Africa

Sierra Leone country profile

  • 21 January 2016
  • From the section Africa
Map of Sierra Leone

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

But the country's modern history has been overshadowed by a brutal civil war that ended in 2002 with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission.

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

The country 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.

FACTS

Republic of Sierra Leone

Capital: Freetown

  • Population 6.1 million

  • Area 71,740 sq km (27,699 sq miles)

  • Languages English, Krio (Creole language derived from English) and a range of African languages

  • Major religions Islam, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 48 years (men), 49 years (women)

Getty Images

LEADER

President Ernest Bai Koroma

Image copyright Getty Images

Ernest Bai Koroma won a second and final term as president of Sierra Leone in November 2012, in the first elections the country has held without UN supervision since the end of the civil war in 2001.

His convincing win in the first round over main contender and former military ruler Julius Maada Bio confirms Sierra Leone's transition from failed state to democracy with a fast-growing economy, although the president still faces the challenge of widespread poverty.

President Koroma, an insurance broker by profession, has pursued free-market policies and encouraged foreign investment to rebuild the damage caused by the civil war.

His predecessor, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the now-opposition Sierra Leone People's Party, ended the war by inviting in first Nigerian and then British troops to drive out rebel groups. He stepped down in 2007 after serving the maximum two permitted consecutive terms.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sierra Leone's diamonds helped fund years of conflict

Media freedom in Sierra Leone has its limits; media rights monitors say high-level corruption is a taboo topic, with officials using libel laws to target errant journalists.

Challenges facing broadcasters include unreliable power supplies, poor funding and low advertising revenues. There are dozens of radio stations, most of them privately owned.

A national public broadcaster, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), was formed in 2010 by a merger of the former state-run broadcaster and a UN radio network.

Dozens of newspapers are published in Freetown, despite low literacy levels. Most of them are privately-run and are often critical of the government.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Sierra Leone's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sierra Leone suffered a lengthy civil war. Child soldiers took part in the fighting

1787 - British abolitionists and philanthropists establish a settlement in Freetown for repatriated and rescued slaves.

1961 - Sierra Leone becomes independent.

1967 - Military coup deposes Premier Siaka Stevens' government, but he returns to power the following year and becomes president in 1971, after Sierra Leone becomes a republic.

1991 - Start of civil war. Former army corporal Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) begin campaign against President Joseph Saidu Momoh, capturing towns on border with Liberia.

1992 - President Joseph Momoh is ousted in military coup led by Captain Valentine Strasser. Under international pressure, Strasser announces plans for the first multi-party elections since 1967. In quick succession, however, the country goes through several presidents after a series of coups.

2000 - UN forces, which were in the country to help end the war, come under attack in the east of the country, and then several hundred UN troops are abducted. Rebels close in on Freetown; 800 British paratroopers sent to Freetown to evacuate British citizens and to help secure the airport for UN peacekeepers; rebel leader Foday Sankoh captured.

2002 - War declared over. UN mission says disarmament of 45,000 fighters is complete. Government, UN agree to set up war crimes court. British troops leave Sierra Leone after their two-year mission to help end the civil war.

2004 - First local elections in more than three decades; war crimes trials begin into atrocities committed by both sides during the fighting.

2014-2016 - Sierra Leone declares a state of emergency to tackle the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa which persists into 2016, killing more than 11,000 people in the region.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Foday Sankoh led the RUF rebel movement, which was notorious for mass rape and mutilations

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites