Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a country in western Africa.

Sierra Leone, officially Republic of Sierra Leone, a country in western Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Guinea, and Liberia. Its area is 27,699 square miles (71,740 km2). The name is from the Portuguese for “Lion Mountain."

Sierra Leone's coast, which is 210 miles (340 km) long, has numerous bays, estuaries, and mangrove swamps. Inland are wide, rolling grasslands and scattered areas of scrub forest. In the extreme east are hills and low mountains marking the edge of western Africa's broad plateau. This region of Sierra Leone averages 1,500 to 2,000 feet (460 to 600 m) above sea level; a few peaks, such as those in the Loma Mountains, reach 6,000 feet (1,800 m) or more. Nearly all of the major rivers, including the Rokel, Jong, and Sewa, flow to the Atlantic from the eastern mountains.

The climate is tropical, with heavy, although seasonal, rainfall. Nearly all the rain occurs between April and November, and the greatest accumulations are along the coast. Freetown receives about 150 inches (3,800 mm) annually, but parts of the interior may get only half that amount. Grass and secondary scrub growth have replaced most of the tropical rain forest that once covered nearly all the land.

Facts in brief about Sierra Leone
Capital: Freetown.
Official language: English.
Area: 27,699 mi2 (71,740 km2). Greatest distances—north-south, 220 mi (354 km); east-west, 190 mi (306 km). Coastline—210 mi (338 km).
Population: Current estimate--5,915,000; density, 214 per mi2 (82 per km2); distribution, 60 percent rural, 40 percent urban. 2004 census—4,963,298.
Chief products: Agriculture—cacao, cassava, coffee, ginger, oranges, palm kernels, peanuts, piassava, rice. Mining—chrome ore, diamonds, iron ore, rutile.
Flag: Sierra Leone's flag has three horizontal stripes, green, white, and blue (top to bottom).
Money: Basic unit—leone.
The Economy

Sierra Leone is an underdeveloped nation with a largely rural population. Most of the people live and work on small farms, producing barely enough food to provide for their own needs. Rice is the main food crop. It is supplemented by cassava, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables. Commercial crops, including palm kernels and fiber, cacao, and coffee, are raised chiefly for export.

Mining is the chief nonagricultural activity, with minerals accounting for a large share of exports. Rutile, a titanium ore, leads all other minerals in value of export. It is produced near Moyamba and Bonthe. Sierra Leone is a major producer of diamonds of both gem and industrial quality. Bauxite and gold are also produced in significant amounts.

Manufacturing, the least developed part of the economy, centers on Freetown and is devoted chiefly to processing agricultural and mineral products.

Inadequate transportation is a serious problem in Sierra Leone. Only a small part of the road system has been paved; the rest is subject to frequent damage from heavy rains. Most foreign trade moves through Freetown, the chief seaport. Bonthe is also an important seaport. An international airport is at Lungi, 10 miles (16 km) north of Freetown.

Sierra Leone's population in 1985 was 3,517,530; that of Freetown, the capital and largest city, 469,776. The people are mainly blacks, representing about 18 ethnic groups, with the Mende and Temne predominant.

English is Sierra Leone's official language, but numerous indigenous dialects are spoken. Although about 60 per cent of the people are Muslims, the majority follow animist beliefs. A small minority are Christians. Primary schools provide a seven-year program, secondary schools a five-year program followed by a two-year one. University of Sierra Leone is the leading institution of higher learning.

Government and History

Sierra Leone has a popularly elected president, limited to two five-year terms, who serves as both the head of state and the head of government. The legislative branch consists of a unicameral Parliament, with the majority of members popularly elected.

Sierra Leone is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The Portuguese first began to trade along the coast about 1500. During the next half-century, neighboring peoples subjugated many of the local peoples and established kingdoms. The British arrived in 1562 in search of slaves, and soon many Europeans were trading in the region. In 1787, British philanthropists bought land at the site of Freetown to establish a settlement for freed slaves. The colony prospered and became an important center for trade and missionary activity. In 1896 the British proclaimed a protectorate over the area that is modern Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone became independent in 1961, and throughout the 1960's was beset with political instability. Sieka Stevens came to power in 1968 and gradually imposed authoritarian rule. In 1978 he created a one-party state. He retired in 1985.

In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front engaged in fighting to overthrow the government. The ensuing civil war continued through the 1990's. In 1999, a peace agreement was reached and the United Nations established a peacekeeping operation in the country; however, fighting persisted until 2002. Later that year, peaceful elections were held.