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Sierra Leone


Sierra Leone is a costal country about the size of Scotland on the west coast of Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the west and north, Liberia to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. It has a land mass of 27.7 thousand square miles (71.7 thousand square kilometres).

Population and Demography:

Sierra Leone has a population of 5.2 million of which 1 million populate the Capital Freetown. The growth rate is 2.2% with a birth rate of 39 per 1,000. It has a high infant mortality rate of 80 per 1,000 due mainly to malaria and other parasitic diseases and poor nutrition. Life expectancy is 56 years.

The indigenous population are primarily Mende in the South and East and Temne in the North and West. Other notable groups include Fullani, Kono and the descendents of the original freed slaves known as Krios.

The government is a constitutional democracy currently headed by President Earnest Koroma.


The Portuguese first colonised the coastal areas as they set out on their expeditions to the East. They named the country Sierra Leone because the hills rising up behind what is now Freetown resembled from a distance the image of a crouching lion.

The peninsular was ceded to the British in 1787 who settled freed slaves there from the Americas. This settlement became what is now the capital Freetown and the present Western Area became a colony in 1808. The hinterland making up the current borders became a protectorate against expanding French influence in the area in 1896.

Sierra Leone was granted independence from Britain in 1961, when Freetown was dubbed the Athens of Africa for its proud reputation as a centre of learning. Dr Milton Margai was its first Prime Minster.

The succeeding Prime Minister, Siaka Stevens, survived a coup attempt in 1971 by bringing in troops from neighbouring Guinea. He declared a one party state in 1978 and was known for his intolerance of any opposition to his rule. Stevens was succeeded by Jospeh Momoh in 1985 whose intention was to restore multi-party democracy, but he also was ousted in a coup in 1992. Then followed a period of political and military upheaval. With the invasion by rebels from neighbouring Liberia supported by Charles Taylor who had led a brutal and successful coup in his own country, the already dire situation in Sierra Leone escalated into full scale civil war.

Taylor was intent on exploiting the vast diamond deposits in Kono to fuel his invading army and feed his greed. This encroachment heralded one of the most brutal and savage conflicts ever in the history of Africa. Maiming with machetes, rape, torture and brutal mutilation were the signature of the rebel hoards that rampaged the countryside ransacking and needlessly destroying infrastructure and communities. Children were forced to kill their own parents as a means of conscripting them. Hallucinating drugs were widely used. It was pure terror for those exposed to the invasion. Over 55,000 were killed mostly in the east and south of the country. Countless thousands were maimed and mutilated and over 1 million were displaced.

Britain was in the vanguard of other countries that eventually drove out the invaders and restored peace in 2002 after 11 years of vicious warfare.

Prior to the war, Sierra Leone was already the world's poorest country despite its mineral wealth, good agricultural land and rich fishing waters. Now in 2012 it is cited as the world's "least liveable" country based on its levels of poverty and lack of quality of life endured by the vast majority of its population.

However, despite this grim portrait of a nation anyone who has visited the country will not come away without being touched by the resilience, infectious good humour and friendliness of its people and the beauty of its beaches and interior.