REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE
Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, informally Salone, is a country on the southwest coast of West Africa. It is bordered by Liberia to the southeast and Guinea to the northeast.
The country owes its name to the 15th-century Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra, the first European to sight and map Freetown harbour. The original Portuguese name, Serra Lyoa meaning “Lion Mountains”, referred to the range of hills that surrounds the harbour. The capital, Freetown, commands one of the world’s largest natural harbours.
The country has a special significance in the history of the transatlantic slave trade; as the departure point for thousands of West African captives, it was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787.
Sierra Leone achieved independence from Britain on 27th April 1961, led by Milton Margai, who became the country's first Prime Minister. It held its first general elections as an Independent nation on May 25, 1962, and Margai's Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and its allies won the vast majority of seats in Parliament.
The country's modern history has been overshadowed by a brutal civil war that ended in 2002 with the help of ECOWAS, Britain and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Sixteen ethnic groups inhabit Sierra Leone, each with its own language and customs. The two largest and most influential are the Temne and Mende people. The Temne are predominantly found in the northwest and the Mende in the southeast.
English is the official language used in schools and government administration. However, the Krio is the most widely spoken language across Sierra Leone, and is spoken by 98% of the country's population. The Krio language unites all the ethnic groups in the country, especially in their trade and social interaction.
Sierra Leone is 77 per cent Muslim, with an influential Christian minority of 22 per cent. The country is regarded as one of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world. Muslims and Christians collaborate and interact with each other very peacefully, and religious violence is very rare. The major Christian and Muslim holidays are official public holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha.
Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. The current system of the Government of Sierra Leone is based on the 1991 Sierra Leone Constitution.
In 1991, a group of mainly disgruntled, sacked and imprisoned former Sierra Leone soldiers, led by former Corporal Foday Sankoh launched a brutal civil war in the country on March 23, 1991 under their official name the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
On 29 April 1992, a group of junior soldiers in the Sierra Leone Army led by a 25-year-old Captain Valentine Strasser overthrew President Momoh, and Sierra Leone was under military rule from 1992 to 1996 during the civil war. In January 1996, military Head of State, Captain Strasser himself was overthrown by a junta led by his own deputy Brigadier General, Julius Maada Bio.
The country returned to a democratically elected government when the military Junta under Julius Maada Bio handed the presidency to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP after his victory in the 1996 election. However, the Sierra Leone military overthrew President Kabbah in a coup on 25 May 1997, and Major General Johnny Paul Koroma became the country's military head of state.
A coalition of West African ECOWAS armed forces led by Nigeria reinstated President Kabbah by military force in February 1998. The leaders of the coup that overthrew President Kabbah were executed after they were sentenced to death by a Sierra Leone military court.
In January 2002, President Kabbah announced the end of the civil war with primarily the help of ECOWAS, the British government and the African Union. Sierra Leone has had an uninterrupted democratic government from 1998 to present.
The current president of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, is a former military junta leader. Mr Bio, took part in a military coup during the country's civil war in 1992 to overthrow the military junta and in 1996 overthrew the military again and that paved the way for free elections that year.
Mr Bio, in 2018, contested in the Presidential election and defeated Samura Kamara of the ruling All People's Congress in the country's tightly contested election.
The executive branch of the Government of Sierra Leone, headed by the President of Sierra Leone, has extensive powers and influences. The President is the most powerful government official in Sierra Leone. He is the head of state, the head of government and the commander-in-chief of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. The President appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers, which must be approved by the Parliament. He is elected by popular vote to a maximum of two five-year terms. The president is the highest and most influential position within the government of Sierra Leone.
Next to the president is the Vice-president, who is the second-highest ranking government official in the executive branch of the Sierra Leone Government. As designated by the Sierra Leone Constitution, the Vice-President is to become the new president of Sierra Leone upon the death, resignation, or removal of the President.
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. The Sierra Leone parliament is led by the Speaker of Parliament, who is the overall leader of Parliament and is directly elected by sitting members of parliament.
The judicial power of Sierra Leone is vested in the judiciary, headed by the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone and comprising the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, which is the highest court in the country, meaning that its rulings therefore cannot be appealed against. Other courts include the High Court of Justice, the Court of Appeal, the magistrate courts, and traditional courts in rural villages. The President appoints and parliament approves Justices for the three courts.
