Coordinates: 8°30′N 11°30′W / 8.500°N 11.500°W / 8.500; -11.500

Republic of Sierra Leone

Motto: "Unity, Freedom, Justice"
Location of Sierra Leone (dark blue) – in Africa (light blue & dark grey) – in the African Union (light blue)  –  [Legend]
Location of Sierra Leone (dark blue)

– in Africa (light blue & dark grey)
– in the African Union (light blue)  –  [Legend]

Location of Sierra Leone
Capital
and largest city
Freetown
8°29.067′N 13°14.067′W / 8.484450°N 13.234450°W / 8.484450; -13.234450
Official languagesEnglish
Religion
Islam (78%)
Christianity (21%)[1]
Demonym(s)Sierra Leonean
GovernmentUnitary presidential constitutional republic
• President
Julius Maada Bio (SLPP)
Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh (SLPP)
David J. Francis (SLPP)
Abass Bundu (SLPP)
Desmond Babatunde Edwards[2]
LegislatureParliament
Independence
• from the United Kingdom
27 April 1961
• Republic declared
19 April 1971
Area
• Total
71,740 km2 (27,700 sq mi) (117th)
• Water (%)
1.1
Population
• 2015 census
7,075,641[3] (103rd)
• Density
79.4/km2 (205.6/sq mi) (114tha)
GDP (PPP)2018 estimate
• Total
$12.177 billion[4]
• Per capita
$1,608[4]
GDP (nominal)2018 estimate
• Total
$3.824 billion[4]
• Per capita
$505[4]
Gini (2011)35.4[5]
medium
HDI (2015)Decrease 0.420[6]
low · 179th
CurrencyLeone (SLL)
Time zoneUTC+0 (GMT)
Driving siderightb
Calling code+232
ISO 3166 codeSL
Internet TLD.sl
  1. Rank based on 2007 figures
  2. Since 1 March 1971

Sierra Leone (/siˌɛrə liˈn(i)/ (About this soundlisten), also UK: /siˌɛərə -/, US: /ˌsɪərə -/),[7][8] officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, informally Salone,[9] is a country on the southwest coast of West Africa. It is bordered by Liberia to the southeast and Guinea to the northeast. Sierra Leone has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savanna to rainforests, and a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi)[10] and a population of 7,075,641 as of the 2015 census. [3] The capital and largest city is Freetown, and the country is divided into five administrative regions, which are further subdivided into sixteen districts. [11][12]

Sierra Leone was a British Crown Colony from 1808 to April 27, 1961 when it achieved independence, but periods of political turbulence have marked its recent history. On 19 April 1971, Siaka Stevens' government abolished Sierra Leone's parliamentary government system and declared Sierra Leone a presidential republic, creating a one party state from 1978 to 1985. The current multiparty democratic constitution of Sierra Leone was adopted in 1991 by the government of President Joseph Saidu Momoh, just as the rebel group Revolutionary United Front, led by former imprisoned Sierra Leone army officer Foday Sankoh, launched a brutal civil war.

On April 29, 1992, the military overthrew President Momoh, and Sierra Leone was under Military rule from 1992 to 1996. Sierra Leone returned to a democratically elected government when the military Junta under Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio handed the presidency to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP after his victory in the 1996 Sierra Leone presidential election. However, on May 25, 1997, the military overthrew President Kabbah. In February 1998, a coalition of West African Ecowas armed forces led by Nigeria reinstated President Kabbah, and executed the leaders of the coup after a trial by military court. In January 2002, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah announced the ending of the civil war with the help and support of Ecowas, the British government, the African Union, and the United Nations. Sierra Leone has had an uninterrupted democratic government from 1998 to present.

Sixteen ethnic groups inhabit Sierra Leone, each with its own language and customs. The two largest and most influential are the Temne and Mende. The Temne are predominantly found in the northwest of the country, and the Mende in the southeast. Comprising a small minority, about 2%, are the Krio people, who are descendants of freed African-American and West Indian slaves. Although English is the official language, used in schools and government administration, Krio, an English-based creole, is the most widely spoken language across Sierra Leone. Spoken by 98% of the population, Krio unites all the ethnic groups in the country, especially in their trade and social interaction.

Sierra Leone is a Muslim-majority country at about 78%, with an influential Christian minority at 21%. [13] Sierra Leone is regarded as one of the most religiously tolerant states in the world. Muslims and Christians collaborate and interact with each other very peacefully, and religious violence is very rare. The major Christian and Muslim holidays are officially public holidays in the country, including Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha [14][15]

Sierra Leone has relied on mining, especially of diamonds, for its economic base. It is also among the largest producers of titanium and bauxite, is a major producer of gold, and has one of the world's largest deposits of rutile. Sierra Leone is home to the third-largest natural harbour in the world. Despite this natural wealth, 53% of its population lived in poverty in 2011. [16] Sierra Leone is a member of many international organisations, including the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Mano River Union, the Commonwealth of Nations, the African Development Bank and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

History

Early history

Fragments of prehistoric pottery from Kamabai Rock Shelter
An 1835 illustration of liberated Africans arriving in Sierra Leone
The colony of Freetown in 1856
Houses at Sierra-Leone (May 1853, X, p.55)[17]

Archaeological finds show that Sierra Leone has been inhabited continuously for at least 2,500 years,[18] populated successively by societies who migrated from other parts of Africa.[19] The people adopted the use of iron by the 9th century and by 1000 AD agriculture was being practised along the coast.[20] The climate changed considerably and boundaries among different ecological zones changed as well, affecting migration and conquest.[21]

Sierra Leone's dense tropical rainforest and swampy environment was considered impenetrable; it was also host to the tsetse fly, which carried a disease fatal to horses and the zebu cattle used by the Mande people. This environmental factor protected its people from conquests by the Mande and other African empires.[21][22] This also reduced the Islamic influence of the Mali Empire but Islam, introduced by Susu traders, merchants and migrants from the north and east, became widely adopted in the 18th century.[23]

European trading

European contacts within Sierra Leone were among the first in West Africa in the 15th century. In 1462, Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra mapped the hills surrounding what is now Freetown Harbour, naming the shaped formation Serra da Leoa or "Serra Leoa" (Portuguese for Lioness Mountains).[24] The Spanish rendering of this geographic formation is Sierra Leona, which later was adapted and, misspelled, became the country's current name. Although according to the professor C. Magbaily Fyle this could have been a misinterpretation of historians: according to him, there has been evidence of travellers calling the region Serra Lyoa well before 1462, the year when Sintra first arrived. This would imply that the identity of the person who named Sierra Leone still remains unclear.[25]

Soon after Sintra's expedition, Portuguese traders arrived at the harbour. By 1495 they had built a fortified trading post on the coast.[26] The Dutch and French also set up trade here, and each nation used Sierra Leone as a trading point for slaves brought by African traders from interior areas undergoing tribal wars and conflicts over territory.[27] In 1562, the English initiated the Triangle Trade when admiral Sir John Hawkins of the Royal Navy transported 300 enslaved Africans – acquired "by the sword and partly by other means" – to the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo on Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea area of the West Indies islands, where he sold them.[28]

Early colonies

Following the American Revolutionary War, the British evacuated thousands of freed African-American slaves and resettled them in Canadian and Caribbean colonies and London, which gave them new lives. In 1787 the British Crown founded a settlement in Sierra Leone in what was called the "Province of Freedom". It intended to resettle some of the "Black Poor of London", mostly African-Americans freed by the British during the war. About 400 blacks and 60 whites reached Sierra Leone on 15 May 1787. The group also included some West Indians of African descent from London. After they established Granville Town, most of the first group of colonists died, owing to disease and warfare with the indigenous African peoples (Temne), who resisted their encroachment. The 64 remaining colonists established a second Granville Town.[29][30]

Following the Revolution, more than 3,000 Black Loyalists had also been settled in Nova Scotia, where they were finally granted land. They founded Birchtown, Nova Scotia, but faced harsh winters and racial discrimination from nearby Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Thomas Peters pressed British authorities for relief and more aid; together with British abolitionist John Clarkson, the Sierra Leone Company was established to relocate Black Loyalists who wanted to take their chances in West Africa. In 1792 nearly 1200 persons from Nova Scotia crossed the Atlantic to build the second (and only permanent) Colony of Sierra Leone and the settlement of Freetown on 11 March 1792. In Sierra Leone they were called the Nova Scotian Settlers, the Nova Scotians, or the Settlers.

The Settlers built Freetown in the styles they knew from their lives in the American South; they also continued American fashion and American manners. In addition, many continued to practice Methodism in Freetown. Black settlers in Sierra Leone enjoyed much more autonomy in that they were more politically engaged. Black immigrants elected different levels of political representatives, 'tithingmen', who represented each dozen settlers, and 'hundreders' who represented larger amounts. This sort of representation was not available in Nova Scotia.[31] The initial process of society-building in Freetown, however, was a harsh struggle. The Crown did not supply enough basic supplies and provisions, and the Settlers were continually threatened by illegal slave trading and the risk of re-enslavement.[32] In the 1790s, the Settlers, including adult women, voted for the first time in elections.[33] The Sierra Leone Company, controlled by London investors, refused to allow the settlers to take freehold of the land. In 1799 some of the settlers revolted. The Crown subdued the revolt by bringing in forces of more than 500 Jamaican Maroons, whom they transported from Cudjoe's Town (Trelawny Town) via Nova Scotia in 1800. Led by Colonel Montague James, the Maroons helped the colonial forces to put down the revolt, and in the process they secured the best houses and farms.[34]

