Republic of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is located in West Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, with an area of 71,740 square kilometers (27,925 square miles) and a total coastline of 402 kilometers (250 miles). The country shares a border with Guinea in the north and east and with Liberia in the southeast. In comparative terms, Sierra Leone is in area about half the size of the U.S. state of Illinois. Freetown, the capital city, is located in the western part of the country.
The population of Sierra Leone was estimated in 2000 to be roughly 5.2 million. Exact figures for the country are impossible to find because a civil war has ravaged the country since 1991. Since the beginning of the war, it is estimated that some 2.5 million people have been displaced as refugees, mostly to Guinea and Liberia. Sierra Leone has an annual population growth rate of 3.6 percent, a birth rate of 45.6 per 1,000, and a death rate of 19.58 per 1,000, according to 2000 estimates.
Most of the population (99 percent) is of indigenous African descent. There are roughly 18 different native African ethnic groups. The largest, the Mendes and the Temnes, each make up roughly 30 percent of the entire population. The other groups account for about 39 percent, with the Krio (or Creole), Lebanese, and Indians making up about 1 percent. The Krio are descendants of freed slaves from Britain, North America, the Caribbean and re-captives from slave ships, who were settled in Freetown when it became a British colony in 1808.
Although English is the official language, it is only spoken by government officials and a limited number of educated Sierra Leoneans. Mende and Temne are spoken in the south and north, respectively. Krio, a mix of English and African languages, is spoken by the Krio, who make up an estimated 10 percent of the population. Although a small percentage of the population speaks Krio, the language is understood by an estimated 95 percent of the population, according to the World Factbook.
The population of Freetown was estimated at over 1.2 million in 1994. Many rural people fled to the city to escape the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that is responsible for a campaign of terror involving hundreds of random amputations (cutting off of hands, legs, ears, etc.), rapes, murders, and lootings.
Sierra Leone's manufacturing sector is one of the smallest in all of Africa. Manufacturing industries are very few and still in a stage of infancy in Sierra Leone due to the lack of financial support available during the civil strife. The manufacturing businesses are mainly raw materials processors and light manufacturers for the domestic market. Items processed are mostly palm kernels and rice. Other manufacturing industries produce a variety of goods including salt, knitwear and other clothing, paint, oxygen, plastic footwear, nails, soap and cosmetics, and a wide range of furniture. Sierra Leone also has a refinery for imported petroleum. The continuing trouble in this sector is indicated in the small number of new manufacturing businesses that opened recently. In 1998, only 0.5 percent of the country's new businesses were involved in manufacturing or construction, according to the Sierra Leone News Agency.
Prior to the outbreak of the war in 1991, serious tourist development took place. The center of attraction was the Cape Sierra district bordered by Lumley Beach. Many modern hotels catered to the tourist population. In 1978, the Bintumani Hotel was built, equipped with 300 beds and a conference center. The Cape Sierra Hotel and the Mammy Yoko Hotel are also located in the Lumley Beach area. Within the city, the main hotels are Brookfields and the Paramount. However, many of these hotels have been damaged by the war or have been transformed as lodgings for soldiers.
Sierra Leone is also home to historic Bunce Island, once a slave trading post. Freetown itself is part of the Freetown Peninsula endowed with unspoiled beaches, nature trails, and historic buildings. The number of tourists has been dramatically reduced because of the war.
Sierra Leone was chosen as the site for the West African Clearing House, which was established in Freetown in 1975. Banking was first introduced to the country in 1898 by the then Bank of West Africa, which later became the Standard Bank of Sierra Leone. It was followed in 1917 by Barclays. The nation's first indigenous commercial bank, the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, Ltd., was opened in 1973 and is entirely government-owned. Sierra Leone's banking system is supervised by the Bank of Sierra Leone, which serves as the central bank and therefore controls, maintains, and regulates the nation's money supply and foreign reserves.
Of major importance to the nation's economic growth is the National Development Bank, founded in 1968. Its function is to provide finance in the form of loans or equity capital to many development projects in agriculture, agro-based industry, and industry. However, the ongoing civil strife, especially the 1997 coup d'état that toppled the civilian government of President Tejan Kabbah, seriously dislocated these financial services. Barclays Bank, for example, ceased operations in the country, and the Treasury Building was severely damaged by fire.
Sierra Leone is a land of petty traders and street hawkers . Many indigenous people engage in retail with items as varied as food commodities, clothing, and building materials, among others. According to Background to Sierra Leone, over 8 percent of the country's working population is engaged in retail and wholesale distribution.
Sierra Leone has no territories or colonies.
Background to Sierra Leone. Freetown: State House, 1980.
Conteh-Morgan, Earl, and Mac Dixon-Fyle. Sierra Leone at the End of the Twentieth Century: History, Politics, and Society. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.
Human Rights Watch. <http://www.hrw.org> . Accessed December 2000.
Reno, William. Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Sierra Leone News Agency (SLNA). Business Page: Trade and Industry Overview. <http://www.sierra-leone.gov.sl/business/trade_overview1.htm> . Accessed October 2001.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers From Sierra Leone. Geneva: UNHCR, 1998.
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook 2001. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html> . Accessed October 2001.
Leone (Le). One leone equals 100 cents. Leone notes are available in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000. Coins are in denominations of Le50 and 100.
Diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee, fish.
Foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels and lubricants, chemicals.
US$2.7 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).
Exports: US$65 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.). Imports: US$145 million (f.o.b., 2000 est.).