The country is divided into four administrative units—the Western Area, which was the former crown colony of Sierra Leone, and three provinces (Northern, Eastern, and Southern provinces), which were the former protectorate. The Western Area includes the capital, Freetown. The Northern Province is divided into five districts; the Southern Province into four; and Eastern Province into three.
The districts are subdivided into chiefdoms, which are controlled by paramount chiefs and chiefdom councillors. The chiefdoms are further divided into sections and villages. The chiefs are hereditary rulers whose local powers have been largely superseded by those of officials of the central and local government. Their influence remains important, however, particularly in matters of traditional culture and justice.
Macroeconomic performance and outlook
By the 1990s, economic activity was declining and economic infrastructure had become seriously degraded. Over the following decade, much of the formal economy was destroyed in the country's civil war. Since the end of hostilities in January 2002, massive infusions of outside assistance have helped Sierra Leone begin its recovery.
According to the IMF, GDP growth accelerated to 5.1% GDP in 2019, driven by agricultural, mining and construction activities. According to the updated IMF forecasts from 14th April 2020, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19, GDP growth is expected at -2.3% in 2020 and pick up to 4% in 2021, subject to the post-pandemic global economic recovery.
Despite efforts to mitigate the rise in debt, it remains substantial and Sierra Leone is classified as being at high risk of debt distress. According to the IMF, public debt stood at 64.5% of GDP in 2019 and is expected to remain high in 2020 (65.4%) and 2021 (65.9%).
The African Development Bank has also stated the overall fiscal deficit improved from 5.8% of GDP in 2018 to 3.5% of GDP in 2019, but is financed in part by the accumulation of arrears, which currently stand at 10% of GDP.
Likewise, according to the latest IMF forecasts, the current account deficit, (-18.7%) of GDP in 2018, improved to an estimated -13.9% in 2019. It currently stands at -12.1% of GDP in 2020 but it’s projected to decrease to -14.3% in 2021.
The World Economic Outlook of the IMF in April also determined that although declining, inflation remains high (14.8% in 2019) and is expected to remain above the ECOWAS convergence criterion (10%) in 2020 (15.4%) and 2021 (15.3%).
Unemployment among young people reached 50% and more than 90% of the population has a vulnerable job.
Until the outbreak of Ebola in May 2014, Sierra Leone was seeking to attain middle-income status by 2035, but the country still carries its post-conflict attributes of high youth unemployment, corruption and weak governance. The country continues to face the daunting challenge of enhancing transparency in managing its natural resources and creating fiscal space for development. Problems of poor infrastructure and widespread rural and urban impoverishment persist despite remarkable strides and reforms.
Sierra Leone’s economic recovery from the Ebola epidemic (more than 14,100 cases, 3,900 deaths and a revenue loss equivalent to 29% of the country’s GDP according to the WHO) also represent some developmental setbacks for the country.
- Population: 7.9 million
- GDP (PPP): $10.90 billion
- -2.3% growth
- $1710.850 per capita
- Unemployment: 4.4%
- Inflation (CPI): 14.8%
- FDI Inflow: $367.7 million
Agriculture, with an average contribution exceeding half of GDP in recent years, remains the main driver of growth, along with demand driven by consumption and investment. The government launched the National Development Plan to guide development over a period of five years (2019-2023), with the National Agricultural Transformation program seeking to double agricultural production by attracting and retaining large investments and helping smallholders transition from subsistence farming.
More than three-fifths of the population engage in agricultural production, primarily for the domestic market but some also for export. Rice, the main food crop, is widely cultivated on swampland and upland farms. Other food crops include millet, peanuts (groundnuts), cassava (manioc), sweet potatoes, and oil palms.
The major cash crops are palm kernels, cocoa, coffee, piassava, and ginger, and production is carried out entirely by small-scale farmers.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), local rice production contributes 75% of agricultural GDP and Sierra Leone’s annual per capital consumption of rice is amongst the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.
Most rice is produced in upland systems, which account for 64% of total national rice area. Inland valley swamp systems are the second major ecosystem, covering another 26%.