On 1 January 1808, Thomas Ludlam, the Governor of the Sierra Leone Company and a leading abolitionist, surrendered the Company's charter. This ended its 16 years of running the Colony. The British Crown reorganised the Sierra Leone Company as the African Institution; it was directed to improve the local economy. Its members represented both British who hoped to inspire local entrepreneurs and those with interest in the Macauley & Babington Company, which held the (British) monopoly on Sierra Leone trade.[35]

At about the same time (following the abolition of the slave trade in 1807), British crews delivered thousands of formerly enslaved Africans to Freetown, after liberating them from illegal slave ships. These Liberated Africans or recaptives were sold for $20 a head as apprentices to the white settlers, Nova Scotian Settlers, and the Jamaican Maroons.[citation needed] Some of the recaptives who were not sold as apprentices were forced to join the Navy. Many recaptives were treated poorly and even abused because some of the original settlers considered them their property. Cut off from their various homelands and traditions, the Liberated Africans were forced to assimilate to the Western styles of Settlers and Maroons. For example, some of the recaptives were forced to change their name to a more Western sounding one. Though some people happily embraced these changes because they considered it as being part of the community, some were not happy with these changes and wanted to keep their own identity. Many recaptives were so unhappy that they risked the possibility of being sold back into slavery by leaving Sierra Leone and going back to their original villages.[36] They built a flourishing trade in flowers and beads on the West African coast.

These returned Africans were from many areas of Africa, but principally the west coast. During the 19th century, freed black Americans, some Americo Liberian 'refugees', and particularly West Indians, also immigrated and settled in Freetown. Together these peoples created a new creole ethnicity called the Krio people (initially called Creoles) and a trading language, Krio, which became commonly used among many of the ethnicities in the country.

Colonial era (1800–1960)

The settlement of Sierra Leone in the 1800s was unique in that the population was composed of displaced Africans who were brought to the colony after the British abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Upon arrival in Sierra Leone, each "recaptive" was given a registration number, and information on their physical qualities would be entered into the Register of Liberated Africans. However, oftentimes the documentation would be overwhelmingly subjective and would result in inaccurate entries, making them difficult to track. In addition, differences between the Register of Liberated Africans of 1808 and the List of Captured Negroes of 1812 (which emulated the 1808 document) revealed some disparities in the entries of the recaptives, specifically in the names; many recaptives decided to change their given names to more anglicised versions which contributed to the difficulty in tracking them after they arrived in Sierra Leone.

According to the British Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, the recaptives could be subject to apprenticeships led by British colonists in Sierra Leone and the males enlisted into the Army or Navy. In many instances, the recaptives who were assigned to apprenticeships were sold for $20, giving the apprenticeship system qualities similar to slavery.[37] It is documented that the recaptive apprentices were unpaid and the settlers who they were appointed to had devices which could be used to discipline them, namely sticks. According to Suzanne Schwartz, a historian on colonial Sierra Leone, in June 1808 a group of 21 men and women ran away to the nearby native settlement of Robiss and upon recapture were imprisoned by the settlers in Sierra Leone, thus contributing to the slavery-like qualities of the apprenticeship system.[37]

Bai Bureh, Temne leader of the Hut Tax War of 1898 against British rule

In the early 19th century, Freetown served as the residence of the British colonial governor of the region, who also administered the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and the Gambia settlements. Sierra Leone developed as the educational centre of British West Africa. The British established Fourah Bay College here in 1827, which rapidly became a magnet for English-speaking Africans on the West Coast. For more than a century, it was the only European-style university in western Sub-Saharan Africa.

Temne leader Bai Bureh seen here in 1898 after his surrender, sitting relaxed in his traditional dress with a handkerchief in his hands, while a Sierra Leonean Royal West African Frontier soldier stands guard next to him

The British interacted mostly with the Krios in Freetown, who did most of the trading with the indigenous peoples of the interior. In addition, educated Krios held numerous positions in the colonial government, giving them status and good-paying positions. Following the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, the UK decided that it needed to establish more dominion over the inland areas, to satisfy what was described by the European powers as "effective occupation" of territories. In 1896 it annexed these areas, declaring them the Sierra Leone Protectorate.[38] With this change, the British began to expand their administration in the region, recruiting British citizens to posts, and pushing Krios out of positions in government and even the desirable residential areas in Freetown.[38]

