More information about Sierra Leone is available on the Sierra Leone Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.
U.S.-SIERRA LEONE RELATIONS
The United States established diplomatic relations with Sierra Leone in 1961, following its independence from the United Kingdom. The U.S. and Sierra Leone enjoy a warm and cordial relationship. The two countries are linked by the history of slavery in the United States, an institution that would send a large number of African slaves from present-day Sierra Leone to the then-colonies of Georgia and South Carolina. Today, thousands of Sierra Leoneans and their descendants reside in the United States. Notably, many descendants of former slaves still reside in the same region and have maintained their unique culture known as Gullah. Further, nearly two percent of Sierra Leone’s population is of Krio heritage, a group of freed slaves historically known for returning to Sierra Leone beginning in the late 1700s from Great Britain and North America. In early 2014, the United Nations hailed Sierra Leone as a success story due to its remarkable post-conflict transition following a brutal civil war (1991-2002), which destroyed the country’s infrastructure and hampered its political, social, and economic development. The Special Court for Sierra Leone closed after convicting former Liberian President Charles Taylor of fueling the conflict and conscripting child soldiers. Sierra Leone joined the Open Government Partnership in 2013.
Sierra Leone’s positive trajectory was interrupted in May 2014 when the deadly Ebola epidemic struck and quickly overtook the country’s fragile health care system. Over 14,000 Sierra Leoneans contracted Ebola with more than 3,900 deaths. The economy, which had experienced a high growth rate before Ebola, contracted due to the epidemic and global drop in prices for its major iron ore exports. Stringent restrictions were put on the operation of markets and businesses, leading to increased unemployment. The epidemic was declared over in November 2015, however, the last case was identified in January 2016. Since, the government launched an ambitious recovery plan that has received significant donor support.
Sierra Leone has had four successful post-war elections. General elections were held in Sierra Leone on March 7, 2018, to elect the President, Parliament, and local councils. Incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma did not run for another term, as he was constitutionally ineligible, having served the maximum ten years in office. No presidential candidate received the 55% of the vote required to win in the first round, leading to a second round of voting on March 31 between the top two candidates, opposition leader Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party and Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress; the two were separated by under 15,000 votes in the first round. Bio was subsequently elected with 51.8% of the vote.
U.S. Assistance to Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone relies on significant amounts of foreign assistance from both bilateral and multilateral donors. U.S. assistance supports the government’s development efforts to improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans through strategic investments in health service delivery, democracy and governance, and economic growth. The United States works to strengthen democracy, human rights, access to justice, and media freedom by working with Sierra Leoneans to build government accountability, ensure responsive public institutions, strengthen judicial processes, and promote strong democratic norms and processes. In the health sector, the U.S. supports the expansion and scale-up of lifesaving, high impact, health interventions in the areas of maternal and child health, family planning, neglected tropical diseases, and malaria prevention and control. The U.S. also provides technical assistance, commodities and equipment to Sierra Leone’s primary health care delivery system and the community health worker program.
In addition to long term development assistance programs, the U.S. has been among the largest bilateral donors to Sierra Leone during recent humanitarian health crises. Mission partners including the State Department, Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Peace Corps, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation contributed an estimated $600 million in the fight against the 2014 Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. The U.S. Government helped establish multiple public health systems and infrastructure, as well as Sierra Leone’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) which is currently being used to coordinate COVID-19 preparedness and response.
Following the Ebola outbreak, the U.S. designated Sierra Leone a priority county for the implementation of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), a multilateral and multi-sectoral approach to strengthen the country’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to human and animal infectious disease threats like Covid-19s or Marburg. Through GHSA the U.S. Government provides direct technical and financial support to the Government of Sierra Leone, and funds international organizations and NGOs to partner with the government in strengthening its ability to monitor zoonotic diseases and manage infection prevention and control. These partnerships have helped establish the country’s multi-sectoral ‘One Health’ coordination platform to address the human-animal-ecosystem interface in the evolution and emergence of pathogens. The United States recently extended its support through GHSA for Sierra Leone.
The Mission administers a small grants program for local community initiatives in conjunction with ongoing programs supporting trafficked persons, women’s empowerment, judicial strengthening, police training, agriculture development, military peacekeeping operations, and HIV/AIDS prevention. The Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Government of Sierra Leone are also implementing a $44.4 million threshold program to improve access to clean water and reliable electricity, and to support reforms designed to limit opportunities for corruption.
The Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Office of Criminal Investigations supports the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) through interagency training opportunities that link the SLP, Financial Intelligence Unit, Anti-Corruption Commission, and other government agencies to federal law enforcement attachés located throughout Africa. Over the past two years, Diplomatic Security has contributed approximately $45,000 towards trainings focused on building intergovernmental partnerships and strengthening bilateral investigative relationships.
The State Department through the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) aims to disrupt transnational organized crime, improve bilateral law enforcement cooperation, support justice sector development, and improve security and human rights conditions in prisons. Assistance through UNODC helped to establish and operationalize the Transnational Organized Crime Unit, comprised of representatives of 14 law enforcement agencies, which is now making arrests, seizing illicit drugs and other contraband, investigating serious criminal cases, and supporting successful prosecutions. In partnership with UNDP, INL has funded a variety of efforts that have resulted in bail regulations adopted by Parliament in 2018, rolling out a judicial case management system, developing criminal sentencing guidelines, and promoting reforms within the correctional system. Future programming aims to standardize an inmate classification system, regularize the conduct of prison courts, and implementing further correctional facility improvements to align with international standards for the treatment of inmates. INL has also provided training to several cohorts of Sierra Leone Correctional Services officials to the International Corrections Management Training Center in Colorado.
Bilateral Economic Relations
U.S. exports to Sierra Leone include transportation equipment, agricultural products, machinery, and chemicals, while imports from Sierra Leone include minerals, metals, and agricultural products. Sierra Leone is eligible for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The two countries do not have a bilateral investment treaty. On September 17, 2012 senior officials for both countries signed an Open Skies air services agreement.
Sierra Leone’s Membership in International Organizations
Sierra Leone and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.
Principal embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.
More information about Sierra Leone is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here: