For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z
Republic of Sierra Leone
Area: 71,740 sq. km. (29,925 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than South Carolina.
Cities: Capital--Freetown (est. 786,900). Provincial capitals--Southern Province, Bo; Eastern Province, Kenema; Northern Province, Makeni.
Terrain: Mangrove swamps and beaches and mostly shallow bays along the coast, wooded hills along the immediate interior, and a mountainous plateau in the interior.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Sierra Leonean(s).
Population (2004): 5 million.
Annual growth rate (2002 est.): 2.2%.
Ethnic groups: Temne 30%, Mende 30%, Krio 1%, balance spread over 15 other tribal groups, and a small Lebanese community.
Religions: (est.) Muslim 60%, Christian 30%, animist 10%.
Languages: English, Krio, Temne, Mende, and 15 other indigenous languages.
Education (2002): Literacy--36%.
Health: Life expectancy (2002 est.)--34.3 yrs. Access to safe water--57%. Infant mortality rate--182/1,000. Under five mortality--316/1,000. HIV infection rate for adults, ages 15-49 years (2002 est.)--1.4%.
Work force: Agriculture--52.5%; industry--30.6%; services--16.9%.
Type: Republic with a democratically elected President and unicameral Parliament.
Independence: From Britain, April 27, 1961.
Constitution: October 1, 1991.
Political parties: The Political Parties Registration Commission was formed in late 2005 and will be reviewing the two large and numerous small parties currently registered to see if they still meet registration requirements. Most of these parties are inactive. Major parties--Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), All People's Congress (APC), Peace and Liberation Party (PLP) and the newly registered People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC).
GDP (2005 est.): $1.1 billion.
GDP growth rate (2005 est.): 7.5%.
GDP per capita income (2005 est.): $209.
Avg. annual inflation rate (2005 IMF est.): 8.5%.
Natural resources: Diamonds, rutile, bauxite, gold, iron ore, ilmenorutile, platinum, chromite, manganese, cassiterite, molybdenite, as well as forests, abundant fresh water, and rich offshore fishing grounds.
Agriculture: Products--coffee, cocoa, ginger, palm kernels, cassava, bananas, citrus, peanuts, cashews, plantains, rice, sweet potatoes, vegetables. Land--30% potentially arable, 8% cultivated.
Industry: Types--diamonds, bauxite, and rutile mining; forestry; fishing; beverages; cigarettes; flour; cement and other construction goods; plastics; tourism.
Trade (Oct. 2004-Oct. 2005): Exports--$158 million: rutile, diamonds, bauxite, coffee, cocoa, fishes. Major destinations of exports--Belgium, Germany, U.S., and India. Imports--$330 million: foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuel and lubricants, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, building materials, light consumer goods, used clothing, textiles. Main origins of imports--Germany, Cote d'Ivoire (fuel), U.K., U.S., China (manufactured goods).
The indigenous population is made up of 18 ethnic groups. The Temne in the north and the Mende in the South are the largest. About 60,000 are Krio, the descendants of freed slaves who returned to Sierra Leone from Great Britain and North America and from slave ships captured on the high seas. In addition, about 4,000 Lebanese, 500 Indians, and 2,000 Europeans reside in the country.
In the past, Sierra Leoneans were noted for their educational achievements, trading activity, entrepreneurial skills, and arts and crafts work, particularly woodcarving. Many are part of larger ethnic networks extending into several countries, which link West African states in the area. However, the level of education and infrastructure has declined sharply over the last 30 years.
European contacts with Sierra Leone were among the first in West Africa. In 1652, the first slaves in North America were brought from Sierra Leone to the Sea Islands off the coast of the southern United States. During the 1700s there was a thriving trade bringing slaves from Sierra Leone to the plantations of South Carolina and Georgia where their rice-farming skills made them particularly valuable.
In 1787 the British helped 400 freed slaves from the United States, Nova Scotia, and Great Britain return to Sierra Leone to settle in what they called the "Province of Freedom." Disease and hostility from the indigenous people nearly eliminated the first group of returnees. This settlement was joined by other groups of freed slaves and soon became known as Freetown. In 1792, Freetown became one of Britain's first colonies in West Africa.
Thousands of slaves were returned to or liberated in Freetown. Most chose to remain in Sierra Leone. These returned Africans--or Krio as they came to be called--were from all areas of Africa. Cut off from their homes and traditions by the experience of slavery, they assimilated some aspects of British styles of life and built a flourishing trade on the West African coast.
In the early 19th century, Freetown served as the residence of the British governor who also ruled the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and The Gambia settlements. Sierra Leone served as the educational center of British West Africa as well. Fourah Bay College, established in 1827, 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.
The colonial history of Sierra Leone was not placid. The indigenous people mounted several unsuccessful revolts against British rule and Krio domination. Most of the 20th century history of the colony was peaceful, however, and independence was achieved without violence. The 1951 constitution provided a framework for decolonization. Local ministerial responsibility was introduced in 1953, when Sir Milton Margai was appointed Chief Minister. He became Prime Minister after successful completion of constitutional talks in London in 1960. Independence came in April 1961, and Sierra Leone opted for a parliamentary system within the British Commonwealth. Sir Milton's Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) led the country to independence and the first general election under universal adult franchise in May 1962. Upon Sir Milton's death in 1964, his half-brother, Sir Albert Margai, succeeded him as Prime Minister.
In closely contested elections in March 1967, the All Peoples Congress (APC) won a plurality of the parliamentary seats. Accordingly, the Governor General (representing the British Monarch) declared Siaka Stevens--APC leader and Mayor of Freetown--as the new Prime Minister. Within a few hours, Stevens and Margai were placed under house arrest by Brigadier David Lansana, the Commander of the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF), on grounds that the determination of office should await the election of the tribal representatives to the house. Another group of officers soon staged another coup, only to be later ousted in a third coup, the "sergeants' revolt," and Stevens at last, in April 1968, assumed the office of Prime Minister under the restored constitution. Siaka Stevens remained as head of state until 1985. Under his rule, in 1978, the constitution was amended and all political parties, other than the ruling APC, were banned.
In August 1985, the APC named military commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Saidu Momoh, Steven's own choice, as the party candidate to succeed Stevens. Momoh was elected President in a one-party referendum on October 1, 1985. In October 1991 Momoh had the constitution amended once again, re-establishing a multi-party system. Under Momoh, APC rule was increasingly marked by abuses of power. Earlier in 1991, in March, a small band of men who called themselves the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under the leadership of a former-corporal, Foday Sankoh, began to attack villages in eastern Sierra Leone on the Liberian border. Fighting continued in the ensuing months, with the RUF gaining control of the diamond mines in the Kono district and pushing the Sierra Leone army back towards Freetown. On April 29, 1992, a group of young military officers, led by Capt. Valentine Strasser, launched a military coup, which sent Momoh into exile in Guinea and established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) as the ruling authority in Sierra Leone.
The NPRC proved to be nearly as ineffectual as the Momoh government in repelling the RUF. More and more country fell to RUF fighters, so that by 1995 they held much of the countryside and were on the doorsteps of Freetown. To retrieve the situation, the NPRC hired several hundred mercenaries from the private firm Executive Outcomes. Within a month they had driven RUF fighters back to enclaves along Sierra Leone's borders.
As a result of popular demand and mounting international pressure, the NPRC agreed to hand over power to a civilian government via presidential and parliamentary elections, which were held in April 1996. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, a diplomat who had worked at the UN for more than 20 years, won the presidential election. Because of the prevailing war conditions, parliamentary elections were conducted, for the first time, under the system of proportional representation. Thirteen political parties participated, with the SLPP winning 27 seats, UNPP 17, PDP 12, APC 5 and DCP 3.
The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), led by Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma, overthrew President Kabbah on May 25, 1997, and invited the RUF to join the government. After 10 months in office, the junta was ousted by the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces, and the democratically elected government of President Kabbah was reinstated in March 1998. On January 6, 1999, the RUF launched another attempt to overthrow the government. Fighting reached parts of Freetown, leaving thousands dead and wounded. ECOMOG forces drove back the RUF attack several weeks later.
