Sierra Leone country profile

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map of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa, has a special significance in the history of the transatlantic slave trade as the departure point for thousands of west African captives. The capital, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787.

But the country's modern history has been overshadowed by a brutal civil war that ended in 2002 with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Sierra Leone has experienced substantial economic growth in recent years, although the ruinous effects of the civil war continue to be felt.

The country is also rich in diamonds and other minerals. The trade in illicit gems, known as "blood diamonds" for their role in funding conflicts, perpetuated the civil war. The government has sought to crack down on the trade.


  • Capital: Freetown
  • Area: 71,740 sq km
  • Population: 8.6 million
  • Languages: English, Krio
  • Life expectancy: 58 years (men) 61 years (women)


President: Julius Maada Bio

Image source, ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Julius Maada Bio of the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party won a run-off election to become president in April 2018, narrowly beating the incumbent, Samura Kamara, of the All People's Congress.

Mr Maada Bio, a former soldier, took part in a military coup during the country's civil war in 1992, only to overthrow the military junta itself in 1996 and pave the way for free elections that year.

He has tried to counter criticism of human-rights standards during military rule by saying he accepted "collective responsibility" for any violations.

He became leader of the People's Party in 2012 and stood for the presidency the following year, losing to President Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People's Congress.

In 2019, he declared a four-month long state of emergency due to endemic sexual violence, and increased the penalties for rape and other sexual violations.

In 2023, he signed requiring parliamentary and local council elections to include women as at least 30% of the candidates.


Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Sierra Leone's diamonds helped fund years of conflict

Media freedom in Sierra Leone has its limits; media rights monitors say high-level corruption is a taboo topic, with officials using libel laws to target errant journalists.

Challenges facing broadcasters include unreliable power supplies, poor funding and low advertising revenues. There are dozens of radio stations, most of them privately owned.

Dozens of newspapers are published in Freetown, despite low literacy levels.


Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Sierra Leone suffered a lengthy civil war. Child soldiers took part in the fighting

Some key dates in Sierra Leone's history:

1787 - British abolitionists and philanthropists establish a settlement in Freetown for repatriated and rescued slaves.

1808 - Freetown settlement becomes crown colony.

1896 - Britain sets up a protectorate over the Freetown hinterland.

1961 - Sierra Leone becomes independent.

1967 - Military coup deposes Premier Siaka Stevens' government, but he returns to power the following year and becomes president in 1971, after Sierra Leone becomes a republic.

1991 - Start of civil war. Former army corporal Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) begin campaign against President Joseph Saidu Momoh, capturing towns on border with Liberia.

1992 - President Joseph Momoh is ousted in military coup led by Captain Valentine Strasser. Under international pressure, Strasser announces plans for the first multi-party elections since 1967. In quick succession, however, the country goes through several presidents after a series of coups.

2000 - UN forces - in the country to help end the war - come under attack in the east. Several hundred UN troops are abducted. Rebels close in on Freetown. British paratroopers are sent to Freetown to evacuate British citizens and to help secure the airport for UN peacekeepers, rebel leader Foday Sankoh is captured.

2002 - War declared over. UN mission says disarmament of 45,000 fighters is complete. Government, UN agree to set up war crimes court. British troops leave Sierra Leone after two-year mission to help end the civil war.

2003 July - Rebel leader Foday Sankoh dies of natural causes while awaiting trial for war crimes.

2004 - First local elections in more than three decades; war crimes trials begin into atrocities committed by both sides during the fighting.

2014-2016 - Sierra Leone declares a state of emergency to tackle the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa which persists into 2016, killing more than 11,000 people in the region.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Foday Sankoh led the RUF rebel movement, which was notorious for mass rape and mutilations

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