|THE SIERRA LEONE COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Sierra Leone within the continent of Africa
Map of Sierra Leone
Flag Description of Sierra Leone: three equal horizontal bands of green (top), white, and blue; green symbolizes agriculture, mountains, and natural resources, white represents unity and justice, and blue the sea and the natural harbor in Freetown
Official name Republic of Sierra Leone
Form of government republic with one legislative house (Parliament )
Head of state and government President: Ernest Bai Koroma
Official language English
Official religion none
Monetary unit leone (Le)
Population (2013 est.) 6,255,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 27,699
Total area (sq km) 71,740
- Urban: (2011) 39.2%
- Rural: (2011) 60.8%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2010) 53.3 years
- Female: (2010) 58.2 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2009) 52.7%
- Female: (2009) 30.1%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 680
1Includes 12 paramount chiefs elected to represent each of the provincial districts.
About Sierra Leone
Democracy is slowly being reestablished after the civil war from 1991 to 2002 that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (about a third of the population). The military, which took over full responsibility for security following the departure of UN peacekeepers at the end of 2005, is increasingly developing as a guarantor of the country's stability. The armed forces remained on the sideline during the 2007 and 2012 national elections but still look to the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) - a civilian UN mission - to support efforts to consolidate peace. The new government's priorities include furthering development, creating jobs, and stamping out endemic corruption.
Sierra Leone, country of western Africa. The country owes its name to the 15th-century Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra, the first European to sight and map Freetown harbour. The original Portuguese name, Serra Lyoa (“Lion Mountains”), referred to the range of hills that surrounds the harbour. The capital, Freetown, commands one of the world’s largest natural harbours.
Although most of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, Sierra Leone is also a mining centre. Its land yields diamonds, gold, bauxite, and rutile (titanium dioxide). Internal conflict crippled the country from the late 1980s onward, culminating in a brutal civil war that took place from 1991 to 2002. Since the end of the war, the government of Sierra Leone has undergone the arduous task of rebuilding the country’s physical and social infrastructure while fostering
Geography of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is bordered on the north and east by Guinea, on the south by Liberia, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean.
The country can be divided into four distinct physical regions: the coastal swamp, the Sierra Leone Peninsula, the interior plains, and the interior plateau and mountain region. The coastal swamp region extends along the Atlantic for about 200 miles (320 km). It is a flat, low-lying, and frequently flooded plain that is between 5 and 25 miles (8 and 40 km) wide and is composed mainly of sands and clays. Its numerous creeks and estuaries contain mangrove swamps. Sandbars, generally separated by silting lagoons, sometimes form the actual coast. The Sierra Leone Peninsula, which is the site of Freetown, is a region of thickly wooded mountains that run parallel to the sea for about 25 miles (40 km). The Peninsula Mountains rise from the coastal swamps and reach some 2,900 feet (880 metres) at Picket Hill.
Inland from the coastal plain is the interior plains region. In the north it comprises featureless seasonal swamps known as “Bolilands” (boli being a Temne word for those lands that are flooded in the rainy season and dry and hard in the dry season and on which only grass can grow). In the south the plains comprise rolling wooded country where isolated hills rise abruptly to more than 1,000 feet (300 metres). The interior contains a variety of landforms ranging from savanna-covered low plains to rocky scarp and hill country. The interior plateau and mountain region, encompassing roughly the eastern half of the country, is composed mainly of granite with a thick laterite (iron-bearing) crust; to the west it is bounded by a narrow outcrop of mineral-bearing metamorphic rocks known as the Kambui Schists. Rising above the plateau are a number of mountain masses; in the northeast the Loma Mountains are crowned by Mount Loma Mansa (Mount Bintimani) at 6,391 feet (1,948 metres), and the Tingi Mountains rise to 6,080 feet (1,853 metres) at Sankanbiriwa Peak. Numerous narrow inland valley swamps associated with the river systems occur in this region.
The country’s drainage pattern is dense. Numerous rivers rise in the well-watered Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea and flow in a general northeast-to-southwest direction across Sierra Leone. Their middle courses are interrupted by rapids that restrict navigability to only a short distance inland. River levels show considerable seasonal fluctuations.
The drainage system has nine major rivers and a series of minor coastal creeks and tidal streams. From north to south the principal rivers are the Great Scarcies (also called the Kolenté), Little Scarcies, Rokel (also called the Seli; known in its lower course where it meets the Atlantic as the Sierra Leone River), Gbangbaia, Jong, Sewa, Waanje, Moa, and Mano. The Great Scarcies, Moa, and Meli (one of the Moa’s tributaries) form portions of the border with Guinea, while the Mano forms much of the country’s frontier with Liberia. The river basins range in size from 5,460 square miles (14,140 square km) for the Sewa to less than 385 square miles (1,000 square km) for the smaller basins.
In most areas the dominant soils are of the weathered and leached lateritic type. Red to yellow-brown in colour, they contain oxides of iron and aluminum and are acid. Kaolin (china) clays are important in some areas; when cultivated, they are light, readily workable, and free-draining, with productivity that depends largely on the nutrients provided by the vegetation previously cleared and burned. In the coastal plains, lateritic soils that have developed on sandy deposits are agriculturally poor, but those derived from basic igneous rocks are somewhat better. Swamp soils occur over large areas on the coastal plains where drainage is a problem. In coastal and estuarine areas where mangrove is the natural vegetation, productive soils can be acquired by clearance, but careful water control is sometimes needed to prevent toxicity. At the foot of the main escarpment, on the Sula Mountain plateau, and elsewhere an iron-rich laterite crust forms a surface that is intractable for agricultural production.
The climate is tropical and is characterized by the alternation of rainy and dry seasons. Conditions are generally hot and humid. Mean monthly temperatures range from the upper 70s F (mid-20s C) to the low 80s F (upper 20s C) in low-lying coastal areas; inland they may range from the low to mid-70s F (low 20s C) to the low 80s F. In the northeast, where extremes of temperature are greater, mean daily minimums fall to the mid-50s F (low to mid-10s C) in January, and mean daily maximums rise to the low 90s F (low 30s C) in March. During the rainy season, from May to October, humid air masses from the Atlantic dominate. The sky is cloudy, the winds are southwesterly, sunshine is minimal, and rain falls almost daily, especially during July and August. Precipitation is greater on the coast than inland; the Peninsula Mountains receive more than 200 inches (5,000 mm) annually, while the northeast receives about 80 inches (2,000 mm) a year.
The dry season, from November to April, is characterized by the harmattan, a hot, dry wind that blows from the Sahara. The rainy season tends to have cooler daily maximum temperatures than the dry season by about 10 °F (6 °C). The relative humidity, however, may be as high as 90 percent for considerable periods, particularly during the wettest months, from July to September.
- Plant and animal life
The distribution of plants and animals has been influenced by such factors as relief and soil types and, perhaps more important, by farming methods and civil strife. Remnants of the extensive original forest cover survive in the Gola Forest Reserves, in the southeastern hill country near the Liberian border. Secondary forest is now dominant; valuable timber species including African mahogany and African teak, once common in the original forests, are now rare. The secondary forest consists of other tree species such as the fire-resistant palm tree, a valuable source of palm oil and kernels.
The prevalence of savanna vegetation increases to the north as precipitation decreases. The savannas owe their present extent and character largely to the erosion produced by farming, grazing, and the use of fire. There are some small areas of climax savanna—a closed area of broad-leaved, low-growing trees and tall tussocky grasses. Other savannas are derived from forest and are characterized by fire-resistant savanna trees with tall grasses. Tracts of tallgrass savanna also occur. Remnants of mangrove swamps constitute the main coastal vegetation community, especially in the saline tidal areas of river estuaries. Piassava, a kind of raffia palm, is common in the swampy grasslands of the south.