With the assistance of the international community, President Kabbah and RUF leader Sankoh negotiated the Lome Peace Agreement, which was signed on July 7, 1999. The accord made Sankoh Vice President and gave other RUF members positions in the government. Lome called for an international peacekeeping force run initially by both ECOMOG and the United Nations. The UN Security Council established the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) in 1999, with an initial force of 6,000. ECOMOG forces departed in April 2000. Almost immediately, however, the RUF began to violate the agreement, most notably by holding hundreds of UNAMSIL personnel hostage and capturing their arms and ammunition in the first half of 2000. On May 8, 2000, members of the RUF shot and killed as many as 20 people demonstrating against the RUF violations outside Sankoh's house in Freetown. As a result, Sankoh and other senior members of the RUF were arrested and the group was stripped of its positions in government.
After the events of May 2000, a new cease-fire was necessary to reinvigorate the peace process. This agreement was signed in Abuja in November of that year. However, Demobilization, Disarmament, Reintegration (DDR) did not resume, and fighting continued. In late 2000, Guinean forces entered Sierra Leone to attack RUF bases from which attacks had been launched against Liberian dissidents in Guinea. A second Abuja Agreement, in May 2001, set the stage for a resumption of DDR on a wide scale and a significant reduction in hostilities. As disarmament progressed, the government began to reassert its authority in formerly rebel-held areas. By early 2002, some 72,000 ex-combatants had been disarmed and demobilized, although many still awaited re-integration assistance. On January 18, 2002 President Kabbah declared the civil war officially over.
In May 2002 President Kabbah and his party, the SLPP, won landslide victories in the presidential and legislative elections. Kabbah was re-elected for a five year term. The RUF political wing, the RUFP, failed to win a single seat in parliament. The elections were marked by irregularities and allegations of fraud, but not to a degree to significantly affect the outcome.
On July 28th, 2002 the British withdrew a 200-man military contingent that had been in country since the summer of 2000, leaving behind a 105-strong military training team to work to professionalize the Sierra Leone army. The Lome Accord called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to provide a forum for both victims and perpetrators of human rights violations during the conflict to tell their stories and facilitate genuine reconciliation. Subsequently, the Sierra Leonean government asked the UN to help set up a Special Court for Sierra Leone, which would try those who "bear the greatest responsibility for the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as crimes under relevant Sierra Leonean law within the territory of Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996." Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court began operating in the summer of 2002.
In November 2002, UNAMSIL began a gradual reduction from a peak level of 17,500 personnel. Under pressure from the British, the withdrawal slowed, so that by October 2003 the UNAMSIL contingent still stood at 12,000 men. As peaceful conditions continued through 2004, however, UNAMSIL drew down its forces to slightly over 4,000 by December 2004. In June 2005, the UN Security Council extended UNAMSIL's mandate until December 2005.
On January 13, 2003 a small group of armed men tried unsuccessfully to break into an armory in Freetown. Former AFRC-junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, went into hiding, after being linked to the raid. In March the Special Court for Sierra Leone issued its first indictments for war crimes during the civil war. Foday Sankoh, already in custody, was indicted, along with notorious RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, Johnny Paul Koroma, the Minister of Interior and former head of the Civil Defense Force, Hinga Norman, and several others. Norman was arrested when the indictments were announced, while Bockarie and Koroma remained at large (presumably in Liberia). On May 5th Bockarie was killed in Liberia, probably on orders from President Charles Taylor, who expected to be indicted by the Special Court and feared Bockarie's testimony. Several weeks later word filtered out of Liberia that Johnny Paul Koroma had been killed, as well, although his death remains unconfirmed. In June the Special Court announced Taylor's indictment. Sankoh died in prison in Freetown on July 29th from a heart attack. He had been ailing for some time.
In August 2003 President Kabbah testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on his role during the civil war. Instead of acting in a statesman-like, unifying manner, he answered questions in a partisan, defensive style. He blamed the international community for ignoring Sierra Leone during much of the civil war, without acknowledging its assistance in the late 1990s that ended the fighting.
In October 2004, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its Final Report to the government, although widespread public distribution was delayed until August 2005 because of editing and printing problems. The government released a White Paper in June 2005 accepting some and rejecting or ignoring a number of other recommendations. Members of civil society groups dismissed the government's response as too vague and continued to criticize the government for its failure to follow up on the report's recommendations.
In December 2005, the UNAMSIL peacekeeping mission formally ended, and the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) began, assuming a peacebuilding mandate.
