Sierra Leone -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of Sierra Leone
Capital City: Freetown
Official Currency: Leone
Religions: Islam, Christianity, others
Population: 6,440,053 (2009)
Land Area: 71,740 sq km
Official language: English
National language: Krio (de facto) spoken by 98% of the population
Landforms: In the central part of the country is a region of lowland plains,
containing forests, bush and farmland, that occupies about
43% of Sierra Leone's land area. Starting in the west,
Sierra Leone has some 360 km of coastline, giving
it both bountiful marine resources and attractive tourist potential.
This is followed by low-lying mangrove swamps, rain-forested plains
Sierra Leone -- History --
Early History: European contacts with Sierra Leone were among
the first in West Africa. In 1462, Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra
mapped the hills surrounding what is now Freetown Harbour, naming shaped
formation Serra de Leao (Portuguese for Lion Mountains). The Italian
rendering of this geographic formation is Sierra Leone, which became
the country's name. Soon after Portuguese traders arrived at the harbour
and by 1495 a fort that acted as a trading post had been built.
The Portuguese were joined by the Dutch and French; all of them
using Sierra Leone as a trading point for slaves. In 1562 the English
joined the trade in human beings when Sir John Hawkins enslaved 300
people 'by the sword and partly by other means'.
Enslavement and Freedom: Disease and hostility from the indigenous
people nearly eliminated the first group of colonists. Through intervention
by Thomas Peters, the Sierra Leone Company was established to relocate another
group of formerly enslaved Africans, this time nearly 1,200 Black Nova Scotians,
most of whom had escaped enslavement in the United States. Given the most
barren land in Nova Scotia, many had died from the harsh winters there.
They established a settlement at Freetown in 1792 led by Peters.
It was joined by other groups of freed Africans and became the first
African-American haven for formerly enslaved Africans.
Though the English abolitionist Granville Sharp originally
planned Sierra Leone as a utopian community, the directors
of the Sierra Leone Company refused to allow the settlers
to take freehold of the land. Knowing how Highland Clearances
benefited Scottish landlords but not tenants, the settlers revolted
in 1799. The revolt was only put down by the arrival of over 500 Jamaican Maroons,
who also arrived via Nova Scotia.
Cut off from their homes and traditions, they assimilated some aspects of British
styles of inhabitants and built a flourishing trade of flowers and beads on the
West African coast. The lingua franca of the colony was Krio, a creole language
rooted in 18th century African American English, which quickly spread across the
region as a common language of trade and Christian mission. In the 1790s, blacks
voted for the first time in elections, as did women.
Colonial era: During Sierra Leone's colonial history, indigenous people
mounted several unsuccessful revolts against British rule and Krio domination.
The most notable was the Hut Tax war of 1898. Its first leader was Bai Bureh,
a Temne chief who refused to recognize the British-imposed tax on "huts" (dwellings).
The tax was generally regarded by the native chiefs as an attack on their sovereignty.
After the British issued a warrant to arrest Bai Bureh alleging that he
had refused to pay taxes, he brought fighters from several Temne villages
under his command, and from Limba, Loko, Soso, Kissi, and Mandinka villages.
Bureh's fighters had the advantage over the vastly more powerful
British for several months of the war. Hundreds of British troops
and hundreds of Bureh's fighters were killed. Bai Bureh was finally
captured on November 11, 1898 and sent into exile in the Gold Coast (now Ghana),
while 96 of his comrades were hanged by the British.
An independent nation:
The 1924 Sierra Leone constitution was replaced in November 1951
by a new one which united the formerly separate Colonial and Protectorate
legislatures and — most importantly — provided a framework for decolonization.
In 1951 Sir Milton Margai, an ethnic Mende and the leading politician from
the Protectorate oversaw the drafting of a new constitution which triggered
the process of decolonization. In 1953 Sierra Leone was granted local ministerial
powers and Margai was made Chief Minister. The new constitution ensured
Sierra Leone a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations and was formally adopted in 1958.
Sierra Leone -- Economy --
Rich in minerals, Sierra Leone has relied on mining,
especially diamonds, for its economic base. The country
is among the top 10 diamond producing nations in the world.
Mineral exports remain the main foreign currency earner.
Sierra Leone is a major producer of gem-quality diamonds.
Though rich in diamonds, it has historically struggled to
manage their exploitation and export.
Sierra Leone has one of the world's largest deposits of rutile,
a titanium ore used as paint pigment and welding rod coatings.
Sierra Rutile Limited, owned by a consortium of United States
and European investors, began commercial mining operations near
the city of Bonthe, in the Southern Province, in early 1979.
It was then the largest non-petroleum US investment in West Africa.
The export of 88,000 tons realized $75 million in export earnings
in 1990. In 1990, the company and the government made a new agreement
on the terms of the company's concession in Sierra Leone. Rutile
and bauxite mining operations were suspended when rebels invaded the
mining sites in 1995, but exports resumed in 2005.
Despite its successes and development, the Sierra Leone economy
still faces significant challenges. There is high unemployment,
particularly among the youth and ex-combatants. Authorities have
been slow to implement reforms in the civil service, and the pace
of the privatisation programme is also slacking and donors have
urged its advancement.
Sierra Leone -- Culture --
The Sierra Leone government officially recognizes sixteen ethnic groups,
each with its own language and custom. The two largest are the Mende and Temne,
each comprises nearly 30% of the population about 1,888,000 members each).
The Mende predominate in the South-Eastern Provinces; the Temne likewise
predominate in the Northern Province and the Western Area. Sierra Leone's
national politics centers on the competition between the north, dominated
by the Temne and the south-east dominated by the Mende. The Mende overwhelmingly
support the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP). The Temne likewise overwhelmingly
support the other major political party, the All People's Congress (APC). This has
led to ethnic tensions between the two largest ethnic groups. The current president
of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People's Congress (APC) is the
first Sierra leonean president from the Temne ethnic group and he gets
most of his support in Temne dominant areas in the North and the Western
Area of Sierra Leone. Media in Sierra Leone began with the introduction
of the first printing press in Africa at the start of the nineteenth century.
A strong journalistic tradition developed with the creation of a number
of newspapers. In the 1860s, the country became a journalist hub for Africa,
with professionals travelling to the country from across the continent.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the industry went into decline,
and when radio was introduced in the 1930s, it became the primary
communication media in the country. The Sierra Leone Broadcasting
Service (SLBS) was created by the government in 1934 making it the
earliest English language radio broadcaster service in West Africa.
The service began broadcasting television in 1963, with coverage
extended to all the districts in the country in 1978.
Sierra Leone -- Political system, law and government --
Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a
directly elected president and a unicameral legislature.
The current system of government in Sierra Leone,
established under the 1991 Constitution, is modeled on
the following structure of government: the Legislature,
the Executive and the Judiciary. Within the confines of
the 1991 Constitution, supreme legislative powers are
vested in Parliament, which is the law making body of
the nation. Supreme executive authority rests in the president
and members of his cabinet and judicial power with the
judiciary of which the Chief Justice is head. The Parliament
of Sierra Leone is unicameral, with 124 seats. Each of the
country's fourteen districts is represented in parliament.
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.
Since independence in 1961, Sierra Leone's politics has been
dominated by two major political parties, the Sierra Leone People's
Party (SLPP), and the ruling All People's Congress (APC), although
other minor political parties have also existed but with no significant
supports.Law enforcement in Sierra Leone is primarily the responsibility
of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP). Sierra Leone Police was
established by the British colony back in 1894 and is one
of the oldest police forces in West Africa.