Unrestricted hunting during Sierra Leone’s civil war (1991–2002) adversely affected much of the country’s wildlife. Large game animals, such as elephants, leopards, lions, hyenas, and buffalo, are rarely seen outside of national parks or reserves. Chimpanzees and various species of monkeys are common in the forest zones, while other animals, such as antelope and bushpigs, are more generally distributed. There is a wide variety of insects, including the malaria-carrying mosquito and the tsetse fly. Hippopotamuses, crocodiles, and manatees occupy the rivers, including such rare species as the pygmy hippopotamus and the dwarf crocodile. The coastal waters, estuaries, and rivers, such as the Sierra Leone and the Sherbro, contain a wide variety of fish and shellfish, such as tuna, barracuda, bonga (shad), snapper, herring, mackerel, and lobster. Sierra Leone’s rich birdlife, which emerged relatively unscathed from the years of conflict, includes emerald cuckoos, owls, little African swift, vultures, and many other species. Several parks, sanctuaries, and reserves have been established to protect Sierra Leone’s wildlife, including Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary and the Gola Forest Reserves in the south and Outamba-Kilimi National Park in the north. Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located near Freetown, was established to rescue and rehabilitate abandoned or orphaned chimpanzees.
Demography of Sierra Leone
- Ethnic groups
There are about 18 ethnic groups that exhibit similar cultural features, such as secret societies, chieftaincy, patrilineal descent, and farming methods. The Mende, found in the east and south, and the Temne, found in the centre and northwest, form the two largest groups. Other major groups include the Limba, Kuranko, Susu, Yalunka, and Loko in the north; the Kono and Kisi in the east; and the Sherbro in the southwest. Minor groups include the coastal Bullom, Vai, and Krim and the Fulani and Malinke, who are immigrants from Guinea concentrated in the north and east. The Creoles—descendants of liberated blacks who colonized the coast from the late 18th to the mid-19th century—are found mainly in and around Freetown. Throughout the 19th century, blacks from the United States and West Indies also settled in Sierra Leone. Ethnic complexity is further enhanced by the presence of Lebanese and Indian traders in urban centres.
Krio, a language derived from English and a variety of African languages, is the mother tongue of the Creoles and the country’s lingua franca. Among the Niger-Congo languages, the Mande group is the largest and includes Mende, Kuranko, Kono, Yalunka, Susu, and Vai. The Mel group consists of Temne, Krim, Kisi, Bullom, Sherbro, and Limba. English, the official language, is used in administration, education, and commerce. Arabic is used among Lebanese traders and adherents of Islam. School texts, information bulletins, and collections of folktales are produced in indigenous languages such as Mende and Temne.
The Vai script used in Liberia and Sierra Leone has the distinction of being one of the few indigenous scripts in Africa. Some of the local languages are written in European script, and a few, especially in the Muslim areas in the north, have been transcribed into Arabic.
About two-thirds of the population are Muslims, while about one-fourth are Christians. Less than one-sixth of the population practice a variety of traditional religions; however, this number does not include the many Sierra Leoneans who practice traditional religions in tandem with their professed Muslim or Christian faiths. Other religions—including Bahāʾī, Hinduism, and Judaism—are practiced by small percentages of the population.
- Settlement patterns
Villages of about 35 buildings and 200 inhabitants dominate the rural landscape. Modernization is slowly altering the traditional pattern of rural settlement; the old circular village form, with a tight cluster of houses, is rapidly yielding to the linear village along a road or the regular gridiron pattern with adequate spacing between houses. Although disrupted by the country’s civil war, economic activity in these villages centres largely around rice farming. The extended family provides farm labour for both rice farming and cash crop production. Fishing is becoming increasingly important. The raising and herding of cattle is largely confined to the north. The small shopkeeper is typical of the villages, as are the tailor and carpenter. Traditional crafts, such as metalworking, cloth dyeing and weaving, and woodworking, are rapidly disappearing with the increased importation of cheap manufactured goods.
Except for Freetown, the development of large towns occurred only after World War II. A prominent feature of the towns is the daily market, which contains petty traders, the majority of whom are women. Bo, in the southeast, was an early administrative and educational centre. Other important towns include Kenema, east of Bo, which has grown as a result of diamond mining, and Makeni, a major commercial centre, in the north. Mining of diamonds has also been important to Koidu, Sefadu, Yengema, and Jaiama in the east. Port Loko, Kabala, Bonthe, Moyamba, Kailahun, Kambia, Pujehun, and Magburaka are administrative centres with retail trading and produce marketing. Many towns were damaged or destroyed in the civil war.
Economy of Sierra Leone
Private capital dominates mining concerns, commerce, and banking. European, Lebanese, and Indian interests are predominant, and participation by Sierra Leoneans is limited. Various inefficient parastatals were privatized in the 1980s and ’90s.
There were growing economic difficulties in the 1980s, including a heavy external debt burden, escalating costs of food and fuel imports, and erratic mineral-export production. Substantial devaluations of the national currency, the leone, also occurred, and a series of economic stabilization programs supported by the International Monetary Fund were initiated to address these problems. Foreign investment, which centred on the mineral sector, declined drastically after the start of the civil war in 1991. Bauxite and rutile mines, the producers of most of the export earnings, closed in 1995. By the time the war ended in 2002, much of the formal economy had been destroyed, and the government was faced with the arduous task of rebuilding the country’s economic infrastructure.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Shifting agriculture, a system of cultivation that employs plot rotation in an effort to preserve soil fertility, is the technique largely practiced in Sierra Leone. More than three-fifths of the population engage in agricultural production, primarily for the domestic market but some also for export. Rice, the main food crop, is widely cultivated on swampland and upland farms. Swamp rice cultivation is concentrated in the lower reaches of river basins, of which the Scarcies is the most important. Efforts are being made to reduce upland rice farming, with its attendant soil erosion, in favour of swampland farming, with its superior yields. Other food crops include millet, peanuts (groundnuts), cassava (manioc), sweet potatoes, and oil palms. Vegetable gardening is important around the major urban centres, where markets are available to farmers. The major cash crops are palm kernels, cocoa, coffee, piassava, and ginger, and production is carried out entirely by small-scale farmers. In the 1970s the government attempted to improve agricultural productivity by creating development projects funded by the World Bank. Various other multilateral and bilateral aid projects along similar lines followed in the 1980s with varying success. Agricultural production declined drastically during the civil war.
Forest covers more than one-third of the country, the most important area of which is the Gola Forest Reserves, a tract of primary tropical rainforest near the Liberian border. Timber is produced for the domestic and export markets and includes Guarea cedrata, a cedar-scented, pink, mahogany-type wood, and the Lophira alata variety procera.
Sierra Leone’s many waterways are the home of many varieties of fish, such as bonga (a type of shad), butterfish, snapper, and sole. The coastal waters contain such shellfish as shrimp, lobster, and oysters. The country should be an ideal place for commercial fishing, but illegal activity by foreign fisheries and the years of civil war severely affected this sector. After the end of the civil war, the sector began to show gradual improvement.
- Resources and power
Mineral resources are fairly well distributed and include diamonds, chromite, and reserves of rutile (titanium dioxide) that are among the world’s largest. There are iron ore reserves, but these are no longer commercially mined. Other minerals include bauxite, columbite (a black mineral of iron, manganese, and niobium), gold, and platinum, largely in the southern plateau region.
Mining employs a large segment of the population and provides a significant contribution to the national economy. Diamonds are mined by a few private companies and by vast numbers of private prospectors. The National Diamond Mining Company (Diminco) also mined diamonds until 1995. Mining methods range from mechanical grab lines with washing and separator plants to crude hand digging and panning. Many diamonds are found in river gravels, especially along the Sewa-Bafi river system. Official exports of diamonds have declined dramatically since the 1960s due to extensive smuggling and the depletion of reserves. Foreign investment beginning in the mid-1990s helped develop the deep-mining of diamonds, which was officially suspended after 1999 and then slowly reinstated after the war’s end in 2002. Internal instability left much of the diamond region in the hands of rebel forces throughout the 1990s and early 21st century, thereby providing them with a lucrative source of funding for their rebellion. The trading of these so-called “blood” or “conflict” diamonds—a problem not only in Sierra Leone but also in other African countries—became a source of worldwide controversy. (See map illustrating the diamonds-for-weapons trade that had taken place in Africa by the end of the 20th century.) The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution in July 2000 that banned the import of uncertified rough diamonds from Sierra Leone; the embargo was lifted in June 2003.
The privately owned Sierra Leone Development Company mined iron ore at Marampa from 1933 to 1975. In 1981 the government reopened the mine at Marampa under the management of an Austrian company but soon encountered financial difficulties and suspended operations in 1985. The Sierra Leone Ore and Metal Company (Sieromco) began open-cast bauxite mining at Mokanji Hills in 1964; the ore was shipped to Europe for reduction and refining into aluminum. Due to the dangers of operating in the midst of the civil war and to damage sustained during the early years of the conflict, the company ceased operations at the mine in 1995 and abandoned it in 1996. Rutile, found in the southwest, was exploited beginning in the mid-1960s by Sherbro Minerals Ltd. Production. After the company’s demise in the early 1970s, prospecting activities boomed under the Bethlehem Steel and Nord Resources corporations. Rutile mining was an important part of the country’s economy before mining activities were disrupted by rebel fighting in 1995, when bauxite mining also ceased; the mining of both minerals had resumed by 2006.
Electricity is generated primarily by thermal plants, which are supplemented by a few small hydroelectric installations, such as the Dodo hydroelectric power plant in the southeast. The hydroelectric power potential of Sierra Leone’s deeply incised river valleys is appreciable. Construction of the Bumbuna hydroelectric power plant on the Rokel (Seli) River, which began in the 1980s, was interrupted by the civil war and did not resume until after the fighting had ended.
Industrialization is restricted largely to import substitution. Manufacturing is concentrated in Freetown, and production is mainly of consumer goods, such as cigarettes, sugar, alcoholic beverages, soap, footwear, textiles, mineral fuels, and lubricants. Although factories are small and generally employ fewer than 1,000 workers each, their role in economic diversification is important. Farther inland, industries are focused on the processing of agricultural and forest produce, such as rice, timber, and palm oil. Traditional industries, such as fish curing and leatherwork, continue.
Finance, trade, and labour The Bank of Sierra Leone is the country’s central bank; it issues currency (the leone), maintains external reserves, and acts as banker and financial adviser to the government. The National Development Bank is charged with providing finances to investors within the country. The Sierra Leone Commercial Bank provides credit and technical assistance to farmers. Private commercial banks also exist in the country.
Foreign trade has expanded substantially since independence, although its character still reflects the colonial nature of the economy. An excessive reliance is placed upon a few primary products, most of which go to Belgium, the United States, and The Netherlands. Minerals and agricultural products account for the bulk of exports. Imports, however, have become more diversified; they include machinery, vehicles, fuel, and food products.
Government revenue is derived from direct and indirect taxes. In addition to import and export taxes, the government can also rely on company, excise, income, and mining taxes for revenue. The government’s revenue from trade has been undermined by the growth of smuggling of diamonds and agricultural produce.
A government railway was completed in 1908 as a means of opening the country to commerce and ensuring effective British occupancy. By 1975, however, the railway had been phased out, leaving only a short rail line that linked the iron ore mine at Marampa with the port at Pepel.
A road network, originally developed as a feeder system to the railway, has become the principal transport carrier. The network is dominated by a series of highways radiating from Freetown to inland urban centres. The government launched a long-term program in the late 1980s to modernize the road system to meet the needs of rapidly expanding traffic, but by the end of the 20th century the roads were in serious disrepair. Reconstruction of the road network was a priority in the years after the end of the civil war.
Inland waterways carry a considerable volume of mineral ores, piassava, and food products. Launches and sailing boats are important, especially on the southern route to Bonthe and the northern route to the Great and Little Scarcies. Freetown is the country’s principal port. Its facilities handle all imports and agricultural exports. Specialized ports include Niti, which handles all bauxite and rutile exports, and Bonthe, which exports agricultural products.
The international airport of Lungi is situated on the north bank of the Sierra Leone River opposite Freetown. It can accommodate commercial jets and a large annual volume of traffic. Domestic air transport is limited.