Sierra Leone’s many waterways are the home of many varieties of fish, such as bonga (a type of shad), butterfish, snapper, and sole. The coastal waters contain such shellfish as shrimp, lobster, and oysters. The country should be an ideal place for commercial fishing, but illegal activity by foreign fisheries and the years of civil war have severely affected this sector. After the end of the civil war, the sector began to show gradual improvement.
In April 2020, Sierra Leone took a drastic action to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in its territorial waters in a bid to protect its valuable marine resources.
The government declared a one-month ban on industrial fishing, much of which is undertaken by unregulated Chinese and South Korean fishing boats.
New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) made an assessment of the potential contribution of one of the country’s major natural resources—fisheries—to future economic recovery and it confirmed that the fish resources of Sierra Leone have an estimated capitalised economic value of USD 735 million, and could potentially make an increased contribution to GDP under suitable conditions, over and above the current estimated level of 10 per cent.
Common livestock in Sierra Leone are cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry. The civil war seriously depleted the level of livestock in the country, although numbers have recovered since the end of the war in 2002. Most cattle are of the typanotolerant N'Dama breed and are found in the north of the country. Cattle farming is dominated by the Fula ethnic group who own the majority of cattle in the country and often manage cattle owned by other groups. Poultry farming consists mainly of chickens, with some guinea fowl and Muscovy ducks.
Industrialization is restricted largely to import substitution. Manufacturing is concentrated in Freetown, and production is mainly of consumer goods, such as cigarettes, sugar, alcoholic beverages, soap, footwear, textiles, mineral fuels, and lubricants.
Although factories are small and generally employ fewer than 1,000 workers each, their role in economic diversification is important. Farther inland, industries are focused on the processing of agricultural and forest produce, such as rice, timber, and palm oil. Traditional industries, such as fish curing and leatherwork, continue.
Sierra Leone is endowed with rich natural resources. The mining industry is dominated by large-scale producers of iron ore, diamonds, rutile, and bauxite as well as small-scale and artisanal mining of gold. The country possesses one of the largest rutile reserves in the world.
Mining employs a large segment of the population and provides a significant contribution to the national economy. According to the Extractive Industry Transparency International (EITI), mining contributes to over 20 percent to GDP, constitutes over 80 percent of export earnings and directly employs over 30,000 people with an estimated 300,000 people benefiting indirectly from the sector.
The banking sector in Sierra Leone includes 14 commercial banks, 17 community banks, 59 Financial Services Associations (FSA), 13 MFIs (2 deposit taking and 11 credit only), and three mobile money operators. The commercial banking sector accounts for 99 percent of all financial sector assets. There are 11 foreign banks, two state owned banks, and one domestic bank.
The Bank of Sierra Leone is the country’s central bank. It issues currency (the leone), maintains external reserves, and acts as banker and financial adviser to the government. The National Development Bank is charged with providing finances to investors within the country. The Sierra Leone Commercial Bank provides credit and technical assistance to farmers.
The climate is tropical and characterized by the alternation of rainy and dry seasons. Conditions are generally hot and humid. During the rainy season, from May to October, the sky is cloudy, the winds are south-westerly, sunshine is minimal, and rain falls almost daily, especially during July and August.
The dry season, from November to April, is characterized by the harmattan, a hot, dry wind that blows from the Sahara.
Tourism in Sierra Leone has become the most dynamic and fastest growing industry. The government identified tourism as a priority sector for development and as such, it has been structured into the largest contributor to the economy after mining and agriculture.
According to the International Labour Organisation statistics, about 8,000 jobs in Sierra Leone are tourism dependents.
The main attractions for tourist in Sierra Leone are the beaches, nature reserves, mountains and the islands. Tourism in Sierra Leone is highly beach oriented. The whole Western Coastline from Aberdeen to Kent comprises a series of excellent beaches.
The beach areas of Sierra Leone fall into seven groups; Sulima, Turner’s Peninsular, Sherbro Peninsular, Shenge, Freetown Peninsular, Lungi Beaches and Scarcies Estuary.
The Cotton Tree is a unique landmark that represents the great history of Freed Slaves in the free-land called Sierra Leone with a defining Capital City name called “FREETOWN.” The Cotton Tree is said to be over 500 years Old. During the arrival of the returnees (Black Freed Slaves) this unique landmark was used to be a resting place and even a prayer ground for these people because of the shade of the tree.
One of the main tourist attractions in West Africa is the Banana Islands, a group of islands that lie off the coast of Yawri Bay, southwest of the Freetown Peninsula in the Western Area of Sierra Leone. Three islands make up the Banana Islands: Dublin and Ricketts are linked by a stone causeway. The third Mes-Meheux is uninhabited. Dublin Island is known for its beaches, while Ricketts Island is best known for its forests.
Art & Culture
The most outstanding feature of the country’s cultural life is its dancing. The internationally known Sierra Leone National Dance Troupe first won widespread acclaim at the 1964–65 New York World’s fair and continues to perform in the 21st century. The different communities of the country have their own styles of costume and dance.
In addition, some societies including the Wunde, the Sande (Bundu), and the Gola, have characteristic ceremonial dances. A wide range of agility, gracefulness, and rhythm is displayed with elements of symbolism in most of the dances. Drums, wooden xylophones called balaphones, and various stringed instruments provide the musical background.
The weaving of cloth, typically blue, brown, white, or a combination of these colours, is carried out by the Mende and the Kono in the southern and eastern regions. Thread spun from the cotton bush Gossypium is used in weaving. This handwoven cloth is an important item used in many ceremonies and rituals. The cloth is made into coats for men or is worn as a wraparound lower-body garment by women and is also used as a bedspread.
In the north, among the Temne, imported cotton or satin is tie-dyed in beautiful patterns with indigo, the red juice of the kola nut, or imported dyes. In the west, baskets are made with dyed raffia, and patterned slippers are fashioned from dyed wool.
There has been a literary tradition in Freetown since the 19th century. One of the most prolific writers was James Africanus Beale Horton, who wrote books and pamphlets on politics, science, and medicine while serving as a medical officer in the British army between 1857 and 1871. A.B.C. Sibthorpe, lauded as the first Sierra Leonean historian of Sierra Leone, wrote one of the earliest accounts of his country’s history in 1868.
More-recent works by Syl Cheney Coker and Lemuel Johnson have contributed to Sierra Leone’s literary tradition. Sierra Leone also has representation in the world of theatre with playwrights Dele Charley and Yulisa Amadu (“Pat”) Maddy.
Rice is the staple food of Sierra Leone and is consumed at virtually every meal daily. The rice is prepared in numerous ways, and topped with a variety of sauces made from some of Sierra Leone's favourite toppings, including potato leaves, cassava leaves, crain crain, okra soup, fried fish and groundnut stew.
Along the streets of towns and cities across Sierra Leone, one can find foods consisting of fruit, vegetables and snacks such as fresh mangoes, oranges, pineapple, fried plantains, ginger beer, fried potato, fried cassava with pepper sauce; small bags of popcorn or peanuts, bread, roasted corn, or skewers of grilled meat or shrimp.
Poyo is a popular Sierra Leonean drink. It is a sweet, lightly fermented palm wine, and is found in bars in towns and villages across the country. Poyo bars are areas of lively informal debate about politics, football, basketball, entertainment and other issues.
Sierra Leone is officially a secular state. Islam and Christianity are the two main religions in the country. About two-thirds of the population are Muslims, while about one-fourth are Christians. Less than one-tenth of the population practice a variety of traditional religions.
The constitution of Sierra Leone provides for freedom of religion and the Sierra Leone Government generally protects it.
Association football is by far the most popular sport in Sierra Leone. Children, youth and adult are frequently seen playing street football across Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone national football team, popularly known as the Leone Stars, represents the country in international competitions.
It has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup but participated in the 1994 and 1996 African Cup of Nations. Some of Sierra Leonean international footballers include Mohamed Kallon, Mohamed Bangura, Rodney Strasser, Kei Kamara, Ibrahim Teteh Bangura, Mustapha Dumbuya, Christian Caulker, Alhassan Bangura, Sheriff Suma, Mohamed Kamara, Umaru Bangura and Julius Gibrilla Woobay.
Basketball is another major sport with the Sierra Leone national basketball team representing Sierra Leone in international men's basketball competitions and is controlled by the Sierra Leone Basketball Federation.