCSL), founded in 1951, was the principal opposition group. It was influential only in the colony and favored a federal constitution with separate assemblies for the colony and the protectorate. When universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1957, the NCSL lost all its seats in the legislature. The United People's Party (UPP) was founded in 1956 by Cyril Rogers-Wright and Wallace Johnson to unite the interests of the colony and the protectorate. In the 1957 general elections, it won one seat in the legislature and gained three more after election petitions to the courts, so that it then constituted the principal legislative opposition.

In September 1958, Siaka Stevens and Milton Margai's half-brother, Albert Margai, withdrew from the SLPP and formed the People's National Party (PNP) to pursue a more militant policy. In 1960, the PNP and UPP joined the United National Front of all parties for the April constitutional talks in London. A national coalition government was formed, and Albert Margai became a cabinet minister.

Stevens left the United Front to form a new opposition group, the Elections Before Independence Movement (EBIM). Expelled from the PNP, he transformed the EBIM into the APC and, with support from younger radicals and much of the trade union movement, campaigned for a neutralist foreign policy and the need for a general election before independence. In March 1961, Stevens and some of his supporters were charged with sedition, libel, and incitement and were jailed just before independence under emergency regulations. They were later released and acquitted of the charges.

In the election of 25 May 1962, the SLPP won 28 of 62 seats for ordinary members of the House of Representatives, the APC 16, the Sierra Leone Progressive Movement 4, and independents 14. After the election returns were announced, 12 of the independents declared themselves members of the SLPP, and Milton Margai was able to form a new government. Upon his death on 28 April 1964, Albert Margai became prime minister. Thirteen months of military rule followed the disputed 1967 elections, after which Siaka Stevens, leader of the APC, became prime minister.

Siaka Stevens, president from 1971 to 1985, created the APC in 1960. The APC dominated from 1967 until April 1992. In September 1970, another opposition group, the United Democratic Party, was formed. Shortly afterward, a state of emergency was declared, and on 8 October, the party was banned. The SLPP won 15 seats in the 1977 elections, the last in which an opposition party was allowed to participate. In the 1983 balloting, 173 candidates competed for 66 seats, and the remaining 19 elective seats (mostly held by members of the outgoing government) were uncontested. In 1978, a new constitution made the APC the sole legal party, and the SLPP was formally dissolved. Members of parliament were required to declare themselves members of the APC on penalty of losing their seats.

In the 1986 balloting, 335 candidates competed for the 105 popularly elected seats. Over half the sitting members, including three cabinet ministers, were defeated, and over 60% of those elected were newcomers to the House. After the April 1992 military coup, all political parties were banned and parliament was dissolved. In 1993 a timetable was prepared for a return to civilian rule and a multiparty democracy. Captain Valentine Strasser assumed leadership during the 1992 coup, but was overthrown in 1996.

In February 1996, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, candidate of the National Peoples Party, was elected president with 59.4% of the vote. Fifteen parties registered for the 1996 elections. In the parliamentary competition for 80 seats (68 elected members; 12 paramount chiefs), the SLPP took 27 seats, the UNPP 17, the PDP 12, the APC 5, the NUP 4, and the DCP 3. These were the first elections since the former House of Representatives had been shut down by the military coup of April 1992. In November 1999, the RUF changed its name to the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) and Foday Sankoh gave addresses around the country as though he were running for president.

With a cease-fire in place, presidential elections were held in May 2002. In a landslide victory, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, candidate of the SLPP obtained 70.06% of the vote to defeat Ernest Koroma of the APC. Koroma received 22.4% of the vote, while the Peace and Liberation Party (PLP) gained 3%, and others took 4.59%. The Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) and its chairman Foday Sankoh, were thoroughly discredited. In the parliamentary contest for 112 elected seats, the SLPP captured 83 seats, the All People's Congress (APC) 27 seats, and the PLP 2 seats.

In May 2004, the APC won local elections in Freetown, but also fared well elsewhere winning 22% of the vote, 4 councils, and 116 councilors. The SLPP, which continued to dominate overall, won 70% of the vote, 15 councils, and 330 councilors. Independents elected 10 councilors, but won no councils. Both the SLPP and APC alleged that the other side was guilty of vote-rigging, coercion, and multiple- and under-aged voting.

At the SLPP convention in September 2005, Solomon Berewa, the country's vice president, assumed leadership of the party and was designated the party's candidate for the 2007 presidential elections. Berewa defeated Charles Margaison of the late prime minister Albert Margaiand a number of other aspirants. At its convention the main opposition party, the APC, chose Ernest Koroma, a Muslim, who also was confirmed as party chairman. Although the APC has made inroads into SLPP territory, it also will need to balance its ticket to be competitive in the south. A number of independents formed a new party, the Republican Movement, and several small parties met in June 2005 to strategize on the creation of a "third force". In addition, Charles Margai left the SLPP to form his own party, the PMDC.


Sierra Leone is divided into the Western Area (the former colony) and the Northern, Eastern, and Southern provinces (formerly the protectorate). The three provinces are divided into a total of 12 districts with 148 chiefdoms. Local government in the Western Area is administered by municipalities. Rural areas are governed by village committees, which send members to district councils, which in turn are represented in a rural area council.

Each province has a resident minister as administrative head. Local units within the provinces are, in ascending order of importance, villages, extended villages or sections, chiefdoms, and district councils. The 19 district councils, which contain elected members as well as paramount chiefs, are responsible for primary education, health centers, agricultural extension work, social welfare, community development, and transportation services (roads, bridges, and ferries). The war incapacitated local government by severely disrupting social institutions, and uprooting some two million refugees and internally displaced persons.


Local courts apply traditional law and customs in the chiefdoms. Elected indigenous leaders preside over the local courts. Magistrates hold court in the various districts and in Freetown, administering the English-based code of law. Appeals from magistrates' courts are heard by the High Court, which also has unlimited original civil and criminal jurisdiction. Appeals from High Court decisions may be made to the Court of Appeal and finally to the Supreme Court, consisting of a chief justice and not fewer than three other justices. The attorney general is a cabinet minister and head of the state law office, which is administered by the solicitor-general. Many of the justices, magistrates, and other lawyers are Sierra Leoneans trained in British universities or at Inns of Court in London. Judges serve until the age of 65.

The judiciary is not independent in practice and remains subject to manipulation. A UN Special Court for War Crimes, established at the end of the war, continued to hear cases of alleged war criminals in 2006.


In 2005, the armed forces of Sierra Leone had about 12,00013,000 active members. This was a new, UK-trained army formed after the dismantling of various factions. There were about 200 naval personnel, with five patrol craft. In 2005, the defense budget totaled $26.1 million.


Admitted as the 100th member of the United Nations on 27 September 1961, Sierra Leone participates in ECA and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IAEA, ILO, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, and the WHO. The country belongs to the WTO, the ACP Group, the African Development Bank, Commonwealth of Nations, ECOWAS, G-77, Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Islamic Development Bank, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and the African Union. In 198081, then president Siaka Stevens served as chairman of the African Union and Freetown hosted the organization's summit conference in July 1980.

In October 1973, Sierra Leone and Liberia concluded the Mano River Union agreement, aimed at establishing an economic union of the two countries; Guinea joined the union in 1980. Trade restrictions among the three nations were abolished in 1981 and a common external tariff was established for most items of trade. The government is participating in efforts to establish a West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) that would include The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. The union, has been scheduled to come on-stream in January 2003, but has been rescheduled for December 2009.

Sierra Leone signed a defense pact with Guinea in 1971 allowing for the exchange of some army personnel. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) was established in 1999 to cooperate with government officials by monitoring the implementation of peace agreements and the disarmament of civil and revolutionary forces. UNAMSIL is supported by 31 countries. Sierra Leone is part of the Nonaligned Movement.

In environmental cooperation, Sierra Leone is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Although Sierra Leone is a potentially rich country with diverse resources, which include diamonds, gold, rutile, bauxite, and a variety of agricultural products, the economy has been severely depressed over the past two decades. The country has a chronic balance-of-payments deficit aggravated by a rebellion in the export-producing diamond regions of the country. The economy suffers from low production, poor export performance, large budget deficits, shortage of essential goods, deterioration of infrastructure, inability to service external debts, a pervasive parallel market, an influx of refugees from the civil war in Liberia, and inflation.

The government adhered to a structural adjustment program established in 199192 that called for a reduction in the number of civil service employees, increased privatization of the economy, increased taxation, and fiscal discipline. The program produced some improvements in the stability of the exchange rate and reduced inflation. Consequently, although some donors suspended aid, Sierra Leone gained the support of the World Bank, IMF, and other international agencies. In 1994, after the devaluation of the CFA franc, the inflation rate was at 104%.

Civil unrest in 1997 and the Army's takeover of the democratically elected government cast doubt on whether support would last. Less than a third of $230 million dollars pledged in 1996 for the first stage of a five-year recovery program was given and it was likely that the donors would renege on the remainder if the political situation worsened. In 1997, GDP weakened by 20%, and remained at this depressed rate; in 1998, GDP gained by only 0.7%. Peace talks in 1998 broke down during the same year, and fighting continued into 2002.

In 2002, Sierra Leone qualified for $950 million in debt relief under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Under the IMF's Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF), and with the aid of bilateral donors, the country is implementing strategies to reduce poverty and introduce stability by decentralizing government functions, supporting good governance and restoring local government, improving education and health programs, building an effective police force, and fighting corruption. The smuggling of diamonds out of the country from rebel-controlled areas remains a catalyst for instability and undermines the legitimate economy. Bauxite and rutile mines that were closed during the war had not reopened by 2003.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Sierra Leone's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $5.0 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5.5%. The average inflation rate in 2002 was 1%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 49% of GDP, industry 31%, and services 21%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $26 million or about $5 per capita and accounted for approximately 2.6% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $297 million or about $56 per capita and accounted for approximately 39.0% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Sierra Leone totaled $759 million or about $142 per capita based on a GDP of $1.0 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of -4.2%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 47% of household consumption was spent on food, 9% on fuel, 3% on health care, and 13% on education. It was estimated that in 2004 about 70.2% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


There are approximately 1.4 million workers in Sierra Leone, but only 65,000 of those are actual wage earners. Subsistence agriculture is the occupation of vast majority of the population. There was no further data available on occupational breakdown or the unemployment rate in Sierra Leone.

The 1991 constitution provides for the right of association, and all workers (including civil servants) have the right to join trade unions of their choice. The trade union movement in Sierra Leone, one of the oldest in West Africa, dates back to 1913, when Wallace Johnson organized the Customs Employees Union. Under his influence, other unions developed, and in 1943, the first Sierra Leone Trade Union Council (TUC) was formed. The Sierra Leone Council of Labor, which replaced the TUC in 1946, merged in May 1966 with the Sierra Leone Federation of Labor to form the Sierra Leone Labor Congress (SLLC). All unions are members of the SLLC, although membership is voluntary. In the mid-1980s, the SLLC had over a dozen constituent unions totaling about 40,000 members. With the decline of manufacturing, union membership has declined since then, although exact figures are unavailable. In 2001, about 60% of workers in urban areas (including government employees) were unionized, but unions have had little success in organizing workers in the agricultural and mining sectors.

The minimum working age is 18, but this is not enforced and children routinely work as vendors and petty traders in urban areas and work seasonally on family subsistence farms in rural areas. The standard workweek is 38 hours but most workweeks exceed that amount. Health and safety regulations set by law are not enforced. The minimum wage is set at $10.50 per month.


Agriculture is the primary occupation in Sierra Leone, employing two-thirds of the labor force and accounting for 50% of GDP. Most Sierra Leoneans live on small, scattered farms, following a scheme of bush-fallow rotation, slash-and-burn field preparation, and limited use of fertilizer. Agricultural exports in 2004 amounted to nearly $13.9 million and consisted of coffee, cocoa, palm kernels, piassava, kola nuts, and ginger.

Rice, grown by 80% of farmers, is the most important subsistence crop and, along with millet in the northeast, is a food staple; 265,000 tons were produced in 2004, down from an annual average of 508,000 tons during 1989 to 1991. The Rice Research Institute, located in the Northern Province, breeds high-yielding varieties for seed. Other domestic food crops include cassava, yams, peanuts, corn, pineapples, coconuts, tomatoes, and pepper.

Coffee is grown in the eastern and southern provinces; production totaled 18,000 tons in 2004. Cocoa is grown in the Kenema and Kailahun districts of the Eastern Province and in the Pujehun District of the Southern Province, mainly on smallholdings of about 0.41.2 hectares (13 acres). In 2004, an estimated 11,000 tons of cocoa beans were produced. Palm produce is derived from stands of wild palms, mainly in the northeast and southeast; production in 2004 included 24,375 tons of palm kernels and 39,000 tons of palm oil. Although there is substantial local consumption of palm kernels, they are a major agricultural export. Piassava, a raffia palm fiber used for broom and brush bristles, is grown in the swampy areas of the extreme south. Small amounts of kola nuts were also exported, and modest crops of bananas, pineapples, and sugarcane were grown.

The 1991 invasion of rebels from Liberia in the eastern and southeastern provinces severely damaged agricultural production and exports. Whereas annual agricultural growth averaged 3.1% during 198090, it declied by -0.1% during 19902000. However, during 200204 crop production had improved by 8.9% over 19992001.


Estimates of livestock in 2005 were 400,000 head of cattle, 375,000 sheep, 220,000 goats, and 52,000 hogs. Large numbers of Ndama cattle are kept, mainly by nomads in the savanna area of the northeast. Poultry farmers had an estimated 7.5 million chickens in 2005. Total meat production in 2005 was 23,259 tons, 48% of it poultry.


Fresh fish is not a staple for the country as a whole but is much prized in Freetown and other parts of the Peninsula. The fishing industry, which once was confined to inshore waters, has spread into the middle waters and includes canoe, industrial, freshwater, and shellfish fisheries. Total fish and shellfish production in 2003 was 96,926 tons, with bonga shad accounting for 28,516 tons. Shrimp is the main export; fisheries exports were valued at $11.5 million in 2003. The government has a joint venture agreement with Maritime Protection Services Sierra Leone Ltd., the purpose of which is to prevent poaching, protect artisanal fishing, increase revenue, and conserve maritime resources.


About 15% of Sierra Leone is covered by forests. Much of Sierra Leone's rain forests have been cleared, with only remnant areas in the south and east; intensive farming gradually eliminated most of the forest area. There are still about 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of forests, with most of the prime forestland in the government estate in the mountainous eastern half of the country and in the Western Area hills. In 2004, an estimated total of 5.5 million cu m (194 million cu ft) of roundwood was harvested, 98% of it for fuel. Forests comprise both evergreen and semi-deciduous rain forests, swamp forests, mangrove forests, and significant areas of secondary and regenerating forests. The Gola Forest in the southeast is the largest remaining tract of rain forest.


The mining of diamonds was Sierra Leone's leading industry in 2003. In addition to diamonds, the country is also a producer of cement, gypsum, and salt. Although civil strife has adversely affected investment in natural resource development since 1995, conditions were expected to improve with the declaration that war had ended in 2001.

Diamond output in 2003 was reported at 506,819 carats, up sharply from 351,860 carats in 2002. However, these figures do not reflect smuggled artisanal output. National diamond output was placed at 600,000 carats annually from 1999 through 2001, and at 250,000 carats in 1998. It was believed that a substantial portion of the diamonds close to the earth's surface was smuggled out of the country. Alluvial diamonds, first discovered in Kono District in 1930, were widely scattered over a large area, but particularly along the upper Sewa River. The main diamond deposits were the Koidu and Tongo fields. DiamondWorks Ltd., of Canada, which owned 60% of the Koidu mine (reserves of 2.67 million carats), announced in 2001 that it was returning to Sierra Leone. DiamondWorks also held diamond exploration licenses on the Sewa River with reserves containing 1.7 million carats. There was no recorded gold production from 1999 through 2003.

Cement production in 2003 totaled 169,500 metric tons, up from 144,100 metric tons in 2002. Gypsum output was estimated at 4,000 metric tons annually from 1999 through 2003. Salt production in 2003 was estimated at 1,800 metric tons, unchanged from 2002. There was no recorded output of rutile in Sierra Leone in 2003, although it had been announced that rutile mining would resume by that year.

Sierra Leone is known to have reserves of bauxite and other minerals including antimony, cassiterite, columbite, corundum, fluorspar, ilmenite, lead, lignite, magnetite, molybdenum, monazite, platinum, silver, tantalite, tin, titanium, tungsten, and zinc.

A 1999 amendment to the 1994 Mines and Minerals Act introduced procedures for sale and export of precious minerals by license holders, and penalties for unlawful possession or smuggling of precious minerals. In 2001, Sierra Leone and Angola introduced a diamond certification scheme in response to UN sanctions aimed at prohibiting importation of diamonds from rebel-controlled areas in the countries.


Total national electricity production totaled 255 million kWh in 2002, with 100% from fossil fuels. Consumption of electricity in 2002 was 237 million kWh. Installed capacity in 2002 was 124,000 kW.

Sierra Leone, as of 1 January 2003, had no proven reserves of crude oil or natural gas. However, the country, as of 1 January 2003 did possess a modest crude oil refining capacity of 10,000 barrels per day. In 2002, imports of all petroleum products averaged 6,710 barrels per day, which included crude oil imports of 5,040 barrels per day. Refined oil production that year averaged 4,810 barrels per day, while demand averaged 6,410 barrels per day. There were no recorded imports or consumption of natural gas or coal in 2002.


Industry accounted for 30.6% of GDP in 2003, and is oriented toward the processing of raw materials and of light manufactured goods for domestic consumption. The sector has suffered from a lack of foreign exchange, high import costs, unreliable local services, and political instability. The Wellington Industrial Estate, covering 46 hectares just east of Freetown, was developed in the 1960s by the government to encourage investments. Its factories produce a variety of products, including cement, nails, shoes, oxygen, cigarettes, beer and soft drinks, paint, and knitted goods. Timber for prefabricated buildings is milled, and another factory produces modern furniture. Small factories in the Freetown area process tuna and palm oil. Oyster farming and shrimp production dominate the fishing industry. There are no proven oil reserves in the country, but there is one oil refinery. In 1992 the oil refinery in Freetown closed due to lack of capital for crude oil imports; in 1994 the facility was sold to Unipetrol of Nigeria. Its production capacity in 2002 was 10,000 barrels per day. Village craft products include a popular cloth, rope, sail canvas, boats, wood carvings, baskets, and leather goods.


The Institute of Marine Biology and Oceanography, founded in 1966, affiliated with Fourah Bay College of the University of Sierra Leone at Freetown. The college itself, founded in 1827 by the Church Missionary Society, has faculties of engineering and pure and applied sciences and an institute of marine biology and oceanography. Also part of the university is Njala University College (founded in 1964), which has faculties of agriculture and environmental sciences, and the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (founded in 1987). In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 17% of college and university enrollments. A paramedical school in Bo operates with funds from the government and the European Community. The Ministry of Mines has a geological survey division to locate mineral deposits and advise on all matters relating to the earth. The Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association, founded in 1961, is headquartered in Freetown.


As of mid-1997, domestic commerce was hampered by political instability and guerilla raids on villages. Fuel and food staples are in short supply and many businesses and banks remained closed. Foreign investment has been stalled by all these factors.

Freetown is the principal commercial and distribution center. Internal trade is normally carried on by trading firms that deal in a variety of merchandise. Bo is the commercial center for the central region of the country, with most significant trading activity in ginger, rice, coffee, cocoa, and palm oil and kernels. Makeni, in central Sierra Leone, is a trading center for the Temne people, who mainly produce rice.

Normal business hours were from 8 am to 12:00 pm and 2 to 4:45 pm, Monday through Friday, with a half day on Saturday. Banks were open from 8 am to 1:30 pm, Monday through Thursday, and 8 to 2 pm on Friday.


Principal imports are foodstuffs, machinery and transportation equipment, fuels, and lubricants. Civil war has inhibited foreign trade since 1995. Sierra Leone's most important exports are diamonds (45%) and rutile (27%). Other exports include vegetable oil (4.4%), fresh fish (3.9%), shellfish (3.8%), coffee (3.5%), and cocoa (1.7%). In 1999, Sierra Leone shipped 7,000 tons of rutile to the United States, the first cargo since the mine was closed by rebels in early 1995.

About half of Sierra Leone's exports go to Belgium, in the form of diamond exports to Antwerp. In 1999, diamond exports fell from a high of $500 million to $30 million. An immense black market for diamonds exists, probably accounting for the majority of exports from Sierra Leone. In 2003, principal exports were diamonds ($126.2 million), cocoa beans ($2.6 million) with other commodities bringing in $17.5 million.

Principal imports during the same year included fuel and lubricants ($78.2 million), food ($74.5 million), machinery and transport equipment ($56.4 million), and manufactured goods ($42.2 million). Principal trading partners for Sierra Leone's exports in 2004 were Belgium (63.1%), Germany (12%), the United States (5.5%) and India (7.3%). Imports came from Germany (16.3%), Côte d'Ivoire (9.3%), the United Kingdom (8.6%) and the United States (7.3%).


Sierra Leone's frequently negative balance of trade and habitual deficit in current accounts are somewhat counterbalanced by capital inflows, generally from foreign governments.

The Economist Intelligence Agency reported that in 2005 the purchasing power parity of Sierra Leone's exports was $200 million while imports totaled $330 million resulting in a trade deficit of $130 million.


The Bank of Sierra Leone, established in 1963, is the central bank and bank of issue. The Banking Act of 1964 provides for the regulation of commercial banks by the central bank, including the control of money supply. Poor revenue collection, failure to control expenditures, and heavy debt servicing requirements as a result of past borrowing characterized government finances in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In the 1990s, there were six commercial banks operating in the country. Standard Chartered Bank Sierra Leone and Barclays Bank of Sierra Leone are both foreign banks that are locally incorporated, with Sierra Leonean staff. The International Bank of Trade and Industry opened in 1982, with funds from Lebanese and Sierra Leonean investors.

The National Development Bank was established in 1968 to finance agricultural and industrial projects. The National Cooperative Development Bank, established in 1971, serves as a central bank for all cooperatives and makes modest loans to individual farmers and cooperatives for agricultural improvements. Sierra

Current Account -74.7
   Balance on goods -202.2
     Imports -311.2
     Exports 109.0
   Balance on services -25.2
   Balance on income -9.9
   Current transfers 162.6
Capital Account 61.4
Financial Account -3.9
   Direct investment abroad
   Direct investment in Sierra Leone 0.2
   Portfolio investment assets -25.4
   Portfolio investment liabilities
   Financial derivatives
   Other investment assets 0.7
   Other investment liabilities 20.6
Net Errors and Omissions 44.2
Reserves and Related Items -27.0
() data not available or not significant.

Leone also has a Post Office Savings Bank. Most banks closed during the rebel attacks of the late 1990s.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $95.4 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $146.4 million.

There is no securities exchange in Sierra Leone.


The National Insurance Co. is government owned. All insurance companies in Sierra Leone are supervised by the Ministry of Finance.


The government of Sierra Leone has been prevented from having any significant economic influence in the country thanks to a shortage of foreign exchange, deep-seated corruption, and uncertainty surrounding the civil wars that periodically take place. The minister of finance came under attack in 2000 for declaring expenditures reaching $30,000 on the war during the month of May alone, because government officials reportedly siphoned off money into private bank accounts. Payroll fraud in the same year to the tune of $400,00 in the accounting office also took a toll on government respectability.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2000 Sierra Leone's central government took in revenues of approximately $96 million and had expenditures of $351 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$255 million. Total external debt was $1.61 billion.


The main items of taxation are customs duties and direct taxes, which include income taxes. A 1963 amendment to the income

Revenue and Grants 151.21 100.0%
   Tax revenue 82.34 54.5%
   Social contributions
   Grants 65.39 43.2%
   Other revenue 3.48 2.3%
Expenditures 252.88 100.0%
   General public services
   Public order and safety
   Economic affairs
   Environmental protection
   Housing and community amenities
   Recreational, culture, and religion
   Social protection
() data not available or not significant.

tax act abolished all personal deductions except medical and dental expenses and the costs of passage to and from Sierra Leone. A husband and wife are assessed separately for income tax on their individual incomes. Income tax is charged at a flat rate, with one rate for citizens and a higher rate for noncitizens. Also levied are a 55% corporate tax, property tax, payroll tax, social security contributions, and taxes on goods and services. In 2003, Sierra Leone's main indirect tax was its 20% sales tax.


All import licensing requirements were eliminated in 1989 and all other restrictions, including those on cigarettes, ended in early 1992. Imports from other Mano River Union (MRU) members enter duty-free. Most duties for non-MRU imports average 20% but range from 0 to 100% on luxury goods. There is an additional 12.5% sales tax levied on all imports.


The government encourages the development of plantations and the investment of foreign private capital in agriculture and worthwhile new enterprises. Safeguards are provided against nationalization, and repatriation of capital, profits, and interest is permitted. Legislation in 1983 offered tax relief for up to five years, preferential access to import licenses, exemption from customs and duties on capital equipment and new materials, and special bonuses for companies setting up outside Freetown.

Sierra Leone attracted few foreign investors in the early 1990s. Progress in reforming the economy was expected to reverse that trend, but renewed civil disturbances in 1997 threatened those prospects. Rex Mining, the first company to invest in Sierra Leone after the civil war, suspended work at its diamond mine after the military coup in May of 1997. Production in the rutile and bauxite plants resumed in 2000, but continuance was unsure because of political unrest.

Foreign direct investment inflow (FDI) was $9.6 million in 1997, but this was more than reversed by a net divestment outflow in 1998 of -$9.8 million. Net FDI inflow was $6 million in 1999 and averaged $4.45 million a year in 2000 and 2001. In UNCTAD's ranking of 140 countries in terms of their potential for attracting foreign investment in the period 1998 to 2000, Sierra Leone was ranked number 140. In 200104 Sierra Leone continued to perform poorly in attracting FDI, attracting only $2 million in 2002, $3 million in 2003, and $5 million in 2004. This can be explained by the fact that the country is still recovering from years of civil year, which ended in January 2002. The discovery of large iron ore deposits could result in far higher inflows of FDI.


The Sierra Leone government, in addition to stabilizing its balance-of-payment and budgetary deficits and meeting its debt obligations, seeks investors in its mining sector. A parallel economy, lawless conditions, and a crumbling infrastructure continue to constrain economic growth. The government in the early 2000s was working with foreign donors to undertake rural development and agricultural projects. In 2001, the government created a mining community development fund to direct a portion of diamond export taxes to diamond mining communities. The government encourages foreign investment. Senegal formed the Mano River Union (MRU) customs union with Liberia and Guinea to implement development projects and promote regional economic integration.

In 2001, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $169 million three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) Arrangement for Sierra Leone, to support the government's economic reform program. In 2002, Sierra Leone became eligible for nearly $950 million in debt service relief under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Agreement on a new IMF poverty reduction and growth facility in 2005 is expected to shape economic policy in the coming years.


All employees in the public and private sectors are covered under the social insurance plan initiated in 2001. There is voluntary coverage for the self-employed. The program is funded by employee and employer contributions, with the government providing funding for government employees only. Old age, disability, and survivorship benefits are available. Employers provide medical care for employees and their families through collective agreements.

Women are guaranteed equal rights under the constitution, and a number of women have held prominent posts. Even so, discrimination and violence against women are frequent. Women carry out most of the strenuous agricultural work, and are responsible for child rearing. According to a 2004 study, girls were denied an education more often than boys, and traditional beliefs kept women confined to the household. They do not have equal access to economic opportunities, health care, or social freedoms. Female genital mutilation, a practice which is painful and sometimes life threatening, is an entrenched cultural practice. It is estimated that as many as 8090% of girls and women may have been affected. There is considerable local opposition to advocates campaigning to have the practice banned. Domestic abuse and violence is a widespread social problem.

The government's human rights record has improved, although there are continued reports of the mistreatment of detainees and illegal detention.


Sierra Leone had 52 hospitals and 263 dispensaries and health treatment centers. There was one hospital bed per 1,000 inhabitants. Only 38% of the population had access to health care services. As of 2004, there were an estimated seven physicians and 33 nurses per 100,000 people. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 5.3% of GDP.

Lassa fever has continued to spread in the Kenema district since 1996. A World Health Organization (WHO) mission investigated the outbreak and is helping to remedy short supplies in this war-torn country. With WHO and UNICEF technical assistance, an endemic diseases control unit reduced the incidence of sleeping sickness and yaws, and began a leprosy control campaign. Malaria, tuberculosis, and schistosomiasis remain serious health hazards, as does malnutrition.

As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 44.6 and 18.8 per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate was 162.55 per 1,000 live births in 2005, the third highest in the world. Since 1994, UNICEF estimated that Sierra Leone has one of the highest mortality rates in the world.

Only around 4% of married women (ages 15 to 49) were using contraception. The fertility rate was 5.8 children per woman surviving through the childbearing years. The prevalence of child malnutrition was 23% of children under five. Immunization rates for children up to one year old included: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 26%, and measles, 28%. Life expectancy in 2005 was 39.87 years, among the lowest in the world.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 7.00 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 170,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 11,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


In 1999, as a result of the invasion of rebels, about 5,932 homes were completely destroyed in Freetown and the surrounding areas of Kissy, Wellington, Calaba Town, and Allen Town. The town of Koidu, which was once the second-largest town in the nation, suffered major destruction. National estimates indicate that by 2001, 300,000 homes were destroyed as a result of the internal rebellion. Approximately 1.2 million people were internally displaced or have fled to neighboring countries.

As of the 2004 census, there were an estimated 967,300 households counted representing about 4,836,500 people. Village houses in the provinces are traditionally made of sticks with mud walls and thatch or grass roofs; they may be circular or rectangular in shape. In some villages, wattle-and-daub construction has been replaced by sun-dried mud blocks, and roofs of grass, palm thatch, or palm tiles are giving way to corrugated iron sheeting. In Freetown, older two-story wooden houses have been being replaced by structures built largely of concrete blocks, with corrugated iron or cement-asbestos roofs.

In a 2003 survey, about 75.7% of all housing had mud walls; only 15% were constructed of stone or cement. Zinc was the most common roofing material (64.2% of all housing), followed by thatch (31.5%). Flooring is typically mud or stone. Nearly 83% of all housing units were single-story, one-household detached dwellings. About 81.5% of all dwelling units were owner occupied. Only about 16.3% of all housing was listed as needing no repairs; 11.7% was in need of complete reconstruction. In 2003, about 49.4% of all households relied on a communal pit for toilet facilities. Another 40.5% used a nearby bush or river. Only 1% of all households had indoor flush toilets. About 42.6% of all households drew their water supply from a river or stream and 25.9% had an ordinary well. Only 1.2% of all households had indoor piped water.

The government has made reconstruction a priority and has initiated a National Housing Policy to work on programs of reform, resettlement, and reconstruction. Through one program, the government has planned to sell public housing and to use the proceeds to build more housing units. Building is controlled in the major towns, and designs are subject to approval.


Primary education is neither wholly free nor compulsory, but the ultimate goal of the government is to provide free primary school facilities for every child. Primary school last for three years, followed by three years of junior secondary school and three years of senior secondary school. The academic year runs from October. In 2001, about 4% of all children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. In 2001, there were 554,000 students enrolled in primary school and 156,000 students enrolled in secondary school. It is estimated that about 56% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 37:1 in 2000; the ratio for secondary school was about 27:1.

Fourah Bay College, the oldest institution of higher learning in West Africa, was founded in 1827 by the Church Missionary Society, primarily to provide theological training. It was affiliated with the University of Durham in England in 1876 and received a royal charter in 1959 as the University College of Sierra Leone. In 1967, the University of Sierra Leone was chartered with two constituent colleges, Fourah Bay (in Freetown) and Njala University College (in Moyamba District). In 2001, there were about 9,000 students enrolled in higher education programs.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.7% of GDP.


The library of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, founded in 1827 has 200,000 volumes. Public collections are maintained by the Sierra Leone Library Board. The central public library collection is at Freetown, which holds 80,000 volumes. There are at least 10 branch locations. The American Cultural Center and the British Council both maintain small collections. The Sierra Leone National Museum contains documents concerning Sierra Leone and its history and various works of sculpture, especially Nomolis stone fetishes representing seated figures of unknown origin that have been found in the Mende areas. The Sierra Leone Railway Museum opened in 2005.


International cablegram, telex, and telephone services are provided by Sierra Leone External Telecommunications. In 2003, there were an estimated five mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 13 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service manages radio and television transmissions. Radio Sierra Leone, the oldest broadcasting service in English-speaking West Africa, broadcasts mainly in English, with regular news and discussion programs in several indigenous languages and a weekly program in French. The Sierra Leone Television Service was inaugurated in 1963. Private stations do exist, but license fees are high, prohibiting some sources from operating on a regular basis. As of 1999 there were 1 AM and 9 FM radio stations and 2 television stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 259 radios and 13 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, 2 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet.

In 2004, there were over 50 newspapers throughout the country. The only major daily newspaper is the government-owned Daily Mail (with a 2002 circulation of 10,000), but there were several privately owned weekly newspapers, including New Shaft (circulation 10,000) and Weekend Spark (20,000). Under legislation enacted in 1980, all newspapers must register with the Ministry of Information and pay a sizable registration fee.

The 1991 constitution provides for free speech and a free press, though in practice authorities are said to beat, detain, and otherwise harass journalists for publishing articles unflattering to the government.


There is a chamber of commerce in Freetown. The cooperative movement has grown rapidly since the 1960s.

National youth organizations include the National Union of Sierra Leone Students, Sierra Leone Association of Students in Economics and Commerce, Sierra Leone Scouts Association, YMCA/YWCA, and the Sierra Leone National Youth League. There are several sports associations in the country with programs for amateur athletes of all ages.

Several voluntary associations exist, mostly in the Freetown area; most of these are women's religious, cultural, political, or economic groups. Coordinating bodies include the Federation of Sierra Leone Women's Organizations, and the United Church Women. The Sierra Leone Association of Non-Governmental Organizations serves as another coordinating group. International organizations with national chapters include Amnesty International, Caritas, and the Red Cross.


Sierra Leone has magnificent beaches, including Lumley Beach on the outskirts of Freetown, perhaps the finest in West Africa. Natural scenic wonders include Bintimani and the Loma Mountains, Lake Sonfon, and the Bumbuna Falls. There are several modern hotels in Freetown, as well as a luxury hotel and casino at Lumley Beach. There has been a slow response from the international community to change the image of the country to that of a tourist destination. A certificate of vaccination against yellow fever is required if traveling from an infected area. Tourist arrivals numbered about 285,000 in 2003. That same year there were 1,457 hotel rooms with 1,718 beds and an occupancy rate of 13%.

According to 2005 estimates of the US Department of State, the average cost of staying in Freetown was $217 per day.


Sir Samuel Lewis (18431903) was a member of the Legislative Council for more than 20 years and the first mayor of Freetown. Sir Milton Augustus Strieby Margai (18951964), the grandson of a Mende warrior chief, was the founder of the SLPP and the first prime minister of Sierra Leone, a post he held until his death. Sir Albert Michael Margai (191080) succeeded his half-brother as prime minister from 1964 to 1967. Siaka Probyn Stevens (190588), the founder of the APC, was prime minister from 1968 to 1971 and became the republic's first president from 1971 to 1985. John Musselman Karefa-Smart (b.1915) served as minister of lands, mines, and labor, in which capacity he organized Sierra Leone's diamond industry, and also served as assistant director-general of WHO from 1965 to 1970. Davidson Nicol (192494) was his country's permanent representative to the UN from 1969 to 1971, served as president of the Security Council in 1970, and became executive director of UNITAR in 1972. Foday Sankoh (19372003) was the leader of the Revolutionary United Front, a guerrilla group that terrorized villages in the early 1990s.


Sierra Leone has no territories or colonies.


Adebajo, Adekeye. Building Peace in West Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2002.

Binns, Margaret. Sierra Leone. Oxford, England; Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1992.

Fyle, C. Magbaily. Historical Dictionary of Sierra Leone. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2006.

Greene, Graham. The Heart of the Matter. New York: Viking, 1948.

Kessler, Cristina. No Condition Is Permanent. New York: Philomel Books, 2000.

Larémont, Ricardo René. Borders, Nationalism, and the African State. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2005.

Reno, William Sampson Klock. Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Thompson, Bankole. The Constitutional History and Law of Sierra Leone. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997.

Zack-Williams, Alfred. Tributors, Supporters and Merchant Capital: Mining and Underdevelopment in Sierra Leone. Brookfield, Vt.: Avebury, 1995.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Sierra Leone


Republic of Sierra Leone

Major City:

Other Cities:
Bo, Kenema, Makeni


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report for Sierra Leone. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


SIERRA LEONE means "The Lion Mountains," translated from the Portuguese. The name was given by Portuguese navigator Pedro da Cintra in 1462 to describe the spectacular mountain crests rising 3,000 feet from the sea on the peninsula where Freetown was later established.

The colony at Freetown was founded in 1787 by British philanthropists as a haven for about 400 freed slaves. These settlers were later joined by blacks from the New World; many were American slaves who fought with the British during the Revolutionary War. Other settlers were Africans freed by the British Navy from slave ships captured on the open seas. These "recaptives" came from nearly every ethnic group on or near the Atlantic coast of the African continent, and occasionally from beyond. Thus, the colony was a major melting pot in which European, North American, and West Indian influences mixed with those of various African cultures. This mixture eventually amalgamated into a single society collectively known as Creole.

The settlement became a British crown colony in 1808. Four years before the turn of the 20th century, the British Government declared a protectorate over the hinterland area, and defined the frontiers with Guinea and Liberia. During the 1950s people from all over the country rushed to diamond-producing areas to look for wealth. These efforts helped to spread the wealth throughout the country as never before.

Sierra Leone became independent in 1961, and a republic in 1971. Today it is a nation where modern Western features blend with historic Creole and tribal cultures. This aggregation of Western, African and Victorian English cultures results in a society that is comfortably familiar yet delightfully foreign to the Westerner, while the vibrancy and conviviality of the people make a stay here stimulating and enjoyable.



Historic Freetown, with its busy port and unspoiled beaches, is a picturesque city. It is situated on the slopes of wooded hillsunusual on the west coast of Africaand overlooks one of the world's most magnificent harbors. From 1808 to 1874, Freetown was the capital of British West Africa.

The city's architecture is a combination of modern buildings and those of 19th-century style, typified in small, wood-gabled and latticed houses. At the hub of the city is the great Cotton Tree, already a landmark when the first Creole settlers arrived in 1787. Freetown is located at the northern tip of the country's Western Province, four miles from the mouth of the Sierra Leone River. It has a population of approximately 1 million.

For a city of its size in Africa, Freetown is unexpectedly Western in character. There are several good hotels, an international airport offering a variety of services, a university, a sports stadium, churches, six large grocery stores, car-rental facilities, several banks, and 15 foreign embassies.


An American school was opened in September 1986 to serve the needs of Freetown's international community. The American International School of Freetown (AISF) is a private, coeducational, day school offering an educational program from pre-kindergarten through grade eight to students of all nationalities. It is housed in a modern, air conditioned building of eight classrooms, a 6,000-volume library, and two administrative offices.

A.I.S.F. follows a modified American curriculum stressing the mastery of basic skills, art and science, and the fostering of basic creativity. Critical thinking is emphasized, and the small classroom size allows the school to respond flexibly to individual needs. Although the school serves a diverse international student body, the curriculum is essentially U.S. based, and most of the texts and materials are published in the U.S. Extracurricular activities include gymnastics, swimming, school newspaper, and various field trips. The school year is divided into two semesters. It begins in early September and ends in mid-June. Holidays are scheduled at Christmas and Easter. Space is limited, particularly in the two nursery classes, which accept students once they have reached their third birthday. Prospective parents are advised to contact the school in advance. The mailing address of the American International School is c/o U.S. Embassy, Walpole Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone. U.S. mail may be addressed in care of U.S. EmbassyFreetown, Sierra Leone, Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-2160.

There is no adequate provision for education of children beyond grade eight. Expatriates generally send their children to boarding schools for secondary education, either in Europe or the U.S. No schools are equipped to meet special educational needs. Tutors have been found in the past among the missionary of American community to assist children with reading problems or to give limited outside instruction.

Several American families send their children to the French School, which has grades kindergarten through six. This small school, run by a local board of parents and teachers, follows the French national curriculum. Children under the age of seven may enter the school with no French language ability; older children are required to have some prior knowledge of the language.

Additionally, there is the small primary school located at the Fourah Bay College, offering somewhat comparable standards of education to those of the British primary system, and the large Lebanese-sup-ported school which, while primarily focused on the Lebanese community's educational requirements, maintains a curriculum which follows the U.K. standard of primary and secondary education. Both schools are multinational in character, with the Lebanese school more formally structured.

These schools often have waiting lists. Tentative reservations can be made for incoming children, but it is usually more satisfactory to wait until after arrival to make final placement decisions. The caliber of schools fluctuates with staff changes, and the "best" school varies according to the individual child and family.

Few foreign children attend Freetown secondary (high) schools. Those who do find the experience more valid cross-culturally than academically. Admission to secondary school (usually at age 11, but sometimes as early as 10) is based on results of the Selective Entrance Examination given every March to all students in primary classes six and seven. However, foreign students who have not taken the exam can apply for direct admission. Most secondary schools have five forms (through the British Ordinary Level Examination), although a few offer the sixth form (Advanced Level Examination).

Some junior and senior high school expatriates have used correspondence work from the Calvert School (grades seven and eight) and the University of Nebraska (grades nine and above). This has been satisfactory academically, but of mixed benefit socially. The expatriate peer group is always small, and sometimes nonexistent, and it is difficult to make friends with local teenagers outside of a classroom situation. Boarding schools are strongly advised for this age group.

Piano teachers are available in Freetown although pianos are scarce. Because of the climate, it is best not to bring a piano or string instrument to Sierra Leone; if shipped, it should be tropicalized beforehand. Ballet lessons for young girls are given at the International School, and karate lessons are given for boys. French lessons are offered at the Alliance Française; adults can also take courses at Fourah Bay College, either on a special or full-time basis.

The Kabala Rupp Memorial School, a coeducational, boarding, church-related institution, is located in the northern town of Kabala. Founded in 1957, the school is sponsored by the American Wesleyan Mission, the Missionary Church, Inc., and United Brethren in Christ. The U.S. curriculum for grades one through nine is taught by a staff of American teachers to a student body comprised mostly of Americans. Facilities include four buildings, three classrooms, an auditorium, covered play area, playing field, cafeteria, dormitory, and a 3,000-volume library. The mailing address of the Kabala Rupp Memorial School is Box 28, Kabala, Sierra Leone, West Africa. U.S. mail may be addressed in care of The Missionary Church, 3901 South Wayne Avenue, Fort Wayne, IN, 46807, U.S.A.


Freetown offers increasingly better recreational opportunities as new facilities are added. The Siaka Stevens Stadium, named for the country's former president, is one of Africa's largest sports complexes, and is a center for a variety of activities. Tennis, squash, and golf all are popular in the area. The Freetown Golf Club has a 12-hole course with sand greens (playable most of the year), squash and tennis courts, and a modest clubhouse. The Hill Station Club has tennis courts, and an active social program. At the Aqua Sports Club, there is a marina, a saltwater pool, squash courts, and a clubhouse and bar. Membership is required at these clubs, but fees are reasonable.

Some hunting is done in Sierra Leone. Bush fowl and guinea fowl, plentiful within 30 miles of Freetown, are usually hunted during the rainy season. Duck and geese are abundant in swamps about 80 miles from the city, and are usually taken by jump shooting from dugouts. Very little big game is found in the immediate Freetown area, but 150 or 200 miles up-country several varieties of African antelope, wild pig, bush cows (West African water buffalo) and, occasionally, hippos and elephants can be found. However, most big game is protected by law. Field clothing in camouflage patterns is prohibited by regulation. Bird hunters should bring briar-resistant clothing and snake-proof boots.

Fishing is available in and near Freetown. Saltwater species include barracuda, cobia, red snapper, Atlantic jack, Spanish mackerel, and grouper. The freshwater angler may find tigerfish, catfish, and several subspecies of tilapia. Most salt-water fish are taken by trolling lures. This necessitates the use of a boat; however, no charter boat facilities are offered in Sierra Leone. The experienced surf-caster should do well on the coast. Catches, however, have declined somewhat in recent years because of heavy fishing of coastal waters by international groups.

The Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, developed with the assistance of Peace Corps volunteers, offers an opportunity to view a wide variety of primates and other tropical rain-forest wildlife in their native habitat. Located seven hours from Freetown, it provides accommodations and an educational and relaxing break. The Outamba Kilimi National Park at Koto, far in the northern part of Sierra Leone, has hippos, numerous tropical birds, elephant sightings, and monkeys. It is a one-day trip from Freetown and has tent accommodations for visitors.

Sierra Leone's picturesque and uncrowded beaches offer the greatest recreational diversion. Many are within easy driving distance of Freetown. Since occasional strong currents and undertow occur, precautions should be taken while swimming. Sharks and barracuda are seldom seen. The rivers in Sierra Leone are unsafe for swimming because of parasitic organisms. A few sites exist for interested deep-sea divers and snorklers. Waterskiing is also popular.

