Sierra Leone Background Notes

Contributed By RealAdventures

U.S. Department of State, January 2002

Background Note: Sierra Leone


Republic of Sierra Leone

Area: 72,325 sq. km. (29,925 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than South Carolina.

Cities: Capital--Freetown (est. 550,000). Provincial Capitals: Southern
Province,Bo; Eastern Province, Kenema; Northern Province, Makeni.
Terrain: Three areas--mangrove swamps and beaches along the coast, wooded
hills along the immediate interior, and a mountainous plateau in the

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Sierra Leonean(s).
Population (2001 est., no census since 1989): 4.5 million.
Annual growth rate (1990 est.): 2.4%.
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: (2000) Literacy--30%.
Health: Life expectancy--38 yrs. Access to safe water--54%. Infant
mortality rate--170/1,000. Under five mortality--286/1,000.
Work force: Agriculture-- 67%; industry--15%; services--18%.

Type: Republic with a democratically elected President and Parliament.
Independence: From Britain, April 27, 1961.
Constitution: October 1, 1991
Political parties: Thirteen political parties contested the 1996 elections.
There are now 22 registered political parties. Major parties--All People's
Congress (APC), Democratic Center Party (DCP), National Unity Party (NUP),
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), United
National People's Party (UNPP).

GDP (2000 est.): $634.1 million.
GDP growth rate: 3.8%.
Per capita income (2000 est.) $106.9.
Avg, annual inflation rate (2000 est.) 8%.
Natural resources: Diamonds, rutile, bauxite, gold, platinum and chromite.
Agriculture: Products--coffee, cocoa, ginger, palm kernels, cassava,
bananas, citrus, peanuts, plantains, rice, sweet potatoes, vegetables.
Land--30% potentially arable, 8% cultivated.
Industry: Types--diamonds, bauxite, and rutile mining; forestry; beverages;
cigarettes; construction goods; tourism.
Trade (2000 est.): Exports--$72.5 million: rutile, diamonds, bauxite,
coffee, cocoa, fishes. Major markets--U.S., Belgium, Spain, U.K. and other
west European nations. Imports--$14.5 million: foodstuffs, machinery and
equipment, fuel and lubricants, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, building
materials, light consumer goods, used clothing, textiles.

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 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

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

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

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. Sir Albert attempted to establish a
one-party political system but met fierce resistance from the opposition All
Peoples Congress (APC). He ultimately abandoned the idea.
In closely contested elections in March 1967, the 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. A group of senior military officers overrode
this action by seizing control of the government on March 23, arresting
Brigadier Lansana, and suspending the constitution. The group constituted
itself as the National Reformation Council (NRC) with Brigadier A.T.
Juxon-Smith as its chairman. The NRC in turn was overthrown in April 1968 by
a "sergeants' revolt," the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement. NRC
members were imprisoned, and other army and police officers deposed.

Stevens at last assumed the office of Prime Minister under the restored
constitution. The return to civilian rule led to by-elections beginning in
the fall of 1968 and the appointment of an all-APC cabinet. Tranquillity was
not completely restored. In November 1968 a state of emergency was declared
after provincial disturbances. In March 1971 the government survived an
unsuccessful military coup and in July 1974, it uncovered an alleged
military coup plot. The leaders of both were tried and executed. In 1977,
student demonstrations against the government disrupted Sierra Leone
Following the adoption of the republican constitution in April 1971, Siaka
Stevens was appointed President of the Republic by the House; he was
inaugurated for a second 5-year term in March 1976. In the national
parliamentary election that followed in May 1977, the APC won 74 seats and
the opposition SLPP 15. The next year, Stevens' Government won approval for
the idea of one-party government, which the APC had once rejected. Following
enactment of the 1978 constitution, SLPP members of parliament joined the

The first election under the new one-party constitution took place on May 1,
1982. Elections in about two-thirds of the constituencies were contested.
Because of irregularities, the government canceled elections in 13
constituencies. By-elections took place on June 4, 1982. The new cabinet
appointed after the election was balanced ethnically between Temnes and
Mendes. It included as the new Finance Minister Salia Jusu-Sheriff, a former
leader of the SLPP who returned to that party in late 1981. His accession to
the cabinet was viewed by many as a step toward making the APC a true
national party.

Siaka P. Stevens, who had been head of state of Sierra Leone for 18 years,
retired from that position in November 1985, although he continued his role
as chairman of the ruling APC party. 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. A formal inauguration was held in January
1986, and new parliamentary elections were held in May 1986.

In October 1990, President Momoh set up a constitutional review commission
to review the 1978 one-party constitution with a view to broadening the
existing political process, guaranteeing fundamental human rights and the
rule of law, and strengthening and consolidating the democratic foundation
and structure of the nation. The commission, in its report presented January
1991, recommended re-establishment of a multi-party system of government.
Based on that recommendation, a constitution was approved by Parliament in
July 1991 and ratified in September; it became effective on October 1, 1991.
There was great suspicion that Momoh was not serious, however, and APC rule
was increasingly marked by abuses of power. The rebel war in the eastern
part of the county, led by Capt. Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United
Front (RUF), posed an increasing burden on the country. 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.

