Sierra Leone


Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. It borders Guinea and Liberia.

The area is 72 thousand km². The capital is the city of Freetown.

The toponym originated in the 15th century. The name of the coast was given in 1461 by the Portuguese navigator Peru di Sintra, who named the mountain ledge "Serra da Lioa" