Republic of Sierra Leone: National Flag — Coat of Arms — President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
- Sierra Leone is located on the west coast of Africa north of Liberia and south of Guinea. Mountains rise up to 3,000ft above sea level near the capital, Freetown. Consistently hot and humid, the country has a six month rainy season and an average annual temperature of 27C (80F). Except for tiny European, Creole, Asian and Lebanese minorities, most of Sierra Leone’s approximately 5.2 million residents belong to one of 18 native African tribal groups. The two largest are the northern Temne and the southern Mende. Animism is the primary religion, but Christianity and Islam are also represented. The official language is English, although Temne, Mende and Krio (Creole) are widely used. Sierra Leone is in the GMT time zone.
- From it’s beginnings as a haven created by British philanthropists for freed slaves, Sierra Leone went on to become a British crown colony and a protectorate before gaining independence in 1961. Since independence Sierra Leone has alternated between multiparty democracy and single-party rule, and between civilian and military governments. due to a history of widespread corruption, the monopolisation of power and wealth by a small elite, a decade of civil war and Liberian intervention the country is regarded by the UN as the poorest in the world. Although rich in diamonds, Sierra Leone’s development has been blighted by acute political instability, which plagued it soon after independence in 1961.
- 1787 — British abolitionists establish a settlement in Freetown for freed slaves.
- 1808 — Freetown settlement becomes crown colony.
- 1896 — Britain sets up a protectorate over the Freetown hinterland.
- 1954 — Sir Milton Margai, leader of the SLPP, appointed chief minister.
- 1961 — Sierra Leone becomes independent.
- 1967 — Military coup deposes Premier Siaka Stevens’ government.
- 1968 — Stevens returns to power at the head of a civilian government following another coup.
- 1971 — Sierra Leone declared a republic, Stevens becomes executive president.
- 1985 — Maj-Gen Joseph Saidu Momoh becomes president on Stevens’ retirement.
- 1991 – Start of civil war. RUF begin campaign against Momoh for control of the diamond mines, capturing towns on border with Liberia.
- 1992 — Momoh ousted in military coup led by Captain Valentine Strasser, who announces plans for the first multiparty elections since 1967 after international pressure.
- 1996 Jan — Strasser ousted in military coup led by Defence Minister, Brig Julius Maada Bio.
- 1996 — Kabbah elected president in February, signs peace accord with RUF in November.
- 1997 — Peace deal unravels. Kabbah deposed in May by coalition of army officers led by Lt-Col Johnny Paul Koroma and the RUF; Koroma suspends the constitution, abolishes political parties and bans demonstrations; Kabbah flees to Guinea to mobilise international support.
- 1997 Jul — The Commonwealth suspends Sierra Leone.
- 1997 Oct — UN Security Council imposes sanctions barring the supply of arms and petroleum products. British companies, Sandline and Executive Outcomes, nonetheless supplies “logistic support” to Kabbah allies.
- 1998 Feb — A Nigerian-led West African force (Ecomog) drives rebels from Freetown.
- 1998 Mar — Kabbah makes a triumphant return amid scenes of public rejoicing.
- 1999 Jan — RUF rebels seize parts of Freetown from Ecomog forces. After weeks of bitter fighting they are driven out, leaving behind 5,000 dead and a devastated city.
- 1999 May — A cease-fire is greeted with cautious optimism as victims of rebel atrocities express hope that eight years of civil war may soon be over.
- 1999 Jul — Six weeks of talks in LOME result in a peace agreement, under which the rebels receive posts in government and assurances they will not be prosecuted for war crimes.
- 1999 Nov/Dec — UN troops arrive to police the peace agreement but one rebel leader, Sam Bokarie, says they are not welcome. Ecomog troops are attacked outside Freetown.
- 2000 Apr/May — UN forces come under attack in the east of the country and several hundred UN troops are abducted.
- 2000 May — Rebels close in on Freetown; British troops sent to Freetown to evacuate British citizens and to help secure the airport for UN peacekeepers; Sankoh captured.
- 2000 Aug/Sep — Eleven British soldiers taken hostage by a renegade militia group – the West Side Boys. Rescue Op mounted in Sep.
- 2001 Mar — UN troops begin to deploy peacefully in rebel-held territory for the first time.
- 2001 May — Disarmament of rebels begins, and British-trained Sierra Leone Army starts deploying in rebel-held areas.
- 2002 Jan — War declared over. UN mission says disarmament of 45,000 fighters complete. Government and UN agree to set up war crimes court.
- 2002 May — Kabbah and SLPP win landslide election victories.
- 2004 Sep — Government assumes country-wide security primacy from Unamsil.
- Population: 5 426 000 (2001 BBC est)
- Capital: Freetown
- Major languages: English, Krio and a range of African languages
- Major religions: 60% Muslim, 30% indigenous beliefs, 10% Christian
- Life expectancy: 41 years (men), 45 years (women)
- Main exports: Diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee, fish
- Average annual income: US $130
- Culture. There are about 18 ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. The Mende and related tribes make up over 50% of the population, the Temne and related tribes about 40%, 2% are Krio and about 2% are Europeans, Indians and Lebanese. The Krio community has dominated the government and economy since independence.
Infastructure and Economy
The road network is the principal artery of communication but the lack of paved roads and investment mean that many areas of the country are difficult to reach during the rainy season. The regional administrative and population centres are all linked to Freetown by highways. The government hopes to upgrade many roads but has been hampered by lack of finance. Inland waterways not only supplement the roads but are the main link for some areas, most waterways are navigable all year. The port at Freetown and international airport at Lungi are the principal international connections. There are a number of smaller regional airfields.
Although the majority of the labour force is occupied in subsistence agricultural and light manufacturing, the country’s main source of foreign exchange is mining, principally diamond mining. Other minerals found are bauxite, chrome, gold, iron ore and rutile (a titanium ore of which Sierra Leone has one of the world’s largest deposits). Bauxite and legitimate diamond production were largely halted during the civil war, while rutile production was suspended. Despite intensive efforts Sierra Leone has not achieved self-sufficiency in rice production. Cash crops include cocoa, coffee and palm kernels. Timber is also exported, although a significant proportion of logging is illegal. The fishing industry is growing specifically with regard to oyster farming and shrimp production. Stocks have been seriously affected by the inability to stop over-fishing and illegal fishing by foreign vessels. Sierra Leone is attractive as a tourist destination due to the beaches on the south side, national parks and nature reserves, however poor infrastructure and facilities make these destinations inaccessible.
Poor infrastructure and social unrest slowed economic development. The road network needs improvement and, while the port at Freetown is one of the best natural harbours in the region, it is small and does not fulfil its potential. There is a large wealth differential, causing over two thirds of the population to be poverty-stricken. Political instability, corruption and poor governance has led to a lack of foreign investment that forces the country to rely on foreign financial aid.