As a result of popular demand and mounting international pressure,
presidential and parliamentary elections were held in April 1996. Out of 13
candidates that contested, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah won the presidential
elections. Because of the prevailing war conditions, parliamentary
elections were conducted, for the first time in Sierra Leone, under the
system of proportional representation. Thirteen political parties
participated, with the SLPP winning 27 seats, UNPP 17, PDP 12, APC 5 and DCP

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, another
unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government by the RUF resulted in
massive loss of life and destruction of property in Freetown and its

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 granted amnesty to Sankoh and other members of the
RUF and provided a framework for the transformation of the RUF into a
political party. Under Lome, members of the RUF were granted positions of
responsibility within the government.

Sankoh was made Chairman of the Strategic Mineral Resources Council and
given the title of Vice President. 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 outside Sankoh's house in Freetown against the RUF's
violations of Lome. Following these events, Sankoh and other senior members
of the RUF were arrested and the group was stripped of its positions in

Despite the suspension of the political arrangements and a general view
that the Lome agreement was invalidated by RUF actions, Lome established
some steps for bringing about a permanent cessation of hostilities which
remain valid. The agreement provided for a Disarmament, Demobilization and
Reintegration (DDR) program to assist the combatants from all sides in their
return to society. 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. Over time, the mandate of UNAMSIL was
broadened and the authorized force strength increased to its current level
of 17,500 troops. A large part of UNAMSIL's growth has been as a result of
its absorption of the functions performed by the ECOMOG forces, which
departed in April 2000. 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, 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 has progressed, the
government has begun to reassert its authority in formerly rebel-held areas.

The Lome Accord also 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. In June 2000 the government
asked the UN to help set up a Special Court for Sierra Leone. The court,
which has not been set up as of November 2001, will 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."
The country has remained under a state of emergency since 1999. Under the
constitution, the term of office of the President and the life of
Parliament, originally due to expire in March 2001, have each been extended
twice for 6 months. Presidential and parliamentary elections have been
announced for May 2002.

Sierra Leone is a republic with an executive president and a multi-party
system of government. Civil rights and religious freedom are respected. A
critical press continues to operate, although the government has intervened
for alleged inaccurate reporting.

The judicial system continues to function for civil cases but is severely
handicapped by shortages of resources and qualified personnel. It is
comprised of a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, and a High Court with judges
appointed by the President on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service
Commission with the approval of Parliament. There also are magistrate and
local courts and from these appeals lie to the superior courts of
judicature. The 1991 constitution created an ombudsman responsible for
looking into complaints of abuses and capricious acts on the part of public
officials. In 2000 the GOSL promulgated the Anti-Corruption Act to combat
corruption, which is endemic.
The basic unit of local government generally is the chiefdom, headed by a
paramount chief and council of elders. There also is an elected council and
mayor in Freetown, Bo, Kenema, and Makeni.

Principal Government Officials
President and Minister of Defense--Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
Vice President--Albert Demby
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Ramadan Dumbuya
Minister of Finance--Peter Kuyembeh
Minister of Development and Economic Planning--Ms. Kadi Sesay
Attorney General and Minister of Justice--Solomon Berewa
Minister of Rural Development and Local Government--Joseph Bandabla Douda
Minister of Information and Broadcasting--Cecil Blake
Minister of Internal Affairs--Charles Margai
Minister of Mineral Resources--Mohamed Deen
Minister for Presidential Affairs--Momodu Koroma
Ambassador to the U.S.--John Leigh.

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. Maintaining unrealistic exchange rates and excessive government
budget deficits led to sizable balance-of-payments deficits and inflation.
Inappropriate policy responses to external factors and inefficient
implementation of aid projects and maintenance have led to a general decline
in economic activity and a serious degradation of economic infrastructures.
Sierra Leone's short-term prospects depend upon continued adherence to IMF
programs and continued external assistance.

Although two-thirds of the population engages in subsistence agriculture,
and despite the fact that most Sierra Leoneans derive their livelihood from
it, agriculture accounts for only 42% 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 $70-$250 million; however, only a
fraction of that passes through formal export channels (1999: $1.2 million;
2000: $16 million; 2001: projections $25 million). The balance is smuggled
out and has been used to finance rebel activities in the region, money
laundering, arms purchases, and financing of other illicit activities,
leading some to characterize Sierra Leone's diamonds as a "conflict
resource." Recent efforts on the part of the country to improve the
management of the export trade have met with some success. In October 2000,
a new 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,
wholly owned by Nord Resources of the United States, 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 for the country 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.
Negotiations for reactivation of rutile and bauxite mining are in progress.
The U.S. interest in the company has been reduced to 25%.

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.

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 so far 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 continues to rely on significant amounts of foreign assistance,
principally from multilateral donors. The bilateral donors include the
United States, Italy, and Germany, the largest being the United Kingdom and
the European Union.

Sierra Leone has maintained cordial relations with the West, in particular
with the United Kingdom. It also maintains diplomatic relations with the
Republics of the former Soviet Union as well as with China and Libya.
President Stevens' government had sought closer relations with West African
countries under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The
present government is continuing this effort.

Sierra Leone is a member of the UN and its specialized agencies, the
Commonwealth, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), 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. 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
thousand Sierra Leoneans reside in the United States.

In fiscal year 2001, total U.S. aid to Sierra Leone in all categories was
about $75 million, primarily through commodity contributions through PL-480,
Title II programs with the World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services.
U.S. aid also stresses restoration of peace, democracy and human rights,
health education, particularly combating HIV/AIDS, and human resources

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Peter R. Chaveas
Deputy Chief of Mission--Michael L. Bajek.

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.

[end of document]

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