The beaches, tropical vegetation, and varied tribal groupings provide an unending supply of colorful subjects for those interested in photography, painting, or sketching. Discretion should be used, however, since some tribes still maintain taboos against being photographed. Both color and black-and-white film, although expensive, are available for most cameras, including Polaroid. Black-and-white film is developed locally, but color film must be sent to the U.S. or England.

A number of places of interest outside Freetown are accessible by car. The 60-mile trip around the peninsula is a pleasant drive, fringed by some of the world's most picturesque and unspoiled beaches. The drive passes through several colorful Creole villages with British names, as well as typical fishing villages at Baw Baw and Tokeh. Two tourist resorts, catering primarily to European tourists are located within an hour's drive from Freetown and provide a relaxing change of pace for a weekend stay or Sunday luncheon.

Bunce Island, an 18th century English slave fort with remarkably intact ruins, is located 20 miles from Freetown, a 90-minute boat trip up the Sierra Leone River. This fort, is gaining interest in the U.S. since researchers have discovered that many Americans along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts had origins in Sierra Leone. Other boat trips of longer duration, to the Bananas Islands and Turtle Islands, are available through local travel agencies.

Roads from Freetown to the up-country towns of Makeni, Yengema, Bo, and Kenema are generally good, although not always properly maintained. The Port Loko district, about 80 miles northeast, is a scenic, forested area, higher in elevation than Freetown, and affords a refreshing change in climate. Woodworking is done in the Kenema district, another heavily forested area about 200 miles from Freetown. Makeni, in the northern district, is a center for crafts.

The diamond mines at Yengema in the Eastern Province may be visited by invitation of the National Diamond Mining Company; a government permit is needed. Most of the alluvial mines are located along small streams in the scrub forest.

Although none of these areas provide a radical scenic or climatic change, they are interesting and readily accessible. Other inviting sights, such as the Bintumani Mountains, the Bumbuna and Bikongo Falls, and the Kabala area, are not comfortably reached by car. Travel on unpaved roads is easier at the beginning of the rainy season, when the dust has settled; it is most difficult at the height of the rainy season. Government-operated ferries, not always in service, transport vehicles across up-country rivers.

Adequate hotel accommodations are practically nonexistent, so upcountry travelers should arrange to stay with government officers, missionaries, or Peace Corps volunteers. At Sierra Leone government rest camps, such as the one at Shenge, an old port and pirate hideaway about a six-hour drive from Freetown, one must be completely self-sufficient. This includes carrying boiled, filtered water, food, a kerosene lamp and stove, mosquito nets, a cot, bedding, dishes, and utensils.

Driving time from Freetown to Monrovia, Liberia, is about 10 hours in the dry season. Flying time to Monrovia is only 45 minutes, but transport to and from the airports at either end increases the total travel time to six hours. It is possible to drive to Conakry, Guinea, in six hours during the dry season.


Air-conditioned movie theaters in Freetown feature some American films, although they may be three or more years old. Videocassette recorders are popular in the foreign community. There are several video clubs in Freetown that rent tapes in both VHS and Beta formats. Many Americans receive tapes from family and friends in the U.S. Spectator events are limited to soccer games and native dancing fests. The Sierra Leone Military Forces also occasionally present colorful ceremonies.

The Paramount, Cape Sierra, Bintumani, and Mammy Yoko hotel restaurants are regularly patronized by Americans. Three other restaurants at Lumley Beachthe Atlantic, the Lighthouse, and the Palm Beachoffer good food and dancing to live or recorded music. Two casinos at Lumley feature roulette, blackjack, and slot machines. A small Chinese restaurant, located between the city and Lumley Beach, is popular, as is the Provilac Restaurant which has weekly buffets featuring Sierra Leonean dishes.

Social life in Freetown is generally relaxed and informal, and usually centers on home entertainment. Newcomers quickly meet the community through business contacts, membership in clubs, and social functions in homes. Protocol is taken seriously by some diplomats or older Creoles, whose social framework is traditional British, and it is advisable to familiarize oneself with patterns of handshaking, verbal greeting, and deference. Americans are often seen as too abrupt by Sierra Leoneans. Business is conducted only after a short exchange of greetings and talk of a more relaxed nature has preceded it.

Freetown has branches of the International Rotary and Lions Clubs.


BO , just over 100 miles southeast of the capital, is the commercial center of the interior, with a population of about 81,000. The trading of ginger, palm oil and kernels, coffee, cocoa, and rice is important to the economy; goods are transported to Freetown mostly by road. The city has a number of educational centers, including teacher-training colleges, as well as the largest hospital outside of Freetown.

Located in southeastern Sierra Leone, KENEMA is home to the country's timber industry and an important market town for the Mende people. Alluvial diamond mining is an important industry Kenema. Areas surrounding Kenema produce coffee, cocoa, and palm kernels and oil. Kenema is the site of a government library, schools, and several private hospitals. The city's estimated population is 71,000.

MAKENI is situated in central Sierra Leone, less than 100 miles north of the capital. It is a trade center for the Temne people. The main crops sent to Freetown are rice, palm oil, and kernels. Known for its Gara tie-dyeing, Makeni has a church, government schools, a teacher's college, and a hospital. The population is about 106,000.


Geography and Climate

Sierra Leone is nearly circular in shape, and has an area of 27,925 square miles (about the size of South Carolina). It is located on the southwestern part of the great bulge of West Africa, between the seventh and 10th parallels north of the equator. It is bordered on the north and east by the Republic of Guinea, on the south by the Republic of Liberia, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean.

Three main topographical regions run northwest to southeast, roughly parallel with the coast: a belt of mangrove swamps and beaches; an area of low plains covered with secondary forest and cultivated crops; and an easternmost region of high plateaus and mountains, some rising as high as 6,000 feet. The mountainous peninsula on which Freetown, the capital, is located comprises a fourth, distinct geographical region. It is the only place on the West African coast where mountains rise near the sea and where the beaches are both exceptionally beautiful and generally safe for swimming.

The climate is tropical, with both rainy and dry seasons, constantly high temperatures, and almost constant high humidity. The rainy season extends from May to November, but is heaviest between July and September, when over half of the annual rainfall occurs. In Freetown, rainfall is as much as 150 inches; inland areas receive less. The beginning and end of the rainy season is marked by frequent strong electrical storms, similar to those occurring during the hot summer months of the eastern United States. Coastal temperatures during the rainy season range from a daily high of about 80°F to a nightly low of about 76°F. Most Westerners reside in the hills above the city, where a constant breeze makes for comfortable living and encourages outdoor entertaining.

Relative humidity in Freetown rarely falls below 80 percent, except when the harmattan reaches the coast. This current of dry, dusty air flows from the Sahara Desert toward the south and west, usually reaching Sierra Leone in December. The harmattan brings Freetown its best weather; during this season, temperatures reach about 90°F during the day and fall to about 74°F at night.

Because of the climate, insects abound and mildew can be a problem. Flies, ants, and cockroaches are occasional nuisances, but lizards are also plentiful and help to keep the others in check. Numerous snakes exist, some of them poisonous. Precautions must be taken against mildew and corrosion and, during the dry season, against the bothersome red laterite dust.


Sierra Leone's population is estimated at 5.4 million, with an increase of 3.6 percent per annum. Density averages about 121 per square mile: the highest densities of several hundred per square mile are in the western area of the country; the lowest, of about 25 per square mile, are in the remote northern and eastern sections. Life expectancy in Sierra Leone in 2001 was 43 years for males, 49 years for females. Freetown, with 1 million people, is the capital, the commercial and educational center, and the only large city.

The African population consists of 20 ethnic groups, each with its own language and customs. The two largest groups (the Mende in the south and the Temne in the north) are about equal in number and make up approximately 60 percent of the country's population. The 54,000 descendants of the original settlers make up the Creole society, mostly settled in the Freetown area. Their language, Krio, is the lingua franca of Sierra Leone, although the Mende and Temne tongues are also widely spoken. English is the official language.

Followed by 60 percent of the population, Islam is the predominant religion of the country, with animism and Christianity (both Protestant and Roman Catholic) following. Both Islam and Christianity retain perceptible overtones of indigenous animist beliefs. Islam is strongest in the Northern Province; Christianity, even though numerically small, is influential in southern regions and the Freetown area, where missions have been active for over 100 years.

Many Creole customs, which derive from Victorian England, are easily identifiable with those of Western cultures. Tribal customs, however, differ greatly from cultural patterns encountered in the U.S. Secret organizations, such as the women's Bundu or Sande and the men's Poro societies, still play a dominant role in tribal life.

Women in rural areas often wear only a cloth or lappa tied around their waists; children are commonly scantily clothed and occasionally naked. Strong extended family structures are frequently comprised of several wives and their relations.

The Lebanese and the Indian communities are mainly merchants. European and American residents are scattered throughout the country.


After World War II, self-government was gradually established in Sierra Leone, leading to complete independence on April 27, 1961. The following September, Sierra Leone became the 100th member of the United Nations. The first general elections with universal franchise were held in May 1962.

Under the constitution brought into effect on Independence Day, Sierra Leone adopted a parliamentary form of government. Executive authority was vested in Her Britannic Majesty, Elizabeth II, who was queen of Sierra Leone and represented by a governor-general.

In April 1971, the country adopted a republican constitution with an executive president, but retained membership in the British Commonwealth. Executive authority is exercised by the president. The unicameral parliament consists of 127 authorized seats, 105 of which are filled by elected representatives of constituencies and 22 by paramount chiefs elected by fellow paramount chiefs in each district. The president is authorized to appoint up to seven members.

A separate judiciary system includes a Court of Appeals, Supreme Court, High Court, magistrates' courts, and local courts having jurisdiction in certain customary (tribal) law cases.

The Freetown peninsula, which together with Sherbro Island comprised the former colony, is now called the Western Province. Freetown has one of the oldest civic governments in Western form in all of Africa south of the Sahara. The rest of the country, formerly known as the Protectorate, is divided into three provinces, the Northern, Southern, and Eastern. These provinces are made up of 12 districts comprising 146 chiefdoms, where paramount chiefs and a council of elders constitute the basic unit of government.

Major Gen. Joseph Saidu Momoh was elected president in January 1986. In May 1992, mutinous army troops staged a military coup. Momoh was overthrown and fled to neighboring Guinea. Captain Valentine Strasser took control of the government, promising a return to civilian rule.

In 1996 Strasser was overthrown by Julius Maada Brio. Elections in February 1996 resulted in the installation of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as president following a runoff vote. However, his government was overthrown in a coup led by Major Johnny Paul Koromah in May 1997. The president was reinstated in 1998 and was reelected in 2002.

The flag of Sierra Leone is made up of green, white, and blue horizontal bands.

Arts, Science, Education

The country's intellectual life centers around the University of Sierra Leone. The university's Fourah Bay College, founded in 1827 by Anglican missionaries and situated on Mount Aureol high above Freetown, is the oldest English-language college in West Africa, and still attracts students from Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and other countries to study alongside students from the growing number of Sierra Leonean secondary schools. The curriculum includes liberal arts, education, theology, law, economics, engineering, and pure and applied sciences. The university includes three institutesthe Institute of African Studies, the Institute of Public Administration and Management, and the Institute of Library Science.

Njala University College is the second part of the University of Sierra Leone. It is an agricultural and educational institution formed on the U.S. land-grant college principle, and is located 130 miles from Freetown at Njala. In addition, Sierra Leone has several teacher training colleges, the most notable of which is Milton Margai Teachers College, just outside of Freetown.

Choral, drama, and music groups in Freetown produce occasional plays (both in English and in Krio) and give recitals. A National Dance Troupe presents high-quality traditional dancing performances. The small National Museum displays local artifacts, and the Sierra Leone Artists Association promotes the sale and exhibition of local art work. Weaving, carving, and gara cloth (tie-dyed fabric) are the principal artistic media of the people.

Commerce and Industry

Sierra Leone's economic and social infrastructure is not well developed. The economy remains primarily agricultural although minerals, particularly diamonds, account for roughly 70 percent of all exports. In recent years, serious balance-of-payments and budget deficits have stifled economic growth. The Sierra Leonean economy has been saddled with high unemployment, large trade deficits, and a growing dependence on foreign aid. The value of the national currency has declined and wages are extremely low.

Agriculture accounts for over 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs over 70 percent of the labor force. Most agricultural production is of a subsistence nature. Rice is the staple food crop, but a significant percentage is imported. Other important food corps are cassava, bananas, sweet potatoes, sorghum, and corn. Palm kernels and oil, coffee, and cocoa are Sierra Leone's primary cash corps and major sources of export earnings.

Because of the value and quality of Sierra Leone's diamond resources, the mining sector has traditionally played a central role in the economy. The profitability of the country's diamond resources is hampered by the depletion of reserves and illegal smuggling. Sierra Leone also has the world's largest deposits of rutile, a mineral used to manufacture paints and alloys. Most reserves of rutile are located in the southwestern part of the country. Large bauxite reserves are also known to exist in the northeast.

Sierra Leone's industrial sector is small and underdeveloped. Industrial capacity is limited mainly to the manufacturing of cigarettes, paint, beverages, plastic footwear, and textiles.

Minerals, such as diamonds, rutile, and bauxite, make up the bulk of Sierra Leone's exports. Coffee and cocoa are also valuable export commodities. The Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States, Germany, and other European Community (EC) countries are the primary recipients of Sierra Leone's exports. Sierra Leone imports capital goods, foodstuffs, petroleum and related products, transport equipment, machinery, and light industrial goods. These imports are provided by the United States, EC countries, Japan, China, and Nigeria.

Sierra Leone is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The country receives foreign financial assistance from China, Germany, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Community, the United States, and Great Britain.

The Chamber of Commerce of Sierra Leone is located in Freetown; the address is P.O. Box 502.


International air service to Europe is provided by British Airways, KLM, and UTA. As of May 1990, British Airways flew to London twice a week, KLM to Amsterdam once a week, and UTA to Paris twice a week. Provincial Air Services provide charter helicopter services to many parts of the country, but rates are high. In-country travel is by road, as railroad and airline carrier service is no longer available.

The Road Transport Corporation operates bus service within the capital city, although it is not often used by official Americans or U.S. visitors because of overcrowding. Many taxis also operate in Freetown, but they are hard to get since they cannot be summoned by telephone; because cabs are unmetered, fares should be agreed upon beforehand. Fares outside the city are high. Taxis invariably pick up several passengers on any given trip and are, therefore, always crowded. Taxis are seldom used at night by expatriates (for safety reasons).

A car is a necessity for those living in Freetown, but American-made vehicles are not recommended. Acceptable servicing exists for most British cars and some other makes, such as Peugeot, Renault, Fiat, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Honda, and Nissan. Spare parts, however, are often scarce and always expensive. Mobil, Texaco, Shell, and British Petroleum gasolines are sold at American-style stations.

In the capital, the streets are narrow and congested with pedestrians; there are no sidewalks. Driving is on the right.


Facilities for telephone communications in Sierra Leone are adequate. A computerized central system has been installed which should improve telecommunications considerably. International calls to the U.S. can be made at the Sierra Leone External

Telecommunications but take time, since the number of overseas lines is limited.

Local liability insurance can be arranged and is required for personally owned vehicles. It is not expensive, but coverage is very limited. Comprehensive insurance is also available but costly. Telegraphic communications are usually reliable, although the delivery of telegrams is sometimes delayed. Airmail from the U.S. takes from five days to two weeks to reach Freetown, and occasional delays are experienced.

Sierra Leone has the oldest radio broadcasting service in English-speaking West Africa. The government-owned Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service operates a number of radio stations broadcasting in English, Krio, Limba, Mende, and Tenme. However, these stations are on the air infrequently due to power failures and the lack of spare parts for broadcasting equipment. A shortwave radio is necessary to receive international broadcasts. Radio reception in Freetown is generally good.

Commercial television service is limited. Sierra Leone uses the European system for its television broadcasts. American television sets receive the visual, but not the audio portion of the signal. However, with a small radio having a TV audio band, the voice signal comes in. This is cheaper than conversion in the European system. Many American expatriates bring a VCR and a supply of videotapes with them to Sierra Leone.

The government-owned Daily Mail is the main newspaper. It is published daily, but gives very little coverage to international news events. The Paris edition of the International Herald Tribune is available by subscription and usually arrives a month late. Current copies of the international edition of Newsweek are sold locally.

Books, especially paperbacks, the majority of which are published in the U.K., are available in quantity from a number of sources. Several libraries (USIS, British Council, and the Freetown city libraries) have reasonable collections.


Freetown's four large hospitalsConnaught General, Princess Christian Maternity, Children's, and Hill Stationas well as several small private hospitals and nursing homes, offer minimum facilities. None is satisfactory in size, equipment, hygienic standards, or staff. The level of nursing care is below that of institutions in the U.S. Many medical problems require evacuation to Europe or the U.S. for treatment. Several well-qualified physicians and dentists practice in Freetown, although the absence of basic diagnostic and treatment facilities presents a considerable handicap for them.

Water shortages sometimes occur in Freetown. During the dry season, water supply and pressure may be irregular if the level in local reservoirs drops below normal. Although the water is treated with chlorine, it should be boiled about 20 minutes before using; all drinking water must also be filtered.

For most of Freetown, the sewage disposal system is below standard. Open drainage ditches running throughout town are breeding places for insects, and cause unsightly flooding when outlets are plugged or covered by debris. Many residences have septic tanks, but most of the population use pit latrines.

Irregular garbage collection and disposal; inadequate laws governing inspection, storage, and sale of food; and the lack of health and sanitation consciousness by most cooks and stewards are health hazards to Westerners. Vigilance and constant attention to good hygiene practices are strongly advised.

Major communicable diseases are malaria, measles, typhoid, hepatitis, intestinal diseases, influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, cholera, and lassa fever. During the rainy season, children may be particularly susceptible to fungus or other skin disorders. Intestinal upsets are common.

Those moving to Sierra Leone should begin taking malaria suppressants three weeks prior to arrival, and continue taking them weekly for the duration of the stay. One should also obtain a gamma globulin injection against hepatitis as well as inoculations against cholera, yellow fever, typhoid fever, tetanus, polio, and rabies. Because rabies is prevalent in Sierra Leone, pets should also be vaccinated against the disease.

All locally purchased vegetables should be either cooked or disinfected, if they cannot be peeled. Taking vitamin tablets as a daily supplement is a common practice. All clothes, bedding, and towels must be machine dried or ironed to avoid tumba-fly infestation. Mosquito netting for homes, especially where young children reside. Not only is malaria a concern, but bites that are scratched become infected easily in the tropical climate.

Clothing and Services

Being neatly, smartly, and appropriately dressed is important to Sierra Leoneans, and they expect it of others. Ready-made clothing sold locally is European in style; limited in selection, size, and quality; and also very expensive. Local tailoring is good and generally moderate in cost. Shoe repair is crude but functional.

In selecting a wardrobe, one should remember that the temperature range is narrow, and seasonal change minimal. Offices, however, are air-conditioned and can be cool. Clothing appropriate for Washington, DC summers is generally right for Freetown. Washable fabrics are preferable. Local dry-cleaning is not recommended. Garments that cannot be washed or that require special handling should be kept to a minimum. Laundry is done at home. Cotton or predominantly cotton blends are more absorbent and not as hot as synthetics. Knits are good for traveling and office wear, but are generally too warm for regular street wear.

The hot weather requires frequent changes and consequent laundering of clothes. This, plus the lack of seasonal variation and a fairly limited social orbit, makes a variety of clothes important. Some warm clothing will be needed for travel out of the area in cold months. A light sweater or shawl is handy for cool evenings, and some rain gear is also useful. Umbrellas can be bought locally.

Men wear wash-and-wear clothing throughout the year. Short-sleeved shirts are generally worn in the office. Social life is informal (often no coat or tie is necessary), but official affairs require a dark suit and long-sleeved shirt.

Women need a variety of cotton dresses for daytime, and washable long dresses for the numerous social activities in Freetown. Because evenings can be cool, and home and restaurants air-conditioned, some dresses should have sleeves, jackets, or stoles. Shorts and slacks are worn for sports activities and at home, but less often downtown or in the office. Gala African dresses are purchased locally and are popular for evening wear, but should only be relied on to augment an evening wardrobe. Sierra Leonean women wear hats and hosiery for formal daytime occasions, including church, but Western women normally do not wear hats. Hosiery is a matter of personal choice. Maternity clothes are not available in Freetown.

Children usually wear shorts or jeans, but party clothes are sometimes needed. School uniforms are made locally. Clothing for babies and young children is extremely limited here, and the items are more expensive than in the U.S. Shoes must be worn at all times when outdoors to protect feet from worms and bacteria that can enter the body through small cuts or abrasions. Children generally wear tennis shoes and sandals.

Tomatoes, sweet peppers, green beans, cabbages, green squash, pumpkins, radishes, parsley, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, potatoes, and onions are seasonally available. A variety of greens (spinach substitutes), okra, sweet potatoes, and small tomatoes are sold year round in outdoor markets. Imported vegetables are available, but at very high prices. Good local tropical fruits such as bananas, oranges, pineapples, limes, grapefruit, avocados, mangoes, and papaya are seasonally available in abundance. Purchasing fruits and vegetables from street vendors involves considerable bargaining.

Local beef, lamb, and pork are sometimes used by Americans. Beef is not aged and most of it is tough, but the fillet is tender and reasonably priced. Lamb is both expensive and fatty. Pork is better tasting than in the U.S. and trichinosis is not known in Sierra Leone. However, pork should be cooked well as a precaution. Local poultry is acceptable, but expensive. Fresh and locally frozen fish are perhaps the best bargains in Freetown. Fresh and frozen shrimp and lobster are also good. Lobster, squid, barracuda, sole, and snapper are among the local favorites. Eggs, although more expensive than in the U.S., can be bought most of the year. Fresh milk or cream is not available, but good powdered or canned milk is. Imported sterilized milk sealed in cartons (three-month shelf life without refrigeration) is also available.

Freetown's supermarkets stock a surprising variety of canned goods, cereals, nuts, and pastas, all of which are imported. However, these products are several times the U.S. price, availability is never certain, and the length of time that they have been sitting on grocers shelves in tropical heat is unknown.

Tailoring, shoe repair, and dry cleaning are below American standards, although of acceptable quality. Freetown has a few barbers and beauty salons that give acceptable haircuts, permanents, manicures, and facials. Some local electricians work on radios and stereos, but spare parts for American-made items are not readily obtainable.

Domestic Help

As in most places in Africa, household servants are usually male. Most families hire one person to serve as a steward, with responsibility to clean and perhaps help with cooking. Families with small children may hire a nanny. Generally, household help do not live in the home, but live-in nannies can be found.

Most domestics require close supervision. Uniforms are provided by the employer. Each servant should have a physical examination and X-ray when hired; periodic checkupsare advisable. Salaries are generally low.


January 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar.(2nd Mon) Commonwealth Day

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

Apr. 19 Republic Day

Apr. 27 Independence Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day

Dec. 26 Boxing Day

Hijra New Year*

Id al-Adah*


Id al-Fitr*

Mawlid an Nabi*



The Department of State warns against travel to Sierra Leone and advises all U.S. citizens to exercise caution when traveling to Sierra Leone, particularly in the areas south and east of Bo and Kenema, and to defer all travel to the area along the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia. There are reports in these areas of banditry and incursions by rebels from Liberia, and there have been clashes between these rebels and the Sierra Leonean military. Travel at night should be avoided, and travelers to the affected areas can expect to encounter road-blocks and vehicle searches by Sierra Leonean security forces. Travel outside the capital is dangerous because of armed military groups.

Several African and international airlines provide service to and from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Persons arriving in Sierra Leone must have valid passports, visas, and current health certificates with records of inoculations against yellow fever and cholera. Injections to prevent hepatitis, typhoid, tetanus, and polio also are strongly recommended, as are malaria suppressants.

Pets may be brought into the country with an international certificate of good health, obtained from a veterinarian. Proof of rabies vaccination and proper health certificates are required. There is no quarantine period.

The Government of Sierra Leone will permit importation of 50 rounds of ammunition for each registered firearm, with no limitation on the number of firearms. More than what is considered a reasonable quantity, however (one pistol, one rifle, one shotgun), must be approved. Only guns designated as suitable for sporting purposes are allowed; no military or police models can be imported.

The following denominations have places of worship in Sierra Leone: Anglican, Church of Christ, Evangelical United Brethren, Pentecostal, Bahai Faith, Methodist, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Samaria West African Methodist, and Seventh-Day Adventist. Non-denomi-national Protestant services are held weekly at St. Augustine's Anglican Chapel, Hill Station. Freetown has no synagogue. Most services are conducted in English.

The time in Sierra Leone is Greenwich Mean Time.

The monetary unit is the Leone, which is divided into 100 cents. The symbols used are "Le" for Leone, and "c" for cents. The Bank of Sierra Leone, a central bank with no commercial facilities, manages the currency. There are several commercial institutions, including the Standard Bank of Sierra Leone, Ltd; Barclay's Bank Sierra Leone, Ltd; and the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, Ltd.

All weights and measures conform to British standards.

The U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone is located at the corner of Siaka Stevens and Walpole Streets, Freetown (across from the city's historic Cotton Tree); telephone: 232 (22) 226-481; FAX: 232 (22) 225-471.


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Alie, Joe A.D. A New History of Sierra Leone. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Bell, L.V. Mental and Social Disorder in Sub-Saharan Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Kallon, Kelfala Morana. The Economics of Sierra Leonean Entrepreneurship. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990.

Milsome, John. Sierra Leone. Let's Visit Places & Peoples of the World Series. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Weeks, John. Development Strategy & the Economy of Sierra Leone. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Wyse, Akintola J.G. H.C. Bankole-Bright and Politics in Colonial Sierra Leone, 1919-1958. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

. Krio of Sierra Leone. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Sierra Leone
Region: Africa
Population: 5,232,624
Language(s): English, Mende, Temne, Krio
Literacy Rate: 31.4%
Number of Primary Schools: 1,795
Compulsory Schooling: 6 years
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 367,426
  Secondary: 102,474
  Higher: 4,742
Teachers: Primary: 10,850
  Secondary: 5,969
  Higher: 600

History & Background

Sierra Leone, a relatively tiny country on the west coast of Africa, totals 28,000 square miles, or 71,470 square kilometers. A 1994 population estimate puts the country at 4.2 million people (53 percent female, 47 percent male). Sierra Leone is bounded on the west and southwest by the Atlantic Ocean, on the northwest, north, and northeast by Guinea, and on the east and southeast by Liberia.

It was a Portuguese sailor, Pedro da Cintra who, on a visit to this land in 1462, named the place he saw as Serra Lyoa (lion range or lion mountain). On approaching the mountainous peninsula, Pedro da Cintra saw the mountains poised like lions. The name Serra Lyoa gradually acquired its present form, Sierra Leone. What is known as Sierra Leone today came into being only in 1896. Before 1896, the name only referred to the mountainous peninsula and its adjacent islands.

Sierra Leone has witnessed a series of external invasions and influences that make it what it is today. Before the advent of Europeans and other groups, the people of this land lived in small communities. Even before Portuguese traders began to appear on the west coast of Africa in the mid-fifteenth century, many of these small communities had already established themselves in certain parts of the country. The Baga, Bullom, Krim, and Vai were communities that had established themselves on the coast before the Portuguese arrived. The Temne and the Loko lived in the northwest, and the Limba lived further to the north; the Kissi and the Kono lived in the East. It would seem that these various groups lived in isolation from one another and that internal migration was minimal. The first of the external influences came from European traders, soon to be followed by the Mane, a group of Mandespeaking peoples. In the seventeenth century, black Muslim groups started to infiltrate the country from the north. By the close of the nineteenth century, Islam had become the religion of many Sierra Leoneans.

As the first Europeans to visit the west coast of Sierra Leone, and indeed Africa, the Portuguese became the pioneers of the trade between Europe and West Africa. Sierra Leone and Portugal traded in goods, for example, exchanging kitchen utensils for ivory or gold. This normal trade was soon to be replaced by the most inhumane trade in human history, the Atlantic slave trade. The need for labor on the New World plantations (the Americas) triggered the buying and selling of humans, and Sierra Leone became an important center in this trade. The Portuguese, and later other EuropeansEnglish, French, Dutch, Danishsought slaves in Sierra Leone to ship to the plantations of the New World. During the Atlantic slave trade, certain islands and places on the Sierra Leone coast became important slave centers. Bunce Island, located on the Sierra Leone river was one of those important centers. Slaves taken from Sierra Leone were taken to South Carolina in North America. Since slaves from this country were known to be rice planters, it was good business for anyone to bring slaves from Sierra Leone. Research has shown that descendants of slaves taken from Sierra Leone and its environs today live in the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia. They constitute a distinctive group called the Gullah, and their language is mutually intelligible with the Krio language, Sierra Leone's lingua franca. They have preserved much of their Sierra Leonean culture, songs, stories, and names (Alie).

In 1786, the Abolitionists, including a leading member of the British parliament, William Wilberforce, founded the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The consequences of the anti-slavery movement led to the establishment of the Sierra Leone Colony. Many of the freed slaves were languishing in Canada and England and needed a place to live their new lives. Freetown, now the capital of Sierra Leone, was chosen as the new world for the freed slaves. On April 8, 1787, the first group of freed slaves left for Freetown to found what became the Sierra Leone Colony. Later, other groupsNova Scotians, maroons, and recaptiveswere also settled in Freetown. As a British Colony, Freetown's street names were given British names to affirm the settlement's close connection to Britain. The colony's currency of dollars and cents was changed to pounds, shillings, and pence. Postal services were established between the colony, Europe, and West Indies. It was inevitable that a British form of education would be introduced in the colony. In 1814 when governor Charles MacCarthy became the colony's governor, he pushed for education and religion, which he thought would bring the colonists within the pale of Western Civilization.

The Church Missionary Society (CMS), a Church of England institution, was then to play a key role in bringing western type education to Sierra Leone. Through the influence of people like William Wilberforce, Henry Thornton, and Zachary Macaulay, the CMS sent its first missionaries in 1804. In 1816, the British government and the CMS entered into an agreement that obligated the government to build churches, schools, and parsonages, while the CMS was to staff villages with ministers and school masters. By 1824, some 2,460 children were receiving education in the colony schools. But the colonial government was not pleased with the kind of education provided by the CMS; it was said to be too bookish. The CMS was also accused of discriminating against those of different religions. After 1824, the British government decided to assume control of the colony schools in order to raise standards and open the schools to every child. To produce local teachers and missionaries, Fourah Bay College was established in 1827. In the meantime CMS decided to start and run their own schools. By 1841, the CMS, WMS (Wesleyan Methodist Society), and the British government each had fourteen primary schools to their credit. A total of 8,000 pupils of the colony's population of 40,000 attended these schools.

In 1845, the CMS founded the Grammar School to provide religion and general education for boys. A separate department was created to train professional primary school teachers. Both Fourah Bay College and Grammar School were the first of their kinds in Sub-Saharan Africa and attracted students from all over West Africa. The CMS female counterpart was also opened in 1845 and was renamed Annie Walsh Memorial School in 1849. The Wesleyan Methodist Society opened the Methodist Boys High School and Methodist Girls High School in 1874 and 1880, respectively. Many more schools were opened after these. The language of instruction was English, and the structure of education was basically British.

Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961. After independence, Sierra Leoneans maintained both the content and structure of the British education they inherited. English was declared the official language of the country; it was to be the language of instruction in schools, colleges and university, and of the media and administration. Besides having Sierra Leoneans heading most of the institutions, no major substantial changes were made to the structure and content of education handed down by the colonial administration. Although the standards were high especially up to a decade after independence, it became clear that the curricula at the various levels of the educational structure did not meet the current needs of Sierra Leone.

In 1994, through a decree, (Decree No. 4) the military government, National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), established the National Commission for Basic Education to support the new educational system, dubbed, 6-3-3-4. The new system grew out of a desire to make the educational system answerable to the needs of the country.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The constitutional foundation on which the new educational structure is anchored can be found in Decree No. 4 of 1994, which established the National Commission for Basic Education. The military government, the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), which was in power in 1994, designed a wide-ranging National Education Action Plan to support basic education reform that aims to provide basic education for the majority of the population, as well as to enhance the participation of women and girls in the process of education.

According to the guiding principles, objectives, and strategies for education in Sierra Leone outlined in the New Education Policy publication, the control of education shall continue to be in accordance with the existing Education Act. The general aim of education operates within the framework of the Constitution and other international agreements on education to which Sierra Leone is a signatory or with which Sierra Leone is in agreement. The general aim of education in Sierra Leone is the integral development of the individual with the aim of building a free, just, and peace-loving society with a sustainable and dynamic economy. The rationale behind the new policies can be found in the following principles:

  1. Every child shall be encouraged to have between one and three years of preparation at nursery school or kindergarten.
  2. Each child shall start formal education at the age of six years.
  3. Basic formal education shall last for nine years. It shall ultimately be free and compulsory.
  4. Formal education shall be broad-based with practical programs that lead to skills acquisition.

Educational SystemOverview

The standard of education in Sierra Leone before and immediately after independence was one of the best around the world. With the University of Sierra Leone established in 1827, Sierra Leone was dubbed, "Athens of West Africa." But that educational system fell on hard times. Over a long period of neglect, the country witnessed an erosion of standards in its educational system. From 1970 to 1985, the average growth rate for primary school enrollment was slightly more than 6.0 percent, while that for secondary school enrollment was just over 6.5 percent. From 1985 to 1990, the average annual growth rate for primary school enrollment fell to 2.0 percent, while that for secondary school enrollment fell to 1.6 percent. Besides these enrollment concerns, the outputs of institutions at the technical/vocational and teacher education levels had also been found wanting.

In the pre-1993 educational system, preschool (ages 1 to 5) was optional and was run by private institutions. Primary school children (ages 5 to 12) started class 1 at age 5 and finished class 7 at age 12. It was a seven-year program at the end of which the pupil was to take an external examination called the Common Entrance, later renamed the Selective Entrance Examination. The exam was used to determine who would enter secondary school and who would not. Ages for secondary school were 12 to 17 or 19 years. At the end of the first five years of secondary school, the student was to take the General Certificate of Education Examination (GCE Ordinary Level) to determine who would enter Sixth Form, college or university, and who would not. Those who failed, depending on the grades they made, would repeat the exams, enter primary teacher colleges or technical/vocational institutions, or join the workforce. Those who passed the exam would either enter the Sixth Form, where they would spend two years preparing for university, or enter university at the preliminary level. At the end of the Sixth Form, students were to take the Advanced Level Examination. Those who passed this exam would enter university at the intermediate (first year) level, skipping the preliminary level. Those who failed would enter university at the preliminary level.

Technical/vocational institutes (one, two, or three years) were designed to give opportunities to those who did not make it at the purely academic arena to learn trades. However, these institutes were seriously neglected and so collapsed. Teacher colleges (three years) trained teachers for primary and secondary schools. They offered a three-year program after secondary school, especially for those who did not meet the requirements for universities. The Milton Margai Teachers College trained teachers for secondary schools; it was a three-year program for those who passed a minimum of four subjects at the GCE Ordinary Level examination. Successful candidates were offered the Higher Teachers Certificate (HTC) upon graduation. The university level (three or four years) was represented by The University of Sierra Leone. By 1993 it had three constituent colleges: Fourah Bay College; Njala University College; and College of Medicine, Allied Health Sciences. The university also had the Institute of Public Administration (IPAM) and the Institute of Education.

The new system of education articulates seven major objectives for education in Sierra Leone: The system is to provide broad-based education for children from class 1 to junior secondary school through the creation of relevant curricula and teaching/learning resources. Through a well-reasoned development of incentives, cost-recovery measures, scholarships, and work study programs, access to basic education (especially for girls) will be increased. Another major objective is to improve the quality and relevance of education. Technical and vocational education is to be expanded within the formal and nonformal sectors of education. An important objective is seeking to increase opportunities for the acquisition of literacy, numeracy, and technical and vocational skills within the formal and nonformal sectors of education. The new system also aims to provide equity in education by enforcing the policy of nondiscrimination in all schools, as well as ensuring the similarity of standards and quality of education for all children regardless of where they attend school. The final major objective is to develop in children relevant skills, attitudes, and values that will enable them to be effective and responsible citizens.

The New System of Education: In the new 6-3-3-4 system of education, the first six years consist of primary education followed by three years of junior secondary education for all primary school graduates. This 6-3 block (a total of 9 years) makes up the formal part of basic education. At the end of junior secondary school, students take the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) which, together with their continuous assessment profiles, determines whether they will continue their education at general or specialist senior secondary schools or proceed to technical and vocational schools of varying course content and duration.

Students in senior secondary school, at the end of their program, take the international Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) in competition with other students in English-speaking West Africa. The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) is responsible for conducting this examination. Students who pass this exam and meet the requirements of the University of Sierra Leone may continue their formal education for four years for a first degree. Students in junior secondary school who are in technical and vocational tracks may, upon graduation, enter the workforce or continue their formal education in a technical/vocational institute. In the effort to properly monitor the standard and quality of education, and improve retention, the new system has introduced continuous assessment. This system of continuous assessment also facilitates effective guidance and counseling of students, besides being part of their terminal examination grades in the various examinations at different levels.

The concept of basic education in the new educational structure includes the provision of facilities for all citizens to be literate and numerate, as well as to cultivate the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will enable them to earn a good living, improve their social and health circumstances, be patriotic citizens of Sierra Leone, and understand the complexities and opportunities of the modern world. The basic education programs include nonformal education for dropouts from school and children and adults who did not have the opportunity to go to school. Also to compensate for the chronic neglect of women's education, the new system will encourage positive discrimination in favor of women in basic education.

The new structure of education also encompasses a new role for national languages. Unlike the old system, the new system allows four national languagesKrio, Mende, Temne, and Limbato be taught throughout the school system, teacher colleges, and universities. English remains the medium of instruction throughout the system starting from class three. French is compulsory at the primary and junior secondary school levels, but it is optional at the senior secondary level. Arabic is optional at both junior and senior secondary levels. Also, there is provision for the establishment of a National Institute of Sierra Leonean Languages whose function will be to promote the development and use of Sierra Leonean languages as a whole both within the educational system and in the community at large.

The new system also makes room for the training of education sector personnel so as to effectively implement the 6-3-3-4 reform plan. It is important that the new system expresses the need to include educational planners, curriculum researchers and developers, teacher trainers, inspectors, adult educators, school broadcasters, subject specialists, and computer specialists in a comprehensive policy for professional development. Training of these personnel can be internal or external; in some cases distance learning will be utilized. The coordination of educational services will also be improved. The Department of Education shall be restructured and decentralized to allow for efficiency; in such an arrangement, the headquarters can concentrate on policy development and monitoring policy implementation.

Preprimary & Primary Education

The new structure of Sierra Leone's educational system embraces a preprimary (nursery) education. The new statutory age for a child to enter primary school is six years. Children between the ages of three and six acquire preprimary education. The main objective of this nursery education is to prepare children for primary education. However, preprimary education can be formal or informal. The formal nursery education is believed to enlarge and enrich children's use of language to further their socialization into the values and mores of their society. Because it is not considered a right in the country, preprimary education is given in private schools in the capital, Freetown, and in other large towns in the country. The government pays the salaries of serving teachers in these schools and controls the private preschools through the Nursery Schools Association and the Inspectorate Division of the Department of Education.

The new 6-3-3-4 system allocates six years to primary schooling. It is the first step in the system that the child follows from ages 6 to 12. As part of the nine-year cycle of formal basic education, primary education is not terminal. In the new system, all primary schools are controlled by the Department of Education. To open a new primary school, the Inspectorate Division must inspect the new school to ensure compliance with specified minimum national standards before being allowed to operate. However, private proprietors, missionary bodies, local governments, or such institutions as large businesses or university colleges are allowed to continue to operate primary schools for the children and wards of their workers. The student-teacher ratio is set at 40:1. At this level, emphasis is placed on the communicative competence of the children and their ability to manipulate figures. In classes one, two, and three, the medium of instruction is the child's community language, while English is the medium of instruction in the higher classes. The study of Sierra Leone forms a significant part of the child's education so that the child will have a sound basic grasp of the facts of the country and its relationship to the world. Natural sciences and social studies receive considerable attention at this level. Continuous assessment of students has been introduced into the new system. At the end of class six, the last class of the primary school education, the student's continuous assessment record card is to be submitted to the principal of the junior secondary school into which the student is accepted after taking the National Primary School Examination (NPSE). This exam, taken at the end of class six, is an external examination conducted by the West African Exams Council. It tests the whole range of the student's competence.

Secondary Education

Under the new system, secondary education is divided into junior and senior secondary schooling. After six years of primary schooling, the student spends three years in junior secondary school and another three years in senior secondary school. Junior secondary school (JSS) is the final part of formal basic education. It provides a broad-based general education to students between the ages of 12 and 15 years that will enable them to enter senior secondary school, vocational and technical education, or the workforce. The courses offered at this level are divided into core subjects, which are compulsory for all JSS students, and electives, which are chosen for study by the students with the help of their guidance counselors and parents.

Some of the aims of junior secondary education are to introduce subjects encouraging the development of nationally desired and marketable skills and the provision of training in community awareness and community responsibility. At the end of junior secondary school, students take the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), conducted by the West African Examinations Council. Continuous assessment forms part of each student's final grade.

Senior secondary school (SSS) is the final stage of the secondary school education; it is a three-year program for students between the ages of 15 and 18 who have completed the JSS course and obtained the required BECE grades. This level contains an element of specialization, preparing the student for university education or a professional school or any other postsecondary institution. There are two kinds of senior secondary schoolsgeneral and specialist. The general secondary school operates a comprehensive curriculum, while the specialist secondary school caters to students whose interests and aptitudes are for such specialized subject areas as science and mathematics, technology, liberal arts, and business studies. In general, students at this level are offered a set of core (compulsory) subjects and some optional subjects. At the end of senior secondary school, a student takes the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE). A student's grade at this examination, together with the student's continuous assessment grade, determines the student's final grade for this level.

Higher Education

Higher education refers to all formal education received after the completion of secondary schooling. In Sierra Leone, higher education comprises the following:

  • The University of Sierra Leone with its constituent colleges and institutes
  • The Open University
  • Polytechnics
  • Teachers Colleges
  • Technical/Vocational Institutes
  • Professional schools such as the National School of Nursing and the School of Hotels and Tourism.

In the new system, higher education is expected to help in the realization of the objectives of the new 6-3-3-4 system, such as the rapid enhancement of literacy in Sierra Leone and the improvement of educational opportunities for women and girls. Higher education also is expected to assist with the inclusion of new subjects that enhance a proper and positive understanding of Sierra Leone, including such subjects as indigenous languages and Sierra Leone studies.

The University: The university of Sierra Leone has, throughout the years, suffered from chronic neglect. It has been struggling for quality and relevance. The new system still entrusts the university with the responsibility of producing the high-caliber, top-level manpower needs of the country. It is hoped that the implementation of the White Paper on Kwame Report will take care of the problems that have paralyzed the university over the years. Fourah Bay College (FBC) continues to provide education in pure and applied sciences with special emphasis on professional career development in engineering, technology, law, arts, and behavioral sciences. Njala University College (NUC), continues to promote the sciences, agriculture, home economics, environmental science, and education. The new system endorses the introduction of forestry and veterinary science at Njala University College. The Institute of Public Administration and Management is to be upgraded to degree awarding status with a mandate to offer courses for professional qualifications such as the ACCA. Additionally, the College of Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) strengthens and promotes the medical profession and allied health sciences.

Technical/Vocational Education: The new 6-3-3-4 system greatly favors technical and vocational education. This kind of education does not only serve school leavers but also older adults as well. The technical/vocational component of higher education is designed to grapple with the shortage of skilled manpower. Some of the objectives of technical/vocational education are to increase the number of indigenous, skilled, lower middle-level, blue collar workers; to produce a more literate, numerate, middle-level workforce to enhance national development; to encourage women and girls to participate in national development through the acquisition of technical and vocational skills; and to create the conducive environment for the development of appropriate indigenous technology.

There are three levels of the technical/vocational educational structure. In level one, the student spends three years leading to the technical/vocational certificate (T/V certificate) stage three, or two years leading to the T/V certificate stage two, or one year leading to the T/V certificate stage one. In level two, the student spends two years leading to the Ordinary National Diploma (OND) after obtaining the T/V certificate stage three. In level three, the student spends two years leading to the Higher National Diploma (HND) after obtaining the OND. The polytechnics offer the HND as their highest qualification; the technical/vocational institutes offer the OND and HNC as their highest qualification, and the trade/technical/vocational centers offer the T/V certificate stages one to three. The community education/animation centers offer courses to early school leavers and adult learners, which qualify them for entry into technical/vocational centers.

Professional Education: Professional schools such as the School of Nursing; the Hotel and Tourism Training Center; the Institute of Library, Archive, and Information Studies; and the Law School are entrusted with the responsibility to train professionals.