On March 25, 2006, after discussions with newly elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said that Liberia was free to take Charles Taylor, who had been living in exile in the Nigerian coastal town of Calobar, into custody. Two days later, Taylor attempted to flee Nigeria, but he was apprehended on March 29 near Nigeria's border with Cameroon by Nigerian authorities. Taylor was transferred to Freetown under UN guard by nightfall on March 29, where he is incarcerated at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) awaiting trial on 11 counts of war crimes.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Sierra Leone is a republic with an executive president and a multi-party system of government with a 124-seat Parliament (112 elected members and 12 paramount chiefs). Presidential and legislative elections will be held in 2007. The elections will be preceded by a redrawing of constituency boundaries, not adjusted since 1985. The 2007 elections will also be notable for their shift from the proportional representation system used in 1996 and 2002 to a constituency-based system, as called for in the 1991 Constitution. The incumbent Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) has a strong advantage going into these elections and maintains its traditional support in the south and east of the country; however, population increases in the northern part of the country and in the Western Area (where Freetown is located), may benefit the opposition All People's Congress (APC). In 2005, Charles Margai, a former SLPP member, formed a new party, the People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), which could potentially draw support away from the SLPP. Civil rights and religious freedom are respected. A critical press continues to operate, although journalists and editors are occasionally arrested for publishing articles the government considers inflammatory.
The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, High Court of Justice, and magistrate courts. The President appoints and Parliament approves justices for the three courts. Local chieftaincy courts administer customary law with lay judges; appeals from these lower courts are heard by the superior courts. Judicial presence outside the capital district remains limited, which contributes to excessive delays in the justice system. Although magistrate courts function in all 12 judicial districts, magistrates appointed to those courts did not reside there permanently and complained that they had insufficient resources to do their job. Justices of the peace or customary law partially fill the gap.
In 2000 the Government of Sierra Leone promulgated the Anti-Corruption Act to combat endemic corruption. The Anti Corruption Commission has not been able to secure convictions of high-level government officials, but has worked to raise national awareness of the problem and build in safeguards in "corruption hotspot" ministries.
The basic unit of local government outside the Western Area has generally been the chiefdom, headed by a paramount chief, who is elected for a life term. In May 2004, however, the first local government elections in 32 years were held in 311 wards nationwide. There are now 12 district councils and 5 town councils outside the Western Area. The Western Area has a rural area council and a city council for Freetown, the nation's capital. The local councils are gradually assuming responsibility for functions previously carried out by the central government. As devolution progresses, chiefdom and council authorities are starting to work together to collect taxes. While district and town councils are responsible for service delivery, chiefdom authorities maintain their own infrastructure of police and courts, which are also funded by local taxes.
Principal Government Officials
President and Minister of Defense--Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
Vice President--Solomon Berewa
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Momodu Koroma
Minister of Finance--John Benjamin
Minister of Development and Economic Planning--Mohammed Daramy
Attorney General and Minister of Justice--Frederick Carew
Minister of Local Government and Community Development--Sidikie Brima
Minister of Information and Broadcasting--Septimus Kaikai
Minister of Internal Affairs--Pascal Egbenda
Minister of Mineral Resources--Mohamed Deen
Minister for Trade and Industry--Dr. Kadi Sesay
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security--Dr. Sama Mondeh
Minister of Energy and Power--Lloyd During
Minister of Labor--Alpha Timbo
Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs--Shirley Gbujama
Minister of Lands, Housing, Country Planning, and Environment--Dr. Alfred Bobson Sesay
Minister of Marine Resources--Dr. Chernor Jalloh
Minister of Transport and Communications--Dr. Prince Harding
Minister of Works, Housing and Technical Maintenance--Dr. Caiser Boima
Minister of Health--Abbator Thomas
Minister of Tourism and Culture--Okere Adams
Central Bank Governor--Dr. James Rogers
Ambassador to the U.S.--Ibrahim Kamara
Sierra Leone maintains an embassy in the United States at 1701 19th Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20009, tel. 202-939-9261; and a permanent mission to the United Nations in New York at 245 East 49th Street, New York, New York 10017, tel. (212) 688-1656.