Government and Society of Sierra Leone
- Constitutional framework
The constitution of 1971 made Sierra Leone a republic within the Commonwealth. Adoption of the constitution of 1978 created a one-party republic based on the All People’s Congress; the head of state, or executive president, was elected by delegates of the All People’s Congress, and there was a parliament. Mounting political pressures and violence resulted in the adoption of a new constitution in 1991 that established a multiparty system. However, a violent military coup d’état in April 1992 installed a National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) and a new head of state. The NPRC subsequently named a cabinet and ordered the dissolution of the House of Representatives and the suspension of the new constitution and all political activity. The NPRC was reconstituted as the Supreme Council of State, and the cabinet was replaced by a council of secretaries in July, establishing stringent military rule. After democratic elections were held in 1996, the 1991 constitution was amended and restored, and the country returned to a multiparty system with an executive presidency and a parliament. The constitution was suspended again after a coup in 1997 but was reinstated the following year.
- Local government
The country is divided into four administrative units—the Western Area, which was the former crown colony of Sierra Leone, and three provinces (Northern, Eastern, and Southern provinces), which were the former protectorate. The Western Area includes the capital, Freetown. Northern Province is divided into five districts, Southern Province into four, and Eastern Province into three.
The districts are subdivided into chiefdoms, which are controlled by paramount chiefs and chiefdom councillors. The chiefdoms are further divided into sections and villages. The chiefs are hereditary rulers whose local powers have been largely superseded by those of officials of the central and local government. Their influence remains important, however, particularly in matters of traditional culture and justice.
In addition, there are district councils, which in some cases override the chiefdom administrations. The councils deal largely with local matters and are under the indirect control of the central government. Town councils, headed by a mayor, also have been established in the larger provincial towns of Bo, Kenema, Makeni, and Bonthe.
The laws of Sierra Leone follow the pattern of British law. Until 1971 the framework of the courts was equally similar, and the final court of appeal was the Privy Council in London. Since the adoption of a republican constitution, however, the highest court is the Supreme Court, headed by a chief justice.
There are local courts that take account of indigenous laws and customs, magistrates’ courts that administer English-based code, a High Court of Justice, and a Court of Appeal. There are presiding officers in the local, magistrates’, and juvenile courts. The attorney general is also the minister of justice.
- Health and welfare
Before the civil war, most health and welfare services were provided by the central government. There were also a few hospitals belonging to religious societies, mining companies, and doctors. Every district in the interior had at least one hospital. The major hospitals with specialist facilities were in Freetown and Bo. However, the destruction wrought by the civil war left the health care system in shambles, with acute shortages of medical equipment and supplies, medication, and trained medical personnel plaguing the country even years after the end of the conflict. Life expectancy in Sierra Leone ranks among the lowest in the world.
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation handles programs for the control and eradication of malaria and other infectious or endemic diseases. In other areas sanitation is under the control of district health authorities and town councils. The National HIV/AIDS Secretariat of Sierra Leone was established in 2002. The organization’s responsibilities include increasing awareness of the disease and of methods of prevention, promoting research, and allocating resources for treatment.
Housing types vary greatly in the interior districts, depending on the availability of materials. Roofs can be made of grass in the savanna region or of bamboo in the forest areas. Walls may be circular or rectangular, constructed of dried mud bricks, palm fronds, or, more generally, lattice pole work filled with mud and coated with clay or chalk. There is usually a veranda attached to the dwelling. Houses with corrugated zinc roofs and cement walls can be found in most villages and towns along the roads. In the larger cities of Freetown and Bonthe, some houses that remain from colonial times were built of wood or laterite stone in a Brazilian or Victorian style and roofed with slate.
Education in Sierra Leone is offered in private and government-sponsored schools; it is not compulsory. There are primary schools for children from age 5 to 12, secondary schools that offer a seven-year program, technical institutes, and several vocational schools, trade centres, and teacher-training colleges. The University of Sierra Leone consists of Fourah Bay College (founded in 1827), Njala University College (1964), and the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (1987). Sierra Leone’s literacy rate is lower than the average in western Africa and is among the lowest in the world.
Culture Life of Sierra Leone
History of Sierra Leone
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. 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.
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