Private Institutions: Private institutions have always been a significant part of Sierra Leone's education system. Unlike government/public institutions, private institutions do not receive assistance from public funds. The establishment and maintenance of private institutions is guaranteed in part 11, section 3 (c) of the Education Act No. 63 of 1964. The new system upholds the existence of private institutions as long as no child is discriminated against by the private institution on the grounds of race, creed, or religion. The new system endorses the principle of partnership in the provision of education. Although not funded with public funds, private institutions are expected to follow the prescribed national curriculum with specific reference to Sierra Leonean languages, Sierra Leone studies, and life skills subjects. They are also subject to regular and systematic inspection by the Department of Education Inspectorate staff. Students in these institutions are allowed to take the NPSE, BECE, and SSSCE. The new system stipulates that at least 25 percent of the teaching staff in a private institution shall be Sierra Leoneans.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The old organizational and managerial structure of education in Sierra Leone has been inadequate to meet the social, economic, technological, and other challenges of the time. The new system, therefore, seeks to embark on a systematic reform and reorganization of the management and administration of education at all levels. After a thorough review of the entire situation, the new structure will be decentralized and professionalized. Matters relating to administrative and service matters will be decentralized to the regional and district education authorities as appropriate. A directorate system also has been put into place. The director general and chief advisor to the secretary of state is the professional and administrative head of the Department of Education. Separate directorates are responsible for planning, educational programs, educational services, resources-personnel and finance, and support services. The Director of Education (Inspectorate) is responsible for coordinating the daily administration of education at the regional and district levels.

Public funding of education for the past quarter of a century saw a drastic decline partly because of the downturn in the national economy and the neglect of education by various governments. In the new system, all possible sources of funding for education, internal and external, will be harnessed. The new system advocates increasing central government funding to education with more support to basic education and external assistance to primary education through investment. Another means of funding education will be through work study programs and loan schemes. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) will be encouraged to finance specific programs, segments, projects, or activities. Also, private individuals, youth organizations, local bodies, professionals, and other groups will be encouraged to participate in the funding of education in the country. For the efficient management of educational finances, the Department of Education has set up a directorate for resources.

An autonomous National Curriculum Research and Development Center will deal with curriculum research, development, and evaluation, as well as with the development of materials and textbook production. Some of the aims of this national body are to conduct research and situational analyses that provide detailed information about the educational process and the criteria for such changes in the curriculum as may be necessary to initiate, promote, and develop new curricula in consonance with research findings, as well as to articulate the objectives of the approved educational structure/system.

Nonformal Education

Sierra Leone is one of the countries with the highest illiteracy rates in the world. The New Education Policy for Sierra Leone maintains that 69.3 percent of the male population is illiterate, while 80.0 percent of the female population is illiterate. Part of the function of the National Commission for Basic Education is to coordinate adult and nonformal education. "A significant percentage of 6- to 16-year-olds are not attending school and there is a high rate of school dropouts. With a population growth rate of approximately 2.6 percent a year, the literacy rate cannot improve significantly without a massive and urgent intervention by the government" (New Education Policy ). The nonformal component of the new system aims at accelerating adult literacy.

The Department of Education, the Basic Education Commission, and the Adult Education Committee will work together to implement a language policy to facilitate the use of English and indigenous languages in literacy and nonformal education classes. These bodies, among other things, will also ensure that by the year 2020, animation centers/community education centers are established in every district and attached to all teacher training colleges. The new system also envisages a situation whereby the enrollment and retention of female students will be encouraged by making their primary education free and compulsory, as well as making it possible for young mothers to be re-admitted into the formal system of education. The National Education Action Plan (NEAP) clearly specifies that in nonformal and adult education, the focus is on women and girls with particular attention to rural folk, street children, the disabled, and the disadvantaged. A Materials Development Department is in place to provide materials for literacy classes.

Teaching Profession

The training of qualified teachers is of paramount importance to the success of the new system. Adequate provisions must be made to educate and train high-quality teachers. To address these ends, institutions have been restructured by way of mergers; courses and programs also have been revised or are being revised. The new system ensures that all teachers are given courses for teaching nonformal and adult education classes and for teaching Sierra Leonean languages, for guidance counseling and continuous assessment, and for basic skills in handling disabled students. Unlike past practices, in the new system, the Department of Education shall, through the Teaching Service Commission, license teachers to teach in Sierra Leone whether their certificate has been issued by an institution in Sierra Leone or by some other recognized body outside Sierra Leone (New Education Policy).

Teacher Training Colleges: Teacher training colleges train teachers for the preprimary and primary levels. At the end of the program, candidates qualify for the Teachers Certificate (TC) and the Higher Teachers Certificate (HTC). Training colleges will, under the new system, also offer HTC courses for the junior secondary level. In the past, students in teacher training colleges spent three years to complete their course; the new system has reduced that to two years.

Milton Margai Teachers College: The Milton Margai Teachers College has been renamed Milton Margai College of Education (MMCE). Recently, a technology focus has been added to this college, so it is being renamed Milton Margai College of Education and Technology (MMCET). In the past this institution was not affiliated to the university, and it produced teachers for secondary school. Now it is affiliated to the University of Sierra Leone and has been upgraded to a degree-awarding status in selected subjects. However, the college will continue its HTC program, which has been shortened to two years instead of three. The college now offers the B.Ed degree. Those who hold the HTC, and have taught for at least two years after the HTC, can spend two years to obtain the B.Ed degree. The Diploma in Education course, originally offered by Fourah Bay College, shall be transferred to MMCET, as will the present staff of the Department of Education at Fourah Bay College.

The Institute of Education: Previously an independent institution, this institute, under the new system, shall be attached to the Faculty of Education at Njala with redefined functions and mandates. The institute continues to certify TC and HTC teachers of MMCET and other teacher colleges. The institute trains education administrators and runs higher degree courses in education. It also will have specialized functions for educational research and in-service training for primary and secondary school teachers and managers of schools.


No doubt, education in Sierra Leone has suffered tremendously both from systemic neglect and the ravages of a horrendous rebel war. Also, the old system was inadequate to meet the present needs of the country. The new system of education is, therefore, a welcome idea. The new system has a great deal of potential, which, if properly harnessed, will uplift the country.

The study of Sierra Leone and its languages and cultures will generate enormous knowledge about the Sierra Leonean society in general, as well as offer the opportunity to understand the philosophical, epistemological, scientific, and cultural underpinnings of the society, from which national development can spring. Building a body of knowledge about the country can foster self pride and patriotism. Also, the emphasis on the education of women is a giant step in the march towards progress; educating the women will tremendously increase the country's literacy rate, as well as its quality of life.

While schools and colleges sluggishly continue to operate in Freetown and Bo, schools and colleges in the rest of the country have been effectively shut down for many years now because of the rebel war. In effect only a very small percent of school-age children actually attend school. Even those who do often experience frequent interruptions. Thus, the positive ideas in the new system can only be fully realized if peace and stability return to that country. Because of the decade old war, it has been difficult to garner reliable statistics about education in Sierra Leone. Most institutions operate in make-shift locations in the capital of Freetown.

Another problem facing the new system is the dearth of qualified personnel to enhance the realization of the new 6-3-3-4 system. Most educated Sierra Leoneans have left the country to safer havens, so there is a dearth of teachers schools that are full of unqualified teachers. While the new system is promising, the conducive environment for the realization of its policies is absent.


Alie, J.A.D. A New History of Sierra Leone. London: Macmillan, 1990.

Framework of a National Plan of Action for Sierra Leone of Basic Education for All by the Year 2000, June 1991.

Sierra Leone Government. New Education Policy For Sierra Leone. Freetown: Department of Education, 1995.

Sheikh Umarr Kamarah

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Sierra Leone


Republic of Sierra Leone



Sierra Leone is located in West Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, with an area of 71,740 square kilometers (27,925 square miles) and a total coastline of 402 kilometers (250 miles). The country shares a border with Guinea in the north and east and with Liberia in the southeast. In comparative terms, Sierra Leone is in area about half the size of the U.S. state of Illinois. Freetown, the capital city, is located in the western part of the country.


The population of Sierra Leone was estimated in 2000 to be roughly 5.2 million. Exact figures for the country are impossible to find because a civil war has ravaged the country since 1991. Since the beginning of the war, it is estimated that some 2.5 million people have been displaced as refugees, mostly to Guinea and Liberia. Sierra Leone has an annual population growth rate of 3.6 percent, a birth rate of 45.6 per 1,000, and a death rate of 19.58 per 1,000, according to 2000 estimates.

Most of the population (99 percent) is of indigenous African descent. There are roughly 18 different native African ethnic groups. The largest, the Mendes and the Temnes, each make up roughly 30 percent of the entire population. The other groups account for about 39 percent, with the Krio (or Creole), Lebanese, and Indians making up about 1 percent. The Krio are descendants of freed slaves from Britain, North America, the Caribbean and re-captives from slave ships, who were settled in Freetown when it became a British colony in 1808.

Although English is the official language, it is only spoken by government officials and a limited number of educated Sierra Leoneans. Mende and Temne are spoken in the south and north, respectively. Krio, a mix of English and African languages, is spoken by the Krio, who make up an estimated 10 percent of the population. Although a small percentage of the population speaks Krio, the language is understood by an estimated 95 percent of the population, according to the World Factbook.

The population of Freetown was estimated at over 1.2 million in 1994. Many rural people fled to the city to escape the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that is responsible for a campaign of terror involving hundreds of random amputations (cutting off of hands, legs, ears, etc.), rapes, murders, and lootings.


Sierra Leone is an extremely impoverished country with an economy primarily based on agriculture and mining. Although the country is richly endowed with natural resources and mineralsespecially diamondsa decade-long civil conflict has brought most production to a near standstill. Sierra Leone has large areas of fertile land, but the vast majority of farmers engage only in subsistence farming . Of the cash crop agricultural production that continues during the internal conflict, the most significant products are palm kernels, palm oil, cocoa and coffee, and food crops including rice (the main food crop), cassava, corn, millet, and peanuts.

Sierra Leone has vast deposits of diamonds, gold, ru-tile, and bauxite. Diamonds make up the country's principal export. However, diamonds have become more of a curse than a blessing for Sierra Leone. The civil war that has been raging for the past 10 years has mainly been a struggle for control of the diamond fields. Illicit diamond mining has provided money for the rebels to continue the war, and has made it difficult to realize peace in the country.

The country's economy has been steadily declining since the 1960s, with severe stagnation and recession since the early 1980s. Between 1980 and 1990, the World Bank put the country's average GDP growth rate at 0.6 percent, decreasing to-3.3 percent between 1990 and 1996, and falling to-3.6 percent in 1996. The civil war is the main reason for the steady decline. Although a brief ceasefire in the late 1990s brought hope to the economy, the resumption of fighting by 1999 caused more damage to the country. The World Factbook estimated that gross domestic product (GDP) at purchasing power parity was US$2.7 billion in 2000. The disruption of the war has reduced Sierra Leone to one of the poorest countries in the world.


Sierra Leone gained its independence on 27 April 1961 as a constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth. When its first leader, Sir Milton Margai, passed away in 1964, the competitive political struggles between the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) led by Albert Margai, and the All People's Congress (APC) led by Siaka Stevens, heightened the ethnic cleavages (divisions) within the country. Since independence, the recurrent political divide has been expressed regionally in the Krio descendants of the original Freetown settlers and the indigenous people of the hinterland (interior of the country); the Temne-dominated northern province and the Mende-dominated region of the southeast; an economically powerful immigrant Lebanese and Afro-Lebanese group and the indigenes; and a traditional group of native rulers and a modern, mostly urban, Western-educated elite.

The SLPP held power until the general elections of 1967, which were won by the APC. The 1967 coup d'état (take-over of the government), however, prevented the APC from governing until April 1968 when a counter-coup restored civilian rule. In 1971, Sierra Leone was proclaimed a republic and a new republican constitution was adopted in which the head of state, Siaka Stevens, became executive president. In a new constitution adopted in 1978, Sierra Leone became a 1-party state, although it had been in practice a 1-party state as far back as 1973. In 1985, Siaka Stevens handed over power to the commander of the armed forces, Major-General Joseph Momoh.

As president, Joseph Momoh initially announced sweeping reforms. He also implemented IMF donor prescriptions (policies and regulations) aimed at privatization , attracting foreign investments, and urging more efficient domestic revenue collection. He worked with the IMF to resume stabilization (efforts to strengthen the economy) programs that had been interrupted during the Siaka Stevens regime. Other changes targeted the export of gold, diamonds, and fish products, which severely undermined the privileged position of Lebanese and Afro-Lebanese merchants who had long monopolized these economic activities. For example, foreign firms like LIAT Construction and Finance Corporation were given the authority to redirect production and profits through the formal (legal) economy to the benefit of the entire nation. The Lebanese population and politicians engaged in private mining of diamonds were discouraged from doing so through tougher restrictions and laws. Tougher laws such as longer prison sentences and stiff fines were also passed to curb smuggling of minerals, as well as more vigorous searches by customs officers at airports and at border crossings. The aim was to increase revenue collection by the government, and end the dominance of the informal (illegal) economy of smuggling, corruption, and private mining of minerals by influential groups in the country.

During the early years of President Momoh's tenure, he seemed to have ensured government control of the economy, especially in the area of diamonds. For example, in 1986-87, official diamond exports were 280 percent higher than 1985-86 figures. Similarly, foreign reserve holdings of the Bank of Sierra Leone rose to $7.6 million by the end of 1986, from a mere $196,000 in November 1985 when Momoh assumed the presidency.

The sweeping economic reforms angered the influential business community and resulted in an attempted coup in March 1987. Perhaps due to the fear of another coup attempt, the enforcement of drastic economic reforms slowed down after March 1987. A financial crisis in the 1980s, coupled with misrule and government corruption, as well as the difficulties caused by the effects of a civil war in neighboring Liberia, led to a coup d'état in April 1992. The coup was led by a group of young army officers, who selected 27-year old Captain Valentine Strasser to be the head of state. Captain Strasser led the country's Military Supreme Council of State until he was deposed in January 1996 because of his opposition to national elections that would hand over power to a civilian government.

Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP won the elections held in February 1996 and set about forming a government of national unity. Another coup in 1997 overthrew the elected government, which went into exile in Guinea. The rebels then controlled the country until 1998, when the elected government was returned to power with the help of armed forces from Nigeria. Although a peace agreement was signed between the warring parties in 1999, fighting continues between the government and the rebels.

Corruption at all levels has destroyed the effectiveness of taxation in Sierra Leone. Individuals with strong ties to politicians often evade taxationthey end up not paying taxes either because they bribe the tax officials or threaten them with loss of their jobs. The strong political, economic, and ethnic ties based on favoritism, bribery, and corruption, among top members of the ruling political party use up state resources and thereby deprive the bureaucracies of funds for national development. According to William Reno in his book Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone, President Stevens is said to have used up to 70 percent of state revenues for "preferred (untaxed) concessions in diamond mining areas to political allies who were essential to his effort to resist local demands for greater revenue allocations."


The civil war has disrupted any improvements to the country's infrastructure for nearly a decade. The road system is in serious need of repair, as the lack of resources has led to neglect. The small railway system is used very infrequently because the mines it leads to have been closed. Air transport in Sierra Leone is focused on the International Airport at Lungi, which, prior to the war, served many airlines, such as KLM, British Airways, and the regional airlines.

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Sierra Leone 4 253 13 0.0 0 0.5 N/A 0.14 2
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Nigeria 24 223 66 N/A 0 N/A 5.7 0.00 100
Cote d'Ivoire 17 164 70 0.0 6 N/A 3.6 0.25 20
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Electricity supply is very unreliable in Freetown. There are constant outages as the old generators break down. However, it is estimated that the nearly-completed Bumbuna hydroelectric power project will be capable of providing electricity to most of the country. Its completion is dependent on the end of the war.

Sierra Leone's ports have provided important access to trade. The Port of Freetown has been an important center of trade for many countries. The natural harbor at the mouth of the Sierra Leone River is one of the world's finest; it affords 21 square kilometers (8 square miles) of anchorage for large ships. Bonthe and Pepel are 2 additional ports used in the export of goods.

The telephone system in Sierra Leone is not an advanced or extensive system. In 1997, Sierra Leone had roughly 17,000 main telephone lines in use, and in 1999 there were 650 mobile telephones. The telephone system was enhanced by a satellite earth station which offered up to 70 channels. Despite the limited resources available, Sierra Leone has made considerable progress in expanding its links with neighboring countries through the Pan-African Telecommunications Network (PANAFTEL) since independence. External services are handled by Sierra Leone External Telecommunications Services (SLET).


Sierra Leone, since the mid-1980s, has been considered by the United Nations as the country most seriously affected by adverse economic conditions. Sierra Leone is virtually a failed state characterized by a severe decline in educational, health, transportation, and other services.

The private sector dominates the country's free market economy, with subsistence agriculture contributing the most. Agriculture made up the greatest portion of GDP in 1999: 43 percent, according to the World Fact-book. The country could be self-sufficient in foodstuffs, but the destabilizing effects of the civil war has driven most farmers of cash crops from the land.

Diamond mining is the nation's most important source of foreign currency, but its percentage contribution to total foreign earnings has declined from 65 percent in the mid-1970s to less than 20 percent in the 1990s. The decline is the result of a combination of smuggling, unfavorable prices for developing country commodities, depletion of resources, and the effects of the war. The World Factbook reported that industry contributed 26 percent of GDP in 1999 and services contributed 31 percent.


Since over 60 percent of the population of Sierra Leone is usually engaged in agriculture, during the 1970s efforts were made by the government to increase productivity in food crops and achieve self-sufficiency, especially in rice production. However, the government's emphasis on cash crops, and overall poor agricultural planning tends to relegate agriculture to a secondary role. Rice accounts for approximately 40 percent of the value of the output of food crops. Other food crops include cassava, millet, sorghum, peanuts, beans, and corn, among others. Livestock (cattle, goats, and sheep) and fishing are also of importance to the economy.

According to Background to Sierra Leone, a 1980 publication of the Sierra Leone government, agricultural development was a priority in the 1970s. Accordingly, the government launched a series of Integrated Agricultural Development Projects (IADPs) aimed at maximizing agricultural production in individual regions of the country. The projects included a detailed study of a region's agricultural need and potential, as well as assistance to small farmers. Farmers were encouraged to use fertilizers and equipment together with advice on improved methods of cultivation. However, the economic dislocation of the 1980s, coupled with the war of the 1990s, have effectively undermined progress in agricultural development. Little has been done to improve the sector at the beginning of 2000.


MINING. Sierra Leone is endowed with many mineral resources. Prospects for minerals began in 1926 and reserves of iron, gold, diamonds, platinum, chromite, bauxite, and rutile (a titanium ore) were quickly found. The first diamond was discovered in 1930 and mining began 2 years later. Bauxite mining began in 1963 and reserves are estimated at nearly 50 million tons with a high alumina content of 55 to 56 percent. Exploitation of the estimated 170 million tons of rutile started in 1967. The country has one of the world's largest deposits of rutile. At the height of production in the 1970s, Sierra Leone was ranked as the fourth largest producer of gem diamonds in the world.

The country's civil unrest has caused serious problems in the mining sector. All mining permissions have been suspended since January 2000. Although diamonds and rutile have historically played major roles in Sierra Leone's economy, the war has caused legitimate mining production to virtually cease and has increased smuggling of diamonds from the country. In addition, the exploration of potentially valuable amounts of gold and bauxite in the country has been interrupted.


Sierra Leone's manufacturing sector is one of the smallest in all of Africa. Manufacturing industries are very few and still in a stage of infancy in Sierra Leone due to the lack of financial support available during the civil strife. The manufacturing businesses are mainly raw materials processors and light manufacturers for the domestic market. Items processed are mostly palm kernels and rice. Other manufacturing industries produce a variety of goods including salt, knitwear and other clothing, paint, oxygen, plastic footwear, nails, soap and cosmetics, and a wide range of furniture. Sierra Leone also has a refinery for imported petroleum. The continuing trouble in this sector is indicated in the small number of new manufacturing businesses that opened recently. In 1998, only 0.5 percent of the country's new businesses were involved in manufacturing or construction, according to the Sierra Leone News Agency.



Prior to the outbreak of the war in 1991, serious tourist development took place. The center of attraction was the Cape Sierra district bordered by Lumley Beach. Many modern hotels catered to the tourist population. In 1978, the Bintumani Hotel was built, equipped with 300 beds and a conference center. The Cape Sierra Hotel and the Mammy Yoko Hotel are also located in the Lumley Beach area. Within the city, the main hotels are Brookfields and the Paramount. However, many of these hotels have been damaged by the war or have been transformed as lodgings for soldiers.

Sierra Leone is also home to historic Bunce Island, once a slave trading post. Freetown itself is part of the Freetown Peninsula endowed with unspoiled beaches, nature trails, and historic buildings. The number of tourists has been dramatically reduced because of the war.


Sierra Leone was chosen as the site for the West African Clearing House, which was established in Freetown in 1975. Banking was first introduced to the country in 1898 by the then Bank of West Africa, which later became the Standard Bank of Sierra Leone. It was followed in 1917 by Barclays. The nation's first indigenous commercial bank, the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, Ltd., was opened in 1973 and is entirely government-owned. Sierra Leone's banking system is supervised by the Bank of Sierra Leone, which serves as the central bank and therefore controls, maintains, and regulates the nation's money supply and foreign reserves.

Of major importance to the nation's economic growth is the National Development Bank, founded in 1968. Its function is to provide finance in the form of loans or equity capital to many development projects in agriculture, agro-based industry, and industry. However, the ongoing civil strife, especially the 1997 coup d'état that toppled the civilian government of President Tejan Kabbah, seriously dislocated these financial services. Barclays Bank, for example, ceased operations in the country, and the Treasury Building was severely damaged by fire.


Sierra Leone is a land of petty traders and street hawkers . Many indigenous people engage in retail with items as varied as food commodities, clothing, and building materials, among others. According to Background to Sierra Leone, over 8 percent of the country's working population is engaged in retail and wholesale distribution.


Over the years, the value of Sierra Leone's exports has steadily declined as the value of imports has risen, forcing the country to bear the burden of an increasing trade deficit . In 1998 exports were valued at $17 million, and imports totaled $92 million. The World Fact-book estimated that exports had increased to US$65

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Sierra Leone
Exports Imports
1975 .118 .185
1980 .224 .427
1985 .130 .151
1990 .138 .149
1995 .025 .135
1998 N/A .095
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

million and imports to US$145 million by 2000. Chief trading partners for exports are the United States, Britain, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany. Leading sources for imports are the United States, Britain, Italy, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Indonesia, and Germany. Despite some successful efforts to increase the output of agricultural productivity and diversify exports, Sierra Leone's balance of visible trade has still been unfavorable. The balance of trade has also suffered from an increase in short-term debts, and the deterioration of terms of trade related to the sharp increases in the price of petroleum products and manufactured goods from the industrial world. These increases exceeded those of agricultural produce, diamonds, and bauxite.

Prior to the war, the domestic market was favored by the growing tourist trade, while the policy of non-discriminatory tariffs served the interests of consumers by keeping prices relatively low. The National Trading Company set up in 1971 with government financial assistance, also ensured the maintenance of competitive prices on the home market, and the promotion of indigenous enterprise in commerce.


