Africa

Sierra Leone country profile - Overview

  • 18 March 2015
  • From the section Africa
Map of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, in West Africa, emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002, with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission.

More than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters. A decade on, the country has made progress towards reconciliation, but poverty and unemployment are still major challenges.

A lasting feature of the war, in which tens of thousands died, were the atrocities committed by the rebels, whose trademark was to hack off the hands or feet of their victims.

Image caption Sierra Leone has sandy beaches fringed by lush, forested hills

A UN-backed war crimes court was set up to try those from both sides who bore the greatest responsibility for the brutalities. Its last case ended in The Hague in April 2012, with judges finding former Liberian leader Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes in the Sierra Leone civil war.

Sierra Leone has experienced substantial economic growth in recent years, although the ruinous effects of the civil war continue to be felt.

In September 2010, the UN Security Council lifted the last remaining sanctions against Sierra Leone, saying the government had fully re-established control over its territory, and former rebel fighters had been disarmed and demobilised under the auspices of a professional national army.

Economic recovery has been slow partly because the reconstruction needs are so great. Around half of government revenue comes from donors.

The restoration of peace was expected to aid the country's promotion as a tourist destination in the long term. Sierra Leone boasts miles of unspoilt beaches along its Atlantic coast, and hopes to emulate its near-neighbour Gambia in attracting tourists.

Sierra Leone is also rich in diamonds and other minerals. The trade in illicit gems, known as "blood diamonds" for their role in funding conflicts, perpetuated the civil war. The government has attempted to crack down on cross-border diamond trafficking and to persuade foreign investors that blood diamonds are a thing of the past.

Sierra Leone has a special significance in the history of the transatlantic slave trade. It was the departure point for thousands of west African captives. The capital, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787.

Image caption Diamond production - by hand as well as on an industrial scale - is an important export earner for Sierra Leone

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