Rich in minerals, Sierra Leone has relied on the mining sector in general, and diamonds in particular, for its economic base. In the 1970s and early 1980s, economic growth rate slowed because of a decline in the mining sector and increasing corruption among government officials. By the 1990s economic activity was declining and economic infrastructure had become seriously degraded. Over the next decade much of Sierra Leone's formal economy was destroyed in the country's civil war. Since the cessation of hostilities in January 2002, massive infusions of outside assistance have helped Sierra Leone begin to recover. Full recovery to pre-war economic levels will require hundreds of millions of additional dollars and many more years of serious effort by the Government of Sierra Leone and donor governments. Much of Sierra Leone's recovery will depend on the success of Government of Sierra Leone efforts to limit official corruption, which many feel was the chief culprit for the country's descent into civil war. A key indicator of success will be the effectiveness of government management of its diamond sector.
About two-thirds of the population engages in subsistence agriculture, which accounts for 52.5% of national income. The government is trying to increase food and cash crop production and upgrade small farmer skills. Also, the government works with several foreign donors to operate integrated rural development and agricultural projects.
Mineral exports remain Sierra Leone's principal foreign exchange earner. Sierra Leone is a major producer of gem-quality diamonds. Though rich in this resource, the country has historically struggled to manage its exploitation and export. Annual production estimates range between $250-300 million. However, not all of that passes through formal export channels, although formal exports have dramatically improved since the days of civil war (1999: $1.2 million; 2000: $7 million; 2001: $26 million; 2002: $42 million; 2003: $76 million; 2004: $127 million; 2005: $142 million). The balance is smuggled, where it possibly is used for money laundering or financing illicit activities. Efforts to improve the management of the export trade have met with some success. In October 2000, a UN-approved export certification system for exporting diamonds from Sierra Leone was put into place that led to a dramatic increase in legal exports. In 2001, the Government of Sierra Leone created a mining community development fund, which returns a portion of diamond export taxes to diamond mining communities. The fund was created to raise local communities' stake in the legal diamond trade.
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 U.S. and European investors, began commercial mining operations near Bonthe in early 1979. Sierra Rutile was then the largest nonpetroleum U.S. investment in West Africa. The export of 88,000 tons realized $75 million in export earnings in 1990. The company and the Government of Sierra Leone concluded a new agreement on the terms of the company's concession in Sierra Leone in 1990. Rutile and bauxite mining operations were suspended when rebels invaded the mining sites in 1995, but exports resumed in 2005.
Since independence, the Government of Sierra Leone has encouraged foreign investment, although the business climate has been hampered by a shortage of foreign exchange, corruption, and uncertainty resulting from civil conflicts. Investors are protected by an agreement that allows for arbitration under the 1965 World Bank Convention. Legislation provides for transfer of interest, dividends, and capital. The government passed the Investment Promotion Act in August 2004 to attract foreign investors and has been working with international financial institutions to lower its administrative barriers to trade.
Sierra Leone is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). With Liberia and Guinea, it formed the Mano River Union (MRU) customs union, primarily designed to implement development projects and promote regional economic integration. However, the MRU has been inactive because of domestic problems and internal and cross-border conflicts in all three countries. The future of the MRU depends on the ability of its members to deal with the fallout from these internal and regional problems. Sierra Leone's latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) expired in June 2005. A new agreement is not yet in place, but Sierra Leone's economic policy is expected to shift from post-conflict stabilization to poverty-reduction efforts, including good governance and fighting corruption; job creation; and food security.
Sierra Leone continues to rely on significant amounts of foreign assistance, principally from multilateral donors. The bilateral donors include the United States, Italy, and Germany, but the largest are the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Sierra Leone is a member of the UN and its specialized agencies, the Commonwealth, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank (AFDB), the Mano River Union (MRU), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
U.S.-SIERRA LEONE RELATIONS
U.S. relations with Sierra Leone began with missionary activities in the 19th century. In 1959, the U.S. opened a consulate in Freetown and elevated it to embassy status when Sierra Leone became independent in 1961.
U.S.-Sierra Leone relations today are cordial, with ethnic ties between groups in the two countries receiving increasing historical interest. Many thousands of Sierra Leoneans reside in the United States.
In fiscal year 2004, total U.S. bilateral aid to Sierra Leone in all categories was about $23 million, primarily for relief and basic economic development. U.S. aid also stresses restoration of peace, democracy and human rights, health education, particularly combating HIV/AIDS, and human resources development.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Thomas N. Hull
Deputy Chief of Mission--James A. Stewart
The U.S. Embassy is located at the corner of Walpole and Siaka Stevens Streets, Freetown, tel: 232 22 226 481; fax: 232 22 225 471.