Sierra Leone - Article
Article: Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea on the north and Liberia on the south, with the Atlantic Ocean on the west. The name Sierra Leone was adapted from the Portuguese name for the country: Serra Leoa. The literal meaning is "Lion Mountains." During the 1700s Sierra Leone was an important centre of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The capital Freetown was founded in 1792 by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for African Americans who had fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War. In 1808, Freetown became a British Crown Colony, and in 1896, the interior of the country became a British Protectorate. The Crown Colony and Protectorate joined and gained independence in 1961. From 1991 to 2000, the country suffered greatly under a devastating civil war. To end the civil war, UN and British forces disarmed 17,000 militia and rebels, in the largest UN peacekeeping act of the decade. The average life span of a Sierra Leonean is 38 years for men and 42 years for women. 
The written history of Sierra Leone began in 1462, when the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra landed and named the country. Europeans used the land as a source for slaves, but in 1792 Freetown was established as a haven for former slaves who had been living in Nova Scotia.
In 1808, Sierra Leone became a British Crown Colony, which it remained until halfway through the 20th century, when the process of de-colonization was commenced. This culminated in independence on April 27, 1961. Sir Milton Margai (1895-1964) was the first prime minister.
Sierra Leone became a one-party state in the early 1970s. The country suffered a civil war beginning in 1991, with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, attacking government soldiers and civilians indiscriminately (Sierra Leone Civil War). This resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (well over one-third of the population) many of whom became refugees in neighboring countries. A military coup on May 25, 1997 briefly replaced then President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah with Major Johnny Paul Koromah. Kabbah was reinstated in March 1998 after the junta was ousted by the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces.
The LomÃ© Peace Accord, signed on July 7, 1999 in LomÃ©, Togo offered hope that the country would be able to terminate the period of civil chaos that had engulfed it, and rebuild its devastated economy and infrastructure. As of late 1999, up to 6,000 UNAMSIL peacekeepers were in the process of deploying to bolster the peace accord.
In May 2000, the situation in the country deteriorated to such an extent that British troops were deployed in Operation Palliser to evacuate foreign nationals and establish order. They stabilized the situation, and were the catalyst for a ceasefire and ending of the civil war. United Nations peacekeeping forces withdrew at the end of 2005.
- More information on politics and government of Sierra Leone can be found at the Politics and government of Sierra Leone series.
The head of state and government is the president, who is elected every five years (most recently in May 2002). He appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers. The Sierra Leonean parliament is unicameral, with 124 seats. 112 members are elected concurrently with the presidential elections; the other 12 seats are filled by paramount chiefs from each of the country's 12 administrative districts.
Local Government elections were held in 2004 (for the first time since 1972), electing 456 councillors sitting in 19 local councils.
Main articles: Provinces of Sierra Leone, Districts of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is divided into three provinces and one area, and subdivided into 14 districts.
The provinces include:
- Eastern Province
- Northern Province
- Southern Province
- Western Area
Districts: see Districts of Sierra Leone
Much of Sierra Leone's coastline consists of mangrove swamps, with the exception of the peninsula on which the capital city Freetown is located. The rest of Sierra Leone is mostly plateau (about 300 m or 1,000 ft above sea level) covered by forests, with mountains in the northeast of the country (highest point Loma Mansa, 1,948 m; 6,391 ft). The climate is tropical, with a rainy season from May to December.
Major cities are the capital Freetown, Koidu (Sefadu), Bo, Kenema and Makeni.
"Sierra Leone is an extremely poor nation with tremendous inequality in income distribution. It has the lowest average income in the world. It does have substantial mineral and fishery resources and agricultural potential. However, the economic and social infrastructure is not well developed, and serious social disorders continue to hamper economic development, following an 11-year civil war. About two-thirds of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. Manufacturing consists mainly of the processing of raw materials and of light manufacturing for the domestic market." 
Economic development has always been hampered by an overdependence on mineral exploitation. Successive governments and the population as a whole have always believed that "diamonds and gold" are sufficient generators of foreign currency earnings and lure for investment. As a result large scale agriculture of commodity products, industrial development and sustainable investments have been neglected by governments. The economy could thus be described as one which is "exploitative" and based on the extraction of unsustainable resources or non reusable assets.
There are plans to reopen bauxite and rutile mines shut down during the conflict. The major source of hard currency consists of the mining of diamonds. The fate of the economy depends upon the maintenance of domestic peace and the continued receipt of substantial aid from abroad.
But beyond these purely economic factors, Sierra Leone also suffers from endemic official corruption. Government officials in successive governments have shown themselves more interested in lining their own pockets than improving the lives of average Sierra Leoneans. This is Sierra Leone's principal barrier to development.
There are about 14 different ethnic groups living in Sierra Leone, which together make up about 99% of the population. The most important tribes are the Temne (mostly in the north) and Mende (central and south), both forming about one third of the population. There is a sizeable number of Krios, descendants of enslaved Africans, freed in London in the late 1700s and later returned to West Africa. Other groups include the Limba, Susu, Madingo, Kono, Yalunka. The tribes are distinct in some of their music, traditions, cultures. At the same time, there are many overlapping traditions.
Although English is the official language, it is understood by only a minority, as most people speak their tribe's own language. The Krio language, based on English and African languages, is however spoken by most of the population. Islam and Christianity both claim many adherents in Sierra Leone, though Muslims are more numerous. Sierra Leoneans also adhere to traditional African religious practices.
Sierra Leone is the worst nation in the world for childbirth, having the highest Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR), or risk of maternal death, of any country. The MMR of Sierra Leone, according to a report from the World Health Organization in the year 2000, is 2,000 maternal deaths per live 100,000 births. The extremely high MMR is principally due to a lack of capacity to deal with obstetric complications such as hemorrhage, obstructed labor, ectoptic gestation, puerperal sepsis, and complications caused by unsafe abortion. Those situations were aggravated by the rebellion and the detrimental effects on distribution of reproductive health services due to the massive displacement of people, destruction of medical infrastructure and hospital equipment, rural inaccessibility, poor and disadvantageous accessibility to basic medical service.
- Heads of Government of Sierra Leone
- Communications in Sierra Leone
- Transport in Sierra Leone
- Military of Sierra Leone
- Foreign relations of Sierra Leone
- Sierra Leone Civil War
- Sierra Leone Scouts Association
- Kanye West's 2006 Grammy Winning Best Rap Song: Diamonds from Sierra Leone
- In March 2006, 14 Sierra Leonean athletes competing in the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games were reported by officials to be missing, possibly seeking refuge in Australia. See Sierra Leone at the 2006 Commonwealth Games for details.