In addition, the British annexation of the Protectorate interfered with the sovereignty of indigenous chiefs. They designated chiefs as units of local government, rather than dealing with them individually as had been previous practice. They did not maintain relationships even with longtime allies, such as Bai Bureh, chief of Kasseh, a community on the Small Scarcies River. He was later unfairly portrayed as a prime instigator of the Hut Tax war in 1898.[39]

Colonel Frederic Cardew, military governor of the Protectorate, in 1898 established a new tax on dwellings and demanded that the chiefs use their peoples to maintain roads. The taxes were often higher than the value of the dwellings, and 24 chiefs signed a petition to Cardew, stating how destructive this was; their people could not afford to take time off from their subsistence agriculture. They resisted payment of taxes. Tensions over the new colonial requirements, and the administration's suspicions about the chiefs led to the Hut Tax war of 1898, also called the Temne-Mende War. The British fired first. The Northern front of majority Temne people was led by Bai Bureh. The Southern front, consisting mostly of Mende people, entered conflict somewhat later and for different reasons.

For several months, Bureh's fighters had the advantage over the vastly more powerful British forces, but the British troops and Bureh's warriors suffered hundreds of fatalities.[40] Bai Bureh finally surrendered on 11 November 1898 to end the destruction of his people's territory and dwellings. Although the British government recommended leniency, Cardew insisted on sending the chief and two allies into exile in the Gold Coast;[39] his government hanged 96 of the chief's warriors. Bai Bureh was allowed to return in 1905, when he resumed his chieftaincy of Kasseh.[39]

Moa River Bridge, Sierra Leone. Lisk-Carew Brothers, Freetown, Sierra Leone
British West African Campaign troops in Freetown, 1914–1916. Published caption: "British expeditionary force preparing to embark at Freetown to attack the German Cameroons, the main object of the attack being the port of Duala. Auxiliary native troops were freely used in African warfare."
African Naval ratings march past the Governor of Sierra Leone, Hubert Stevenson.

The defeat of the Temne and Mende in the Hut Tax war ended mass resistance to the Protectorate and colonial government, but intermittent rioting and labour unrest continued throughout the colonial period. Riots in 1955 and 1956 involved "many tens of thousands" of Sierra Leonians in the protectorate.[41]

Domestic slavery, which continued to be practised by local African elites, was abolished in 1928.[42] A notable event in 1935 was the granting of a monopoly on mineral mining to the Sierra Leone Selection Trust, run by De Beers. The monopoly was scheduled to last 98 years. Mining of diamonds in the east and other minerals expanded, drawing labourers there from other parts of the country.

In 1924, the UK government divided Sierra Leone into a Colony and a Protectorate, with different political systems constitutionally defined for each. The Colony was Freetown and its coastal area; the Protectorate was defined as the hinterland areas dominated by local chiefs. Antagonism between the two entities escalated to a heated debate in 1947, when proposals were introduced to provide for a single political system for both the Colony and the Protectorate. Most of the proposals came from leaders of the Protectorate, whose population far outnumbered that in the colony. The Krios, led by Isaac Wallace-Johnson, opposed the proposals, as they would have resulted in reducing the political power of the Krios in the Colony.

In 1951, educated protectorate leaders from different groups, including Sir Milton Margai, Lamina Sankoh, Siaka Stevens, Mohamed Sanusi Mustapha, John Karefa-Smart, Kande Bureh, Sir Albert Margai, Amadu Wurie and Sir Banja Tejan-Sie joined together with the powerful paramount chiefs in the protectorate to form the Sierra Leone People's Party or SLPP as the party of the protectorate. The SLPP leadership, led by Sir Milton Margai, negotiated with the British and the educated Krio-dominated colony based in Freetown to achieve independence.[43]

Owing to the astute politics of Milton Margai of the Mende, the educated Protectorate elite was won over to join forces with the paramount chiefs in the face of Krio intransigence. Later, Margai used the same skills to win over opposition leaders and moderate Krio elements to achieve independence from the UK.[44] In November 1951, Margai oversaw the drafting of a new constitution, which united the separate Colonial and Protectorate legislatures and provided a framework for decolonisation.[45] In 1953, Sierra Leone was granted local ministerial powers and Margai was elected Chief Minister of Sierra Leone.[45] The new constitution ensured Sierra Leone a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations.[45] In May 1957, Sierra Leone held its first parliamentary election. The SLPP, which was then the most popular political party in the colony of Sierra Leone as well as being supported by the powerful paramount chiefs in the provinces, won the most seats in Parliament and Margai was re-elected as Chief Minister by a landslide.