The value of the leone has been declining since the early 1980s. The leone was formerly linked to the pound sterling. Its value is now determined largely by the export earnings of the country. Since the country does not earn a great deal from its external trade, the IMF and the World Bank constantly encourage the country to reduce government spending in order to maintain a balanced budget. The Sierra Leone economy has undergone several IMF economic and financial policies aimed at improving the value of the leone in relation to other currencies of the world. A stronger leone is supposed to translate into a stronger economy. However, the outcome has often been high inflation (a weak currency in terms of exchange rates ) and a great deal of leone fluctuations, mostly downwards.

Exchange rates: Sierra Leone
leones (Le) per US$1
Jan 2001 1,653.39
2000 2,092.13
1999 1,804.20
1998 1,563.62
1997 981.48
1996 920.73
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Sierra Leone 316 320 279 279 150
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Nigeria 301 314 230 258 256
Dem. Rep. of Congo 392 313 293 247 127
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.


Sierra Leone, like many developing states, is a land of gaping inequalities where national income is concerned. According to The World Development Report, 1999-2000, in 1989 the richest 10 percent of the population had 43.6 percent of the national income, whilst the poorest 20 percent of the population had 1.1 percent of the national income. The access to national income and resources tends to be heavily weighted in favor of ruling party leaders, cabinet ministers, and those with political ties to the president.

According to Earl Conteh-Morgan and Mac Dixon-Fyle, authors of Sierra Leone at the End of the Twentieth Century, by the mid-1980s, the level of poverty in the country was such that "state hospitals and clinics suffered heavily through a lack of supplies, modern equipment, and motivated employees. This sector also suffered nonpayment of inadequate government salaries. The consequence was that many officials were forced to corruption diverting drugs and medical equipment or putting them into private use." In other words, Sierra Leone, by the mid-1980s was already a failed state. Central government ministers and bureaucracies simply centralized and monopolized important functions, and thereby public revenues. In the process, they deprived the local authorities of adequate revenues and responsibilities necessary

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Sierra Leone
Lowest 10% 0.5
Lowest 20% 1.1
Second 20% 2.0
Third 20% 9.8
Fourth 20% 23.7
Highest 20% 63.4
Highest 10% 43.6
Survey year: 1989
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Sierra Leone 47 9 9 3 13 8 12
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Nigeria 51 5 31 2 8 2 2
Liberia N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

to nurture grassroots local development and a democratic culture. The lack of funds and the continued centralization of authority by the central government meant that such basic but necessary functions as garbage collection, maintenance of public toilets, and supervision and maintenance of public markets, were eventually abandoned. Even Freetown, the capital, suffered a decrease in the scope of service deliveries. In the 1980s, it was described by many observers as increasingly developing into overgrown and overcrowded shantytowns with crumbling buildings, open drains, and deteriorating, chaotic roads.

By the late 1980s and long before the eruption of civil strife, political and economic deterioration in Sierra Leone had become extreme. Between 1980 and 1985 incomes per capita declined by an average of roughly 6 percent per annum. The inflation rate reached 80 percent by the end of the 1980s. Loss of morale and significant economic deprivation was the consequence for government workers, teachers, and others dependent on government salaries. Often deprived of salaries for months on end, many resorted to informal economic activities as a way to supplement their meager or nonexistent incomes. The most popular form of economic activity became petty trading for the mass of people, and the more influential obtained import licenses and involved their relatives in trading activities. Private vehicles were often used for commercial purposes, either as taxis or to transport goods.

Deterioration and dilapidation was not just confined to the roads and streets, but were found in the classrooms as well. Teachers lacked even chalk for writing on the board. Windows, roofs, and furniture not only deteriorated, but were, in many schools, absent. As a result, the quality of education decreased substantially from the primary level to college. The consequence for higher education has been a massive brain drain of lecturers and school teachers to neighboring African states, to international organizations, and to the West.


Since the early 1980s, the Sierra Leone labor force has been shrinking due to a combination of factors such as worsening economic conditions that affected most developing countries in the 1980s, the decline in the price of raw materials in the world market, misrule in the form of embezzlement of funds by government officials, and the effects of IMF conditions such as the freeze on hiring and the laying off of thousands of civil servants, in order to reduce the size of government.

In 1981, before the downward slide into massive unemployment, the country had an estimated 1.369 million workers with most found in agriculture (65 percent), followed by industry (19 percent), and services (16 percent). However, in 1985 there were only 65,000 wage earners. The struggle for good working conditions by trade union activists has been an integral part of relations between government and labor. Trade unionism began in Sierra Leone as early as 1914 with the formation of a union among temporary customs workers. In 1971 an act of Parliament guaranteed the right of workers to industrial action upon due notification. According to law, minimum pay rates and maximum hours should be regulated every 2 years and the government is committed to upholding the right of workers to form unions and bargain for better pay and good working conditions. Politicians have often undermined the effectiveness of labor unions through co-optation of the leadersbribing the leaders, or enticing them with better job offers, so that they drop their demands for pay raises and better working conditions. In the early 1980s, for example, both the leaders of the Sierra Leone Labor Congress (SLLC), and the president of the Sierra Leone Teachers' Union (SLTU) were appointed members of parliament in order to separate them from the unions, which would, in turn, end their activism. Working conditions are still far from ideal. Government employees get meager salaries, and often go unpaid for several months. The uncertainty of government jobs means that many workers engage in petty trading in order to survive.


1495. Portuguese establish a fort on the site of modern Freetown, a base for traders in gold, ivory, pepper, and slaves.

1672. British Royal African Company establishes 2 trading depots, 1 on Bunce Island and 1 on York Island.

1787. The first settlers (freed slaves) arrive from Britain and establish a self-governing "Province of Freedom."

1808. Freetown becomes a British colony.

1896. The British impose a protectorate on the hinter-land of the country (the interior of the country was declared an overseas territory of the British Crown).

1926. Prospecting for minerals starts, and by 1930 employs over 16,000 workers.

1949. Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB) set up to exert government control over agricultural marketing and production.

1960. Development of Industries Act passes as a result of the government's construction of the Wellington Industrial Estate in the suburbs of Freetown.

1961. Sierra Leone becomes an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.

1963. Central Bank of Sierra Leone set up.

1971. Sierra Leone becomes a republic, casting off the last vestige of colonialism, with Siaka Stevens as the first executive president.

1978. Sierra Leone becomes a republican 1-party state on 14 June 1978, with the All People's Congress (APC) as the sole party.

1980s. The continent-wide African economic crisis affects Sierra Leone, adversely resulting in high inflation and chronic unemployment.

1991. The internal economic dislocation (massive unemployment and high inflation), coupled with the spillover of the Liberian civil war, plunges Sierra Leone into civil strife perpetuated by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels.

1999. The RUF and the Sierra Leone government sign the Lome Peace Accord that allows the deployment of over 12,000 UN peacekeeping troops in the country.

2000. Despite the peace accord, internal fighting continues.


Sierra Leone entered the last decade of the 20th century as a failed state, culminating in the outbreak of civil strife in 1991. The anarchy has resulted in massive suffering, displacement of people, and deaths in the hundreds of thousands. However, if the Lome Peace Accord is successfully implemented and future governments manage the mineral and agricultural wealth of the country wisely, Sierra Leone could become another Singapore. Britain is currently engaged in training a new army and a new police force for the country. Although the United Nations' peacekeeping operation has experienced some difficulties, including some of their troops being taken hostage by rebels, it is still hoped that the peacekeeping mission will help to bring an end to the civil strife.


Sierra Leone has no territories or colonies.


Background to Sierra Leone. Freetown: State House, 1980.

Conteh-Morgan, Earl, and Mac Dixon-Fyle. Sierra Leone at the End of the Twentieth Century: History, Politics, and Society. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

Human Rights Watch. <>. Accessed December 2000.

Reno, William. Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Sierra Leone News Agency (SLNA). Business Page: Trade and Industry Overview. <>. Accessed October 2001.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers From Sierra Leone. Geneva: UNHCR, 1998.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed October 2001.

Earl Conteh-Morgan




Leone (Le). One leone equals 100 cents. Leone notes are available in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000. Coins are in denominations of Le50 and 100.


Diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee, fish.


Foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels and lubricants, chemicals.


US$2.7 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$65 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.). Imports: US$145 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.).

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Sierra Leone
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 5,426,618
Language(s): English (official, regular use limited to literate minority), Mende, Temne, Krio
Literacy rate: 31.4%
Area: 71,740 sq km
GDP: 636 (US$ millions)
Number of TelevisionStations: 2
Number of Television Sets: 53,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 9.8
Number of Radio Stations: 11
Number of Radio Receivers: 1,120,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 206.4
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 5,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 0.9

Background & General Characteristics

The last decade of the twentieth century was the most difficult period for the press in Sierra Leone. This period was also characterized by deteriorating economic conditions, military coups d'état, violent political upheavals, and widespread illiteracy (approximately 70 percent). According to the Corporate Council on Africa study released in 2002, 88 percent of the country's rural population and 74 percent of the urban population lived in poverty. In 1991, civil war broke out and lasted for 10 years. By the time the war ended in January 2001, the country was in total ruin economically with a gross national product per capita of US $140 and nearly 1 million people classified either as refugees or internally displaced. By 2000, Sierra Leone was not only considered the poorest country in the world, it was also the most dangerous place for journalistic practice. Between 1999 and 2000, 10 journalists, including 2 foreign reporters, were killed and the United States-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) named Corporal Foday Sankoh, the leader of the rebel group Revolutionary United Front (RUF), one of the 10 worst enemies of the press in the world. Yet, strangely, it was during this same period that the press survived against the worst odds and flourished dramatically. In 1990, for example, there were fewer than 10 regular newspapers in the country, and only the government operated Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS-TV and Radio) dominated the airwaves. In 2002, despite the previous decade's difficulties, there were over 60 newspapers and about 12 radio stations catering to audiences across the country. Although government still operates the only television station in the country, Sierra Leonean viewers seem to have unfettered access to international television programs from giant broadcasters such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Voice of America (VOA), International Television Network (ITN) and Cable News Network (CNN), which beam their programs into the country via a network of satellite systems.

However, one of the most enduring and intractable problems for the local media lies in the ethnic and religious diversities of this West African country of some 5 million people with more than 15 different dialects and languages. Sixty percent of the population is Muslim, 30 percent hold on to indigenous beliefs, and the remaining 10 percent practice Christianity.

Without exception, Sierra Leonean newspapers are published in English, yet only approximately 30 percent of the population are fluent in this language. Even today, radio and television programs are mainly in English, although some stations are making serious efforts to address this linguistic divide by increasing the number of hours of programming in the local languages. The net effect of this is that media practitioners generally are forced to direct their messages to a national audience without regard for ethnicity.

The end of the civil war was officially declared in January 2001, and democratic elections were conducted in the country in March 2002. With an improved security environment and the unfolding democratization processes, media practitioners now revel in their newfound freedoms, especially the unprecedented freedom to publish or to broadcast without much fear.

Historical Background of the Press

The first newspaper in West Africa, the Sierra Leone Gazette, was established in Sierra Leone in 1801. For over 50 years after the founding of the Sierra Leone Gazette, European settlers controlled and dominated the newspaper business in Sierra Leone. In 1855, William Drape established the New Era, the first indigenous African newspaper in Sierra Leone, and perhaps in West Africa. Drape did not only set the tone and standard for journalism in West Africa, but also helped redefine government-press relationship during the 1850s and onward. His legal troubles with the colonial government set a major precedent in defining the limits of political power over newspapers, first in Sierra Leone, and then in the West African subregion.

In the dawn of political independence, political activity intensified, and political parties started to emerge. This new era gave rise to a new kind of journalism and a new genre of the newspaper establishmentsthe political party newspapers. The first such newspaper established in 1945 by the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) was the Bo Observer; the United Progressive Party (UPP)established Shekpendeh in 1954; and the All People's Congress (APC) established We Yone in 1963.

Economic Framework

Throughout the 1990s Sierra Leone was classified as one of the poorest countries in the world, and by the end of the twentieth century it was classified as the poorest for three consecutive years. This depressing economic condition had a severe impact on the press and media activities in the country. Advertising revenues could not adequately support newspapers, and dilapidated printing equipment, poor infrastructure, and extremely limited distribution systems hampered the spread of media activities in the country. Hence, although the number of media outlets multiplied, the newspaper industry was dominated by sole proprietorships and establishments run by a handful of individuals. In 2002, there were no daily newspapers in Sierra Leone due to financial constraints. With limited resources and sometimes because of stringent foreign exchange problems, newspaper proprietors find the cost of newsprint highly prohibitive. Faced with this kind of financial constraint, the average publication consists of an 8-page tabloid with circulation limited primarily to Freetown, the capital city. The average circulation is about 6,000, and there is intense competition among the various papers as they vie for the attention of the same limited pool of urban elite readers mainly residing in Freetown. Although most of the papers are privately owned, a number are either political party publications or have some political leanings. Despite these limitations, newspapers remain a force to be reckoned with in shaping the climate of public opinion in Sierra Leone.

Press Laws

Between 1980 and 2000, numerous measures designed to place strict controls on the press were formulated, especially when state governance was based on one-party dictatorial principles. These measures included state monopoly, prosecutions for libel or seditious libel, taxation, and bonding. The extant press regulations in Sierra Leone are either remnants of colonial policy or inspired by discarded British colonial libel laws of the early twentieth century, such as the Newspapers Ordinance of 1924 and the Undesirable Publications Ordinance of 1939.

Until recently, the broadcast media (i.e., radio and television broadcasting) were state monopolies in Sierra Leone. Private citizens were prohibited from owning or operating any form of the electronic media. State monopoly over radio and television broadcasting remained until 2000 when the Independent Media Commission (IMC) was established and provisions were made for the privatization of the broadcast media.

During the war years of the 1990s, an astounding number of journalists encountered trouble with the government. Many journalists affiliated with independent newspapers were frequently detained, harassed, or imprisoned on charges of libel or seditious libel.

In Sierra Leone, no special tax is levied on newspaper proprietors, but they are required to ensure that media workers pay taxes on their income. Although this applies to all business enterprises in the country, the tax requirement has been a bone of contention between government authorities and newspaper proprietors who interpret the regulation as a veiled attempt to stifle their activities.

Bonding required proprietors of newspapers to post large sums of money before they were permitted to publish their papers. Besides registration fees, newspapers were required to post a collateral of US $4,000. With persistent public complaints against newspapers, government authorities claimed that the main aim of this stipulation was to ensure that if charges of libel were brought against a newspaper, the collateral would provide some relief for the plaintiff.


The press in Sierra Leone has enjoyed at the beginning of the twenty-first century what is perhaps the highest degree of freedom since political independence in 1961. Ownership of the electronic media is open to private citizens who have the means to undertake such operations, and newspaper publishing has become a cottage industry of sorts in Sierra Leone, open to all. Throughout the 1980s and especially during the war years, intimidation, incarceration, death threats, and the murder of journalists occurred frequently. Although journalists still occasionally find themselves at odds with certain elements in society, the atmosphere in 2002 proved more conducive for the practice of journalism than ever before. Government authorities assert that the newly formed IMC is charged with the responsibility of promoting a free and pluralistic media throughout Sierra Leone and to ensure that media institutions achieve the highest level of efficiency in providing media services.

State-Press Relations

The relationship between the state and the press in Sierra Leone has seldom been amicable as media practitioners and political power holders harbor mutual suspicion. Reports about rampart corruption and mismanagement in government are the staple content of the media in Sierra Leone. On the other hand, government officials often react to such reports by using public outcry against journalists for professional misconduct and the lack of professional training as warrants for the formulation of restrictive press laws and regulations The relationship fell to its lowest in the 1990s when various warring factions blacklisted and systematically targeted certain journalists. During this period many journalists were killed or incarcerated, and at least one died in government custody. But multiparty politics and the democratization processes have brought about renewed hopes for the press as government authorities no longer insist upon enforcing these press regulations to the letter.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Local journalists often complain that their government gives better treatment to foreign journalists than they receive. To some extent, that may be true. What is also true is that foreign correspondents come with more clout and generally have well-established reputations than local journalists. But most important, they also have more resources that allow them to go to places that remain beyond the scope of their local counterparts. In the war years, most of the major stories and serious investigative reports were done by foreign correspondents that brought the Sierra Leone crisis to the attention of the international community. Foreign correspondents had numerous exclusive interviews with government officials as well as with rebel leaders and other key players. Few Sierra Leonean journalists were granted such opportunities. In addition, most foreign correspondents come from aid donor countries such as Britain, United States, and Canada and are often associated with international press organizations such as the CPJ and Canada-based International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX).

News Agencies

The Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) was established in 1987 as a means of facilitating greater circulation of information and news within the country and with the outside world. SLENA has four branches around the country, and it is sometimes linked via satellite with other international news agencies such as Agence France Presse, the Pan African News Agency, Xhinua (China News Agency), Associated Press, and Reuters. The agency also publishes a twice-weekly newspaper, Sierra News, for its subscribers and public readership. Although a government agency, SLENA enjoys a level of independence in carrying out its mandate as a national news agency.

Broadcast Media

Radio and television broadcasting operated under a state monopoly from the time radio broadcasting started in 1934 and television in 1964 until the late 1990s. With the establishment of the IMC, radio and television broadcasting were opened to private ownership. Thus, the air-waves now carry a diversity of voices including government, private citizens, and religious groups as well as programming from international broadcast organizations such as the BBC and the VOA. As a result of privatization, there are now some 12 radio stations in the country compared to the one or two that existed during the 1980s.

Electronic News Media

The Internet is still at a very low level of development in Sierra Leone, and it is not as widespread as it is in some other African countries. Only 5 of the nearly 60 newspapers or so have established an Internet or World Wide Web presence. These include the Concord Times (, Expo Times (, Pool Newspaper (, and Sierra News (

Education & Training

Sierra Leone, the pioneer country of West African journalism, did not have a program for training media practitioners until 1993. The Ministry of Information trained government public information officers, but others seeking to become media practitioners went to other African countries, North America, or Europe. In 1993, following numerous and persistent requests from both media practitioners and the public, the University of Sierra Leone established a Mass Communications Unit at Fourah Bay College to train journalists and other media personnel in the fundamentals of mass communication. Within the first nine years of its existence, the program produced over 30 graduates, who are now employed by local newspapers, radio and television stations.


Major factors that will continue to influence the press and the growth of the media in general include the democratization processes, civil society, technological innovations, improved economic conditions, peace, and stability. With the civil war over and a seemingly improved security environment prevailing, the number of media outlets including newspapers and radio stations will continue to rise, and media activities are bound to spread to other parts of the country in the years ahead.

Significant Dates

  • 1993: Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone, established a Mass Communication program for the training of journalists as part of its curriculum.
  • 1998: Five journalists are sentenced to death for collaborating with the military junta that overthrew the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
  • 1999: Associated Press reporter Myles Tierney is shot to death in Freetown by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels; the five imprisoned journalists are freed by RUF rebels.
  • 2000: The Independent Media Commission is established with provisions for the privatization of the broadcast media; Corporal Foday Sankoh is named one of the world's 10 worst enemies of the press; Reuters War Correspondent Kurt Schork is shot and killed in Sierra Leone.


Corporate Council on Africa. Africa 2002. New Canaan, Connecticut: Business Books International, 2002.

Holmes, Patricia A. Broadcasting in Sierra Leone. Lanham: University Press of America, 1999.

Kaplan, I. et al. Area Handbook for Sierra Leone. Washington, DC: American University Press, 1976.

M'Bayo, Ritchard T., and M. Mogekwu. "Political Authority and the Transformation of the Sierra Leone Press." In Press and Politics in Africa, ed. R. M'Bayo, C. Onwumechili, and R. Nwanko, 107-28. New York: Mellen Press, 2000.

Omu, Fred I. A. Press and Politics in Nigeria 1880-1937. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1978.

Ritchard Tamba M'Bayo

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone (sēĕr´ə lēō´nē, lēōn´; sēr´ə lēōn), officially Republic of Sierra Leone, republic (2005 est. pop. 6,018,000), 27,699 sq mi (71,740 sq km), W Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the west, by Guinea in the north and east, and by Liberia in the south. Freetown is the capital.


Sierra Leone's 350-mi (560-km) Atlantic coastline is made up of a belt (average width 30 mi/50 km) of low-lying mangrove swamps, except for the mountainous Sierra Leone Peninsula (on which Freetown is situated). The coastline is broken by numerous estuaries and has some wide, sandy beaches. Behind the coastal belt is a wooded plateau (average elevation: 1,000 ft/300 m). The eastern half of the country is mostly mountainous and includes Bintimane Peak, Sierra Leone's loftiest point (6,390 ft/1,948 m), located near the Guinea border. Several rivers, including the Great Scarcies (which makes up a section of the boundary with Guinea) and the Mano (which forms part of the border with Liberia), flow through the country to the Atlantic. The headwaters of the Niger River are situated in the mountains of the northeast. In addition to the capital, other cities include Bo, Kenema, and Makeni.


The two main ethnic groups are the Mende, who speak a Mande language and live in the central and southern parts of the country, and the Temne, who speak a W Atlantic language and live in the north. There are also Creoles or Krios, descendants of freed slaves from North America, the West Indies, and other parts of W Africa. The population also contains small numbers of South Asians and Lebanese, who play a major role in the nation's commerce. English is the country's official language and Krio, a mixture of several African languages and English, is the lingua franca. About 60% of the population is Muslim, 30% follows traditional religious beliefs, and 10% is Christian.


Sierra Leone's economy is predominantly agricultural, with about half of its workers engaged in subsistence farming. The principal food crops are rice, cassava, corn, millet, and peanuts. The leading cash crops, most of which are exported, are coffee, cocoa, palm kernels, and palm oil. Poultry, cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats are raised. The fishing industry is also important.

The country has an important mining industry, which is largely controlled by foreign companies. The main minerals extracted are diamonds (the country's major source of hard currency), iron ore, gold, bauxite, and rutile (titanium ore). However, the mining industry, like other areas of the economy, was severely affected by civil strife. Since 2009 a number of offshore oil discoveries have been made. The country's few manufactures include refined petroleum and basic consumer goods. There is commercial ship repairing. Sierra Leone has limited rail and highway networks, which mostly serve the central and western parts of the country. Freetown has excellent port facilities; smaller ports are located at Bonthe (on Sherbro Island) and Pepel (near Freetown).

The cost of Sierra Leone's imports is considerably higher than its earnings from exports. The principal imports are foodstuffs, machinery, transportation equipment, fuels, and chemicals; the chief exports are diamonds and other minerals, cocoa, coffee, and fish. Diamond smuggling has been a problem since the 1960s, and during the civil war much of the diamond-mining area fell into the hands of rebel groups. Sierra Leone's leading trade partners are Belgium, Germany, the United States, and Côte d'Ivoire.


Sierra Leone is governed under the constitution of 1991 as amended. The executive branch is headed by the president, who is both head of state and head of government. The president is popularly elected for a five-year term and may serve for two terms The unicameral Parliament has 124 members; 112 are popularly elected and 12 are paramount chiefs who are chosen in separate elections. All members serve five-year terms. Administratively, Sierra Leone is divided into 3 provinces and one area.


Early History

The Temne were living along the northern coast of present-day Sierra Leone when the first Portuguese navigators reached the region in 1460. The Portuguese landed on the Sierra Leone Peninsula, naming it Serra Lyoa [lion mountains] after the mountains located there. Beginning c.1500, European traders stopped regularly on the peninsula, exchanging cloth and metal goods for ivory, timber, and small numbers of slaves. Beginning in the mid-16th cent. Mande-speaking people migrated into Sierra Leone from present-day Liberia, and they eventually established the states of Bullom, Loko, Boure, and Sherbro. In the early 17th cent. British traders became increasingly active along the Sierra Leone coast. In the early 18th cent. Fulani and Mande-speaking persons from the Fouta Djallon region of present-day Guinea converted numerous Temne of N Sierra Leone to Islam. Sierra Leone was a minor source of slaves for the transatlantic slave trade during the 17th and 18th cent.

Following the American Revolutionary War (1775–83) attempts were made to resettle freed slaves who had sided with Great Britain in Africa. In 1787, 400 persons (including 330 blacks and 70 white prostitutes) arrived at the Sierra Leone Peninsula, bought land from local Temne leaders, and established the Province of Freedom near present-day Freetown. The settlement did not fare well, and most of the inhabitants died of disease in the first year. A renewed attempt at settlement was made in 1792, when about 1,100 freed slaves under the leadership of the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson landed on the peninsula and founded Freetown. They were joined by about 500 free blacks from Jamaica in 1800. The new colony was controlled by the Sierra Leone Company, which forcefully held off the Temne while the settlers supported themselves by farming.

In 1807, Great Britain outlawed the slave trade, and in early 1808 the British government took over Freetown from the financially troubled company, using it as a naval base for antislavery patrols. Between 1808 and 1864 approximately 50,000 liberated slaves settled at Freetown. Protestant missionaries were active there, and in 1827 they founded Fourah Bay College (now part of the Univ. of Sierra Leone), where Africans were educated. Most of the freedmen and their descendants, known as Creoles or Krios, were Christians. They became active as missionaries, traders, and civil servants along the Sierra Leone coast and on Sherbro Island as well as in other regions of coastal W Africa, especially among the Yoruba of present-day SW Nigeria.

The Colonial Era

During the periods 1821 to 1827, 1843 to 1850, and 1866 to 1874, British holdings on the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) were placed under the governor of Sierra Leone. In 1863 an advisory legislative council was established in Sierra Leone. The British were reluctant to assume added responsibility by increasing the size of the colony, but in 1896 the interior was proclaimed a British protectorate, mainly in order to forestall French ambitions in the region, and the Colony and Protectorate of Sierra Leone was established.

The protectorate was ruled "indirectly" (i.e., through the rulers of the numerous small states, rather than by creating an entirely new administrative structure) and a hut tax was imposed in 1898 to pay for administrative costs. The Africans protested the tax in a war (1898) led in the north by Bai Bureh and in the south by the Poro secret society; the British quickly emerged victorious and there were no further major armed protests. Under the British, little economic development was undertaken in the protectorate until the 1950s, although a railroad was built and the production for export of palm products and peanuts was encouraged.

After World War II, Africans were given more political responsibility, and educational opportunities were enlarged. In the economic sphere, mining (especially of diamonds and iron ore) increased greatly. The Creoles of the colony, who had been largely excluded from higher government posts in favor of the British, sought a larger voice in the affairs of Sierra Leone. A constitution adopted in 1951 gave additional power to Africans. However, the Creoles were a small minority in the combined colony and protectorate, and in the elections of 1951 the protectorate-based Sierra Leone Peoples party (SLPP), led by Dr. Milton Margai (a Mende), emerged victorious.

An Independent Nation

On Apr. 27, 1961, Sierra Leone became independent, with Margai as prime minister. He died in 1964 and was succeeded by his brother, Albert M. Margai. Following the 1967 general elections, Siaka Stevens of the All Peoples Congress party (APC), a Temne-based party, was appointed prime minister by the governor-general (a Sierra Leonian who represented the British monarch). However, a military coup led by Brig. David Lansana in support of Margai ousted Stevens a few minutes after he took the oath of office.

The Lansana government itself was soon toppled and replaced by a National Reformation Council (NRC) headed by Col. Andrew Juxom-Smith. In 1968, an army revolt overthrew the NRC and returned the nation to parliamentary government, with Stevens as prime minister. The following years were marked by considerable unrest, caused by ethnic and army disaffection with the central government. After an attempted coup in 1971, parliament declared Sierra Leone to be a republic, with Stevens as president. Guinean troops requested by Stevens to support his government were in the country from 1971 to 1973. Stevens's APC swept the 1973 parliamentary elections, creating a de facto one-party state; a 1978 referendum made the APC the only legal party. Maj. Gen. Joseph Saidu Momoh succeeded Stevens as president in 1986.

In 1991 a referendum was passed, providing for a new constitution and multiparty democracy. However, in 1992, Momoh was overthrown in a military coup. Capt. Valentine Strasser soon became president, but he was ousted in Jan., 1996, and replaced by Brig. Gen. Julius Maada Bio. Promises of a return to civilian rule were fulfilled by Bio, who handed power over to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, of the Sierra Leone People's party, after the conclusion of elections in early 1996. Kabbah's government reached a cease-fire in the war with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which had launched its first attacks in 1991; rebel terror attacks continued, however, aided by Liberia.

Kabbah was overthrown in May, 1997, by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a military junta headed by Lt. Col. Johnny Paul Koroma. The junta soon invited the RUF to participate in a new government. The United Nations imposed sanctions against the military government in Oct., 1997, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent in forces led by Nigeria. The rebels were subdued in Feb., 1998, and President Kabbah was returned to office in March.

Fighting continued, however, in many parts of the country, with reports of widespread atrocities. Over 6,000 people were killed in fighting in the Freetown area in Jan., 1999, alone. In March, Nigeria announced it would withdraw its forces by May. A peace accord was signed in July between President Kabbah and Foday Sankoh of the RUF. The agreement granted the rebels seats in a new government and all forces a general amnesty from prosecution. The government had largely ceased functioning effectively, however, and at least half of its territory remained under rebel control.

In October, the United Nations agreed to send peacekeepers to help restore order and disarm the rebels. The first of the 6,000-member force began arriving in December, and the Security Council voted in Feb., 2000, to increase the UN force to 11,000 (and subsequently to 13,000). In May, when nearly all Nigerian forces had left and UN forces were attempting to disarm the RUF in E Sierra Leone, Sankoh's forces clashed with the UN troops, and some 500 peacekeepers were taken hostage as the peace accord effectively collapsed.

An 800-member British force entered the country to secure W Freetown and evacuate Europeans; some also acted in support of the forces (including Koroma's AFRC group) fighting the RUF. After Sankoh was captured in Freetown, the hostages were gradually released by the RUF, but clashes between the UN forces and the RUF continued, and in July the West Side Boys (part of the AFRC) clashed with the peacekeepers. In the same month the UN Security Council placed a ban on the sale of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone in an attempt to undermine the funding of the RUF. In late August, Issa Sesay became head of the RUF; also, British troops training the Sierra Leone army were taken hostage by the West Side Boys, but were freed by a British raid in September.

General elections scheduled for early 2001 were postponed in Feb., 2001, due to the insecurity caused by the civil war. In May, 2001, sanctions were imposed on Liberia because of its support for the rebels, and UN peacekeepers began to make headway in disarming the various factions. Although disarmament of rebel and progovernment militias proceeded slowly and fighting continued to occur, by Jan., 2002, most of the estimated 45,000 fighters had surrendered their weapons. In a ceremony that month, government and rebel leaders declared the civil war to have ended; an estimated 50,000 persons died in the conflict. Subsequently, a tribunal established (2002–9) by Sierra Leone and the United Nations tried and convicted Issa Sesay and two other surviving leaders of the RUF of war crimes.

Elections were finally held in May, 2002. President Kabbah was reelected, and his Sierra Leone People's party won a majority of the parliamentary seats. In June, 2003, the UN ban on the sale of Sierra Leone diamonds expired and was not renewed. The UN disarmament and rehabilitation program for Sierra Leone's fighters was completed in Feb., 2004, by which time more 70,000 former combatants had been helped.

UN forces returned primary responsibility for security in the area around the capital to Sierra Leone's police and armed forces in Sept., 2004; it was the last part of the country to be turned over. Some UN peacekeepers remained to assist the Sierra Leone government until the end of 2005; the last UN peacekeeping office in the country closed in Mar., 2014. Parliamentary elections in Aug., 2007, gave a majority of the seats to opposition All People's Congress (APC), and after a runoff, Ernest Bai Koroma, of the APC, was elected president. The UN Security Council lifted its remaining sanctions on the country, including the arms embargo, in Sept., 2010. Koroma was reelected in Nov., 2012, and the APC again won a legislative majority. Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana went into hiding and sought political asylum in Mar., 2015, after he was dismissed from the APC; he was then dismissed from the vice presidency. In 2013–15 an Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone killed some 11,000 people, with most of the deaths occurring in Liberia and Sierra Leone.


See R. G. Saylor, The Economic System of Sierra Leone (1967); J. Cartwright, Politics in Sierra Leone, 1947–67 (1970); A. B. Sibthorpe, The History of Sierra Leone (4th ed. 1971); C. P. Foray, Historical Dictionary of Sierra Leone (1977); G. O. Roberts, The Anguish of Third World Independence: The Sierra Leone Experience (1982).

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

Official name: Republic of Sierra Leone

Area: 71,740 square kilometers (27,699 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Loma Mansa (1,948 meters/6,391 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: Noon = noon GMT

Longest distances: 338 kilometers (210 miles) from north to south; 304 kilometers (189 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: 958 kilometers (595 miles) total boundary length; Guinea 652 kilometers (405 miles); Liberia 306 kilometers (190 miles)

Coastline: 402 kilometers (250 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles)


Slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina, Sierra Leone, which is roughly circular in shape, is a compact country in the southwestern part of West Africa. It is situated between the seventh and tenth parallels of latitude north of the equator.


Sierra Leone has no territories or dependencies.


Because it is so close to the equator, Sierra Leone has a tropical climate; temperatures stay fairly constant throughout the year. The mean temperature is about 27°C (81°F) on the coast and almost as high on the eastern plateau. The dry season lasts from November to April, with a wet season occurring during the rest of the year. The prevailing winds from the southwest monsoon characterize the rainy season. Rainfall is greatest along the coast, especially in the mountains, which receive more than 580 centimeters (230 inches) of rainfall annually, compared to an average of approximately 315 centimeters (125 inches) in the rest of the country. During the dry season, harmattan winds blow from the Sahara Desert, bringing sandstorms but little rain.


Sierra Leone's varied terrain includes the striking, mountainous Sierra Leone Peninsula; a zone of low-lying coastal marshland along the Atlantic Ocean; and a wide plains area extending inland to about the middle of the country. East of the plains, the land rises to a broad, moderately elevated plateau interspersed with occasional hills and mountains.


Sierra Leone is bounded on the southwest and west by the Atlantic Ocean; the country is located northwest of that part of the Atlantic Coast known as the Grain Coast, which borders Liberia.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

There are oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor off the coast of Sierra Leone.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Sherbro Island is separated from the mainland by Sherbro River on the north and Sherbro Strait on the east.

Islands and Archipelagos

There are three major island groups off the coast of Sierra Leone: the Banana Islands, the Turtle Islands, and Sherbro Island. Sherbro Island is by far the largest. The city of Bonthe is located on this island.

Coastal Features

The coast is very irregular, forming many bays, inlets, and peninsulas. The most significant features are the Sierra Leone Peninsula, where Freetown is located, and Yawri Bay, which is located in the center of the coast just south of the peninsula. The coastal plain has numerous estuaries whose river channels, like that of the Sierra Leone River, continue to flow under the sea. Mangrove swamps line much of the coast, and behind the trees, marine and freshwater swamps occupy large areas.


Most of the small lakes in Sierra Leone are located in the south. The three largest and most important are Lake Sonfon, Lake Mabesi, and Lake Mape.


Most of the rivers of Sierra Leone drain into the Atlantic Ocean; a few, however, terminate at inland lakes. Of the numerous rivers, the most important ones are the Great and Little Scarcies in the north and the Rokel in the central region. The Great Scarcies forms part of the northern border with Guinea. The Rokel River originates in the Loma Mountains and flows west to the Atlantic Ocean near Freetown. At 440 kilometers (270 miles), the Rokel is the longest river in the country. Also important are the Mano and Moro Rivers, which form the southern border with Liberia. Other major rivers include the Jong, Sewa, Soa, and Moa.


There are no deserts in Sierra Leone.


The coastal plain covers a zone varying in width from about 8 to 40 kilometers (5 to 25 miles). In the southern section of the plateau region, erosion has formed a large area of rolling terrain, which is 64 kilometers (40 miles) wide at certain points and reaches elevations between 152 and 304 meters (500 and 1,000 feet).


The mountainous Sierra Leone Peninsula, on which Freetown is located, is 40 kilometers (25 miles) long and about 16 kilometers (10 miles) wide. The highest point in Sierra Leone, Mount Loma Mansa (Bintimani), rises to a height of 1,948 meters (6,391 feet) in the Loma Mountains, which span the northeastern part of the country.


There are no well-known named caves or canyons in Sierra Leone.


The plateau region, which encompasses roughly the eastern half of the country, has elevations ranging from roughly 304 meters (1,000 feet) to about 608 meters (2,000 feet).


The most significant dam in Sierra Leone is the Guma Valley Dam, which is 68 meters (223 feet) high and supplies water to an area that includes the capital city of Freetown.



Ferme, Mariane. The Underneath of Things: Violence, History, and the Everyday in Sierra Leone. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Hirsh, John. Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy. ( International Peace Academy Occasional Paper Series ). Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000.

Richards, Paul. Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth, and Resources in Sierra Leone (African Issues Series). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.

Web Sites (accessed April 10, 2003).

Sierra Leone Web. (accessed April 10, 2003).

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone


71,740sq km (27,699sq mi)



capital (population):

Freetown (1,032,100)



ethnic groups:

Mende 35%, Temne 37%, Limba 8%


English (official)


Traditional beliefs 51%, Islam 39%, Christianity 9%


Leone = 100 cents

Republic on the w coast of Africa; the capital is Freetown.

Land and climate

The coast contains several deep estuaries in the n, with lagoons in the s, but the most prominent feature is the mountainous Freetown (or Sierra Leone) peninsula. North of the peninsula is the River Rokel estuary, w Africa's best natural harbour. Behind the coastal plain, the land rises to mountains, with the highest peak, Loma Mansa, reaching 1948m (6391ft). Sierra Leone has a wet, tropical climate, with the heaviest rainfall between April and October. Swamps cover large areas near the coast. Inland, much of the original rainforest has been destroyed. The n is largely covered by tropical savanna.


Portuguese sailors reached the coast in 1460. In the 16th century, the area became a source of slaves. Freetown was founded (1787) as a home for freed slaves. In 1808, the settlement became a British Crown Colony. In 1896, the interior was made a Protectorate. In 1951, the Protectorate and Colony united. In 1961, Sierra Leone gained independence. In 1971, it became a republic. In 1978, the All People's Congress became the sole political party. A 1991 referendum voted for the restoration of multiparty democracy, but the military seized power in 1992. A civil war raged between government forces and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The RUF fought to end foreign interference and to nationalize the diamond mines. After 1996 elections, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah led a civilian government. In 1997, Major Johnny Paul Koroma seized power in a military coup. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions, and Nigeria led an intervention force that restored Kabbah as president in 1998. A 1999 peace treaty and the arrival of UN peace-keeping forces seemed to signal an end to a civil war that claimed c.10,000 lives, but in 2000 RUF rebels, led by Foday Sankoh and backed by Liberia, abducted UN troops and renewed the war. British soldiers arrived to bolster the UN peace-keeping effort. Sankoh was captured and the disarmament of the rebels completed in 2002.


Sierra Leone has a low-income economy (2000 GDP per capita, US$510). Agriculture employs 70% of the workforce, many at subsistence level. Chief food crops include rice, cassava and maize, and export crops include cocoa and coffee. The most valuable exports are minerals, including diamonds, bauxite, and rutile (titanium ore).

Political map

Physical map


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SIERRA LEONE. A country of West Africa and member of the COMMONWEALTH. Languages: English (official); KRIO (an English-based creole), Mende, and Temne widely spoken. The first Europeans to visit the area were Portuguese navigators and British slavers. In the 1780s, British philanthropists bought land from local chiefs to establish settlements for freed slaves, whence the name of the capital, Freetown. In 1808, the coastal settlements became a British colony, and in 1896 the hinterland became a protectorate. Sierra Leone became independent in 1961 and a republic in 1971. The English of Sierra Leone is a variety of WEST AFRICAN ENGLISH; it is distinct from KRIO, but the two shade into each other and into VERNACULAR usage. English is the language of all education, all newspapers and magazines, 95% of television and cinema, and the medium for documenting local history and culture. Its distinctive vocabulary includes: (1) Words derived from local languages: agidi a paste made from fermented cornflour, bondo a secret society for women, fufu grated and fermented cassava cooked into a paste and eaten with soup or sauce, woreh a cattle ranch. (2) Extensions of sense: apprentice a young man who loads and unloads vehicles, bluff to be elegantly dressed, to have a neat appearance (‘She's bluffing today’), cookery cheap food eaten outside the home, foolish to make (someone) appear stupid (‘The teacher was foolished’), woman damage money paid to a husband by another man as compensation for having a sexual relationship with his wife.

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone. Former British west African colony and protectorate. British anti-slavery campaigners established a home for freed slaves in Freetown in 1797. The settlement became a British colony in 1808 and a naval base from which the British government could conduct its campaign against the slave trade. The educational opportunities provided for the freed slaves by Christian missionaries produced a reservoir of talent which, lacking an adequate outlet in Sierra Leone which was poorly endowed with natural resources, proved invaluable in extending British influence and trading interests throughout west Africa. Until the mid-20th cent. Sierra Leone continued to exert a powerful influence on the cultural development of British west Africa, especially through Fourah Bay College, founded in 1828 and attended by Africans from other British dependencies, but British economic activities were concentrated elsewhere. A British protectorate was declared over the Sierra Leonean hinterland in 1896 and the colony and protectorate together became independent in 1961. It has suffered since from political dissension and civil war.

Kenneth Ingham

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

Culture Name

Sierra Leonean

Alternative Names

The Republic of Sierra Leone


Identification. The name "Sierra Leone" dates back to 1462, when Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra, sailing down the West African coast, saw the tall mountains rising up on what is now the Freetown Peninsula and called them the "Lion Mountains," or "Serra Lyoa." Successive visits by English sailors and later British colonization modified the name to "Sierra Leone." Despite distinctive regional variations in language and local traditions, Sierra Leoneans today are united by many factors, such as their shared lingua franca Krio, widespread membership in men's and women's social associations and societies, and even sporting events, especially when the national football (soccer) team plays. At the same time, a worsening domestic economy, declining infrastructure, and deteriorating health conditions have prevented the country's progress, and have to some extent hindered the development of a strong sense of collective pride or shared national identification, especially in the rural areas outside the capital city.

Location and Geography. Sierra Leone is located on the west coast of Africa, north of the equator. With a land area of 27,699 square miles (71,740 square kilometers), it is slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina. Sierra Leone is bounded 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 250 miles (400 kilometers) 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 6,390 feet (1,948 meters). 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 capital Freetown sits on a coastal peninsula, situated next to the world's third largest natural harbor. This prime location historically made Sierra Leone the center of trade and colonial administration in the region.

Demography. The population of Sierra Leone is 4.7 million people, the majority being children and youth. The population had been increasing at just over 2 percent per year, though this has declined somewhat since civil conflict began in 1991. Thirty-six percent of the people live in urban areas. The average woman bears six children during her lifetime. There are also numerous Sierra Leoneans living and working abroad, especially in England and the United States. They generate active discussion concerning events in their country, and provide an important source of resources for their families at home.

Linguistic Affiliation. Different reports list between fifteen and twenty different ethnic groups. This is a discrepancy not so much as to whether a certain group of people "exists" or not, but whether local dialects once spoken continue to be mutually distinct in the face of population expansion, intermarriage, and migration. For example, the two largest ethnic groups, the Temne and Mende, each comprise about 30 percent of the total population, and have come to "absorb" many of their less populous neighbors. For instance, Loko people will admit to being heavily culturally influenced by the Temne people surrounding them, the Krim and the Gola by the Mende, and so on. In addition, there are a number of people of Lebanese descent, whose ancestors fled Turkish persecution in Lebanon in the late nineteenth century. While each ethnic group speaks its own language, the majority of people speak either Mende, Temne, or Krio. The official language spoken in schools and government administration is English, a product of British colonial influence. It is not unusual for a child growing up to learn four different languagesthat of their parent's ethnic group, a neighboring group, Krio, and English.

Symbolism. To some extent symbolic imagery is regionally basedpeople from the western area often associate the tall cotton tree, white sandy beaches, or the large natural harbor with home; people from the east often think of coffee and cocoa plantations. Yet the palm tree and the rice grain are the national symbols par excellence, immortalized in currency, song, and folklore, and valued for their central and staple contributions to everyday life. Different species of palms contribute to cooking oil, thatch roofs, fermented wine, soap, fruits, and nuts. Perhaps the only thing more important than the palm tree is rice, the staple food, usually eaten every day. It is often hard for outsiders to grasp the centrality of rice to daily existence in Sierra Leone. Mende people, for example, have over 20 different words to describe rice in its variant forms, such as separate words for "sweet rice," "pounded rice," and "the rice that sticks to the bottom of a pot upon cooking."

History and Ethnic Relations

Archaeological evidence suggests that people have occupied Sierra Leone for at least twenty-five hundred years, and early migrations, expeditions, and wars gave the country its diverse cultural and ethnic mosaic. Traders and missionaries, especially from the north, were instrumental in spreading knowledge of tools, education, and Islam. The emergence of a modern national identity, however, did not begin until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Bunce Island, off the coast of Freetown, became one of the centers of the West African slave trade. Over two thousand slaves per year were channeled through this port, thus increasing the incidence of warfare and violence among the local population. The slaves were especially valued off the coast of South Carolina on rice plantations, where it was discovered they had considerable agricultural expertise.

There are between fifteen and twenty ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, depending on one's linguistic tendency to "lump" or "split" groups of people speaking different dialects. Relations have been generally cordial among them, and Sierra Leone has largely avoided the racial tension characteristic of other parts of the world. In the recent conflict, for instance, one family may have children fighting for opposing sides, a fact which makes the violence difficult, as well as deeply and personally felt. When ethnic problems do arise, they often do so around the time of national elections, when politicians become accused of catering to the desires of one particular constituency (usually their own ethnic group) in order to gain votes.

Emergence of the Nation. When the slave trade began to be outlawed near the close of the eighteenth century, Sierra Leone became a resettlement site for freed slaves from England and the Americas, thus the name of the capital, "Freetown." English philanthropists, concerned about the welfare of unemployed blacks on the streets of London, pushed a "benevolent" movement to round them all up and take them back to Africa to settle, where they could begin life anew. Other migrants had been ex-slaves from America who had fought for the British during the Revolutionary War. The English loss had forced them to move to Canada, where they were not entirely welcome. Still others were ex-slaves who had revolted and were living freely in the mountains of Jamaica, until the British conquered the area and deported them to Nova Scotia, from where they emigrated en masse to Sierra Leone. Finally, from the time when the English officially outlawed the slave trade in 1807 up until the 1860s, the British navy policed the West African coast for trading ships, would intercept them, and release their human cargoes in Freetown, in what became a rapidly expanding settlement.

In 1808 Sierra Leone became a British crown colony, ruled under a colonial governor. The British administration favored a policy of "indirect rule" whereby they relied on slightly reorganized indigenous institutions to implement colonial policies and maintain order. Rulers who had been "kings" and "queens" became instead "paramount chiefs," some of them appointed by the administration, and then forced into a subordinate relationship. This allowed the crown to organize labor forces for timber cutting or mining, to grow cash crops for export, or to send work expeditions to plantations as far away as the Congo. Sierra Leoneans did not passively accept such manipulations. The 1898 "Hut Tax rebellion" occurred as a response to British attempts to impose an annual tax on all houses in the country. The Temne and Mende people especially refused to pay, attacking and looting trading stations, and killing policemen, missionaries, and all those suspected of assisting the colonial government.

Pressures to end colonialism had as much to do with Britain's weakened position following World War II as it did with the pan-African demands for autonomy. Sierra Leone became an independent, sovereign state on 27 April 1961 with Milton Margai as its prime minister. Ten years later, on 19 April 1971, the country became a republic, with an elected president as the head of state.

National Identity. National identity has been influenced by several factors. Besides the common experiences shared under colonialism or since independence, one of the most important has been the development of the regional lingua franca Krio, a language that unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other. Another has been the near universal membership, across ethnic lines, in men's and women's social organizations, especially Poro among the men, and Bundu,or Sande, among the women.

Ethnic Relations. There are between fifteen and twenty ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, depending on one's linguistic tendency to "lump" or "split" groups of people speaking different dialects. Relations have generally been good between them, and Sierra Leone has largely avoided the racial tension characteristic of other parts of the world. When problems do arise, they often originate at the time of national elections, with politicians being accused of catering to the desires of one particular constituency (usually their own ethnic group) in order to gain votes.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Around the capital, Freetown, the architecture of the houses is somewhat unique. Often wood and clapboard in structure, they are noticeably influenced by Krio and colonial English styles. Also in Freetown, large buildings have become a source of national pride, especially the government State House and the national football stadium, which is a central gathering place for many large events.

Outside of Freetown, the "traditional" house in Sierra Leone is a clay and earth structure, built with a thatch roof. Construction can either be "wattle and daub" (wattle is the frame of a group of poles secured by the intertwining of twigs and vines; this frame is then "daubed" or plastered with soft earth to cover it), or clay and earth blocks, which are dried and hardened in the sun. These construction techniques have the advantage of allowing the house to stay relatively cool inside during the season of hot and dry months. Modern materials are now often incorporated into building techniques, especially zinc sheets for roofs and cement to cover floors and walls. While making the interior of the house considerably less cool during the heat, these materials do allow for more permanent structures needing less maintenance.

Houses are either round or rectangular, and typically offer a veranda, a central parlor, and two or three interior rooms. These may function as bedrooms or food storage areas, or both. More well-to-do people may cluster a group of houses together into a "compound," sometimes walled off, to separate it from the rest of the village. Kitchens are often located outside the main house, and may be open structures supporting only a roof, as adequate ventilation is needed to maintain the cooking fire. During the sunny days, however, the kitchen is often wherever a woman moves her "three stones," the large rocks that support a pot, underneath which is built a stick fire. This same area during cool harmattan evenings then becomes a place where children gather to hear stories told from their elders. During the rainy season, however, it is not unusual to see a woman move her pots inside the parlor of the main house to get away from the damp.

Older towns and villages are "traditional" in that there are no gridlike "streets" per se, and the houses appear in irregular and sometimes densely packed clumps. More recently constructed areas that have sprung up since the expansion of trade and commerce tend to be organized along railroad lines or streets, and are thus more linear in their order. Depending on the size, almost any village will include shops or market areas, a centralized public court space, a church and/or mosque, a school, wells, and latrines. Near the outside of the village is typically a cemetery, and at either edge of town a carefully defined "Poro" or "Bundu" bush, one area strictly off-limits for women, the other area offlimits for men.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. For almost all Sierra Leoneans, rice is the staple food, consumed at virtually every meal. A Sierra Leonean will often say, without any exaggeration, "If I haven't eaten rice today, then I haven't eaten!" Other things are of course eatena wide variety of fruits, seafood, potatoes, cassava, etc.but these are often considered to be just "snacks" and not "real food." Real food is rice, prepared numerous ways, and topped with a variety of sauces made from some combination of potato leaves, cassava leaves, hot peppers, peanuts, beans, okra, fish, beef, chicken, eggplant, onions, and tomatoes. Bones, particularly chicken bones, are a delicacy, because their brittle nature makes the sweet marrow inside easily accessible.

Along the street one can find snacks such as fresh mangoes, oranges, pineapple, or papaya, fried plantains, potato or cassava chunks with pepper sauce, small bags of popcorn or peanuts, bread, roasted corn, or skewers of grilled meat or shrimp. Local bars in some towns and villages will also sell poyo the sweet, lightly fermented palm wine tapped from the high tops of palm trees. Poyo bars can be areas of lively informal debate and conversation among men.

Sometimes villages, and sometimes families within villages, will have specific taboos or proscriptions against eating certain foods. These are usually attributed to a law handed down from someone's ancestor, perhaps the founder of the village. The taboo can be a restriction against certain kind of meat or a certain oil, or even against food prepared a certain way. Violation is usually seen as a risky proposition, and can incur the ill feelings of would-be guardians either living or dead.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Almost all ceremonial occasions such as weddings, funerals, initiations, and memorial services demand the preparation of large platters of rice, distributed to guests until they are full. Depending on the occasion, a portion may also be offered to the ancestors, to honor their memory. Another common practice in this sense is to pour liquor in the ancestors' honor in the corners of a house. Other food traditions vary with region or religion: Mende Muslims, for instance, will mark a burial ceremony with lehweh, a ball of rice flour mixed with water and sugar, served with a kola nut on top.

Kola nuts are highly valued in and of themselves, and are often associated with greetings, diplomacy, provisions of respect, religious rites, and initiation ceremonies. High in caffeine concentration, they are also used as a stimulant, a clothing dye, and even in the preparation of medicines.

Basic Economy. Subsistence agriculture comprises the mainstay of the rural Sierra Leonean economy. Cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, peanuts, and tobacco are also important, as are small-scale marketing and commodity trade. Sierra Leone is rich in diamonds, bauxite, and gold, but the national economy receives little of the benefits that could come from the official export of these items, due to mismanagement, widespread smuggling, and corruption.

Land Tenure and Property. All the territory of an administrative chiefdom is technically held by the paramount chief. Underneath this authority, older families who can prove descent from a village founder then control the land close to their home. An elder male of the lineage usually administers land to those who request a plot to farm. This is most often to members of his extended family, but may include strangers who provide a gift of respect, and usually some portion of the ensuing harvest.

Commercial Activities. Sierra Leone's economy is largely informal, with small-scale marketing and trading of basic commodities, especially cloth, cigarettes, shoes, pots and pans, and mats. Women particularly dominate the market trade in foodstuffs.

Major Industries. Food processing (especially of flour, oil, rice, and fish) is one of the major industrial activities in Sierra Leone. Mining was for years the dominant industry, especially of rutile, bauxite, and diamonds. Also, because of Sierra Leone's beautiful beaches and "exotic" wildlife (hippos, chimpanzees, and monkeys), the tourist industry once thrived. Since the beginning of the 1991 conflict, however, official mining and tourism have stopped.

Trade. Besides the cash crops listed above, illegally smuggled diamonds have become a dominant item of trade. High in value only to foreign countries, they have played a major part in subsidizing the rebellion that has spread across Sierra Leone. International marketers who bought them came to recognize their own role in inadvertently funding the conflict, and publicly renounced any dealing in Sierra Leonean diamonds. Yet small and easily concealed, Sierra Leonean diamonds are now simply carried across national borders where they are sold to the same international marketers as "Liberian" or "Guinean" in origin.

Division of Labor. Like most big cities, Sierra Leone's urban areas offer a variety of occupational specialties, especially in small-scale trading, government, and industry. Downturns in the national economy, however, have made full-time salaried jobs extremely hard to procure, especially if one's family is not well connected. Village-level occupations are dominated by farming, but include traders, hunters, midwives, marketers, religious specialists, educators, policemen, and blacksmiths. Young men aged eighteen to twenty-nine are often attracted to mining jobs and the idea of "striking it rich," but the poor and exploitative conditions of the work often make their ventures short or seasonal, lasting between a few months and several years.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Sierra Leonean society is in some ways a stratified one. The traditional elite families are those who can trace descent (usually through the father's line) to a warrior or hunter who first settled in the area. These families then control and administer land, a valuable asset in a subsistence society, which puts them in an advantageous relationship to non-landholders. People who want to acquire the right to farm must show respect to an elder from this family (usually, but not always, a male), who may then grant them use of the land.

Colonial administrators in some ways exacerbated these differences between people, by favoring those elite families who supported their agenda with urban employment opportunities, political appointments, and education.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Some Sierra Leoneans will claim that one of the most persistent and negative impacts of colonialism was to pass along a taste for Western values and European goods, and the belief that anything African is relatively inferior. Thus one indicator of a high social status is the accumulation and display of Western accoutrements: Western clothing, English speech, satellite television, and Mercedes-Benz cars (or increasingly, sport-utility vehicles).

Political Life

Government. Under the terms of the constitution, executive power is vested in the president, who is directly elected by the people. The president appoints a cabinet of ministers, responsible for various government departments. There is also multiparty legislative power vested in an eighty-member Parliament, whose members are elected to five-year terms. Paramount chiefs serve in "District Councils," which in turn elect representatives to the legislature. Finally, there is a system of courts with a chief justice as head.

Leadership and Political Officials. Sierra Leone's political customs are often referred to as "patrimonial," in that elected officials become "patrons" to their voter base, the "clients." Clients expect patrons to share some of the benefits or entitlements of their office, and in return give them electoral support. This system became somewhat strained in the last thirty years of the twentieth century, as widespread political corruption drained many resources that would otherwise have been distributed. Yet in general, Sierra Leoneans respect almost any high-ranking official, regardless of political affiliation. Deference may be shown upon meeting with a slight bow, formal speech, and supporting the right arm with the left when shaking hands.

Social Problems and Control. In March 1991, an attack on a small southern village by a group of armed Sierra Leoneans, Liberians, and Burkinabes calling themselves the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began what has become a nine-year civil conflict. Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives, and almost all of the population has at one time been displaced, either within or across national boundaries. Though initially supported by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, the RUF later claimed its own populist political reform agenda to end corruption, reduce reliance on foreign aid, and usher in peace between all ethnic groups. Dramatic violence waged against innocent civilians, however, and the failure of government actionsincluding genuine political reforms and concessions granted to the RUFto produce a consistent peace, has fueled popular skepticism about the legitimacy of RUF claims. Unlike conflicts in Europe or other parts of Africa, the Sierra Leone war has largely avoided ethnic divisiveness. Most analysts attribute the current violence to a mixture of war-inspired, socially marginalized youth fighting continued exclusion, and increased criminal control over the highly profitable, illicit diamond trade.

A problematic legacy of the war will certainly be the large number of guns and light weapons that have entered Sierra Leone since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Kalashnikov rifles, usually channeled into Sierra Leone by foreign arms merchants, can be bought for several dollars. Their widespread prevalence coupled with the intense poverty of the country is a virtual guarantee that extortion, highway banditry, and attacks on civilians will remain a dire social problem for years to come.

Military Activity. Sierra Leone's military is currently attempting reorganization. There are an estimated forty-five thousand total combatants that previously made up the different factions of the warex-Sierra Leone army soldiers, civilian militias, and RUF rebels. Few of these have followed up on agreements made to disarm and return to civilian life. Nigeria maintains some troop presence in the country, and a force of over ten thousand United Nations peacekeepers is currently in place, although their mandate has proven somewhat limited.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Steady economic decline coupled with rising international debt has severely limited Sierra Leone's ability to provide basic social welfare programs to its citizens. Smuggling, corruption, worldwide recession, and a large informal economy have all posed real problems to official attempts to remedy the situation. Structural adjustment policies by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have often further exacerbated these problems by increasing the income disparity between people, and orienting the economy toward the repayment of loans rather than the subsidization of basic public services.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The state's declining ability to meet basic health, education, and welfare needs has meant a corresponding increase in the number and activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the country. There are a wide variety of local and international NGOs who compete for funding from international donors in order to implement projects in economic and infrastructural development, health and sanitation, agriculture, and education. Most of their programs are "vertical," so called because they are designed and funded by external agencies according to Western priorities. Since 1991, international relief agencies have become an even bigger presence, bringing aid to Sierra Leonean refugees and internally displaced people who have fled the violence surrounding their homes.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Women are the backbone of Sierra Leonean labor. Men do the physically intense work of clearing fields and plowing swamps, but planting, harvesting, weeding, gathering wood, cooking, cleaning, marketing, and child care are duties often shouldered by women. Young children, especially girls, are encouraged to help their parents with minor household chores and farm work, and early in life take pride in their ability to contribute to the welfare of the household.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. The relative status of women is a bit paradoxical. On the surface, they seem to have low statuswomen technically live under the authority of the men they marry, have fewer legal rights, less formal education, and lower literacy rates. Yet in reality, women's relationship to men is more complementary than subordinate, due mostly to the considerable power and solidarity gained through the collective formed by the near universal membership in the women's Bundu or Sande societies.

Though some have pointed out that the women's societies stratify as much as they unify, others have noted how they provide substantial resources and skills that allow women to independently manage problems and control their lives. A society can, for example, autonomously determine laws that regulate proper social conduct and relations between genders, with codes as binding for men as they are for women. A girl's initiation gives her womanly status, allowing her to marry and bear children, activities which help her gain further prestige. A less tangible but important benefit is that society membership often enshrouds women with a certain mystique that confounds men, who become unable to explain the "womanly knowledge" and secrets over which the society presides.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. For all Sierra Leoneans, marriage is a mark of adult maturity and brings considerable prestige to both bride and groom. Specific customs vary by ethnic group and socioeconomic status, but usually begin when a man is able to assemble enough brideprice (often a mixture of money and fine cloth) to give to the prospective bride and her family. He may be able to amass this himself, but often has to ask his father and his father's brothers for support. Almost all marriages used to be arranged between families, sometimes while the girl was still quite young. Increasingly, "love marriages" are more common, especially among those who have been to school.

Domestic Unit. The basic household structure is an extended family, organized for the majority of people around the farm and its rice production. Many households are polygynous, where a husband may have more than one wife; the first or "senior" wife usually has some authority over "junior" wives, such as in training and organizing them into a functional unit. Monogamy is also common, especially among urban and Christian families. Sierra Leoneans love children, and larger households tend to have more prestige. Having many children is in fact an investment of sorts, which, though initially expensive to maintain, eventually allows a family to accumulate wealth by creating a large and diverse labor pool, by gaining brideprice for its daughters, and by strategically marrying off children to create new alliances with other families.

Inheritance. Inheritance laws most often favor the male heirs. Upon the death of a male household head, rights of inheritance usually pass first to his eldest living brother. This is most often land and personal property, but may even include the deceased's wives, if they are willing, and any young children. If there are no living brothers, inheritance passes to the eldest adult son. There are exceptions to this, most notably among the coastal Sherbro women, who may be heads of households, village chiefs, or even lineage heads; it is not unusual in these circumstances for women to become trustees of land or property.

Kin Groups. Kinship networks are extremely important in everyday matters, in that one is obligated to assist one's family members throughout life. The majority of people are patrilineal, and so sons (and sometimes daughters) usually obtain rights to land through their father's side. Kin groups also play an important part in hearing legal cases and settling disputes before they are referred to a neutral third party. Thus, upon marriage, a man and a woman may each prefer to settle near their own kin, as this confers them distinct political and economic advantages. Though rights and responsibilities exist on both sides of one's family, maternal uncles are often particularly important figures, offering both obligations and entitlements to an individual.


Infant Care. Mothers carry infants close to them at all times, strapped to their backs by a brightly colored cloth or lappa. Babies are breast-fed on demand, often for well over a year, although solid foods, usually rice pap, may be introduced at a young age. Both the extended family and the community share responsibility in rearing infants and children. It is not even unusual for a mother to "give" her child to a trusted friend or relative, though she of course would still play an active part in the child's life.

Child Rearing and Education. Providing they can afford school fees, most parents will try to send their children to at least several years of formal schooling. This is often Western-style education, although Arabic schools are an option in many areas. Outside the formal system, the men's and women's societies have historically provided important instruction for proper behaviorboys may learn the arts of proper male social conduct, including conflict mediation and forest survival; girls similarly learn crucial social, household, and childbearing skills to prepare them for womanhood. Traditionally this instruction could last more than a year; increasingly, however, pressures from school and urban environments have shortened this time to a month or less.

Higher Education. Many schools outside Freetown (both primary and secondary) have been closed since the beginning of the 1991 conflict. There has thus arisen some social concern over what the effects may be of a generation raised without access to formal education. This is one advantage recognized by refugees who have crossed over into Guinea and Liberiarelief agencies usually provide free schooling for refugee children and youth.


Sierra Leoneans as a rule are extremely polite and manner-conscious. Much attention is given, especially in urban areas, to one's neatness of dress and style of presentation. Courteous and eloquent greetings are a way of life. Elders are especially respected. The "good" host is always a giving host, one who will call any passerby to join in a meal by a wholehearted, "Come, let's eat." It is polite as a guest to leave some food on the plate, thanking the host profusely for his or her generosity.


Religious Beliefs. Reports often list Sierra Leoneans as 60 percent Muslim, 10 percent Christian, and 30 percent "indigenous believers." These kinds of numbers often mask the degree to which religious beliefs in Sierra Leone may be flexible and accommodating. One can go to a Christian church on Sunday, for example, and still make a sacrifice to one's ancestors for good fortune. Likewise, Muslim rituals may appear to dominate in some areas, yet these can become mixed with indigenous ideas or customs.

Religious Practitioners. Besides Muslim and Christian holy leaders, there are a number of indigenous religious practitioners who are able to mediate with the spirit world. These include diviners, healers, men's and women's society elders, and witchcraft specialists.

Rituals and Holy Places. Churches, mosques, and society clearings in the forest or town occupy central positions in Sierra Leonean religious life and serve as focal points for organizing religious activities, especially toward God or ancestral spirits. Water is often considered especially important and many religious rituals take place near the edges of lakes, rivers, or streams.

Death and the Afterlife. Specific burial customs may vary by region or religion, yet practically all of them encompass a firm conviction in the existence of God and the spirit world, and especially in the abilities of one's deceased ancestors to intervene in the activities of everyday life. Sacrifices, ritual remembrances, and prayer are made in order enlist ancestors' support and good favor.

Medicine and Health Care

The United Nations estimates that Sierra Leone has the highest death rate in the world, and the second highest infant morality rate (195 out of every 1,000 infants die within a year of birth). Life expectancy at birth in 1995 was only 34.1 years, down significantly from previously improving figures.

Even factoring in war-related violence, malaria is still the number one health threat. Schistosomiasis, bloody diarrhea, tetanus, measles, and polio are also endemic in some areas. Access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, especially in the rural countryside, is limited.

Medical facilities are extremely strained and are continuing to decline, especially since the 1991 conflict began. Yet even before this, the centrally organized national health service reached only an estimated 35 percent of the population, with less than 1 percent of annual government expenditures being allocated to health care. There are also an array of widely used indigenous practitioners, including midwives, broken-bone specialists, herbalists, society leaders, and Muslim-based ritual specialists.

Secular Celebrations

Outside of the major Muslim and Christian holidays, Sierra Leoneans also celebrate New Year's Day (1 January), National Independence Day (27 April), Labor Day (1 May), and National Day (9 August).

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Government funding for the arts has been extremely limited and most artists are self-supported.

Literature. There are rich and lively traditions of storytelling across Sierra Leone. The most famous storytellers (sometimes endearingly called "liars") can manage to earn a living from their trade, though mostly these traditions are informal affairs, and start when children gather around an elder under the full moon once the evening chores are done. There are also critically acclaimed Sierra Leonean novels, such as The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, by Syl Cheney-Coker (Heinmann Books).

Graphic Arts. Among the graphic arts practiced in Sierra Leone are woodcarving, tie-dyeing, batik-printing, textile and fabric design, and basket making.

Performance Arts. A few famous Sierra Leonean musicians have gained widespread appeal both at home and abroad, such as "S. E. Rogers," "Calendar," "Dr. Oloh," and "Salliah." There is even a national dance troupe that travels around the world. To a large extent, however, participation in the arts is widely diffused and informal; dancing, painting, singing, storytelling, tie-dying, weaving, and drumming are widely practiced skills, the learning for which is often begun in childhood.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Fourah Bay College (now the University of Sierra Leone) was the first university in West Africa, and was historically one of the centers for African scholars of law, medicine, and education. Its operation is currently severely strained, however, from inadequate funds, decaying infrastructure, and poorly paid professors. Several teachers' colleges around the country have similarly become either strained or closed, especially since the 1991 conflict.


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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone


The people of Sierra Leone are called Sierra Leoneans. The population is composed of about eighteen ethnic groups. The largest is the Mende (Malinkeabout 34 percent of the population). There are also 40,00080,000 Creoles, descendants of slaves freed from Europe, the West Indies, and other regions. For more information on the Mende, see the article on Malinke in the chapter on Liberia in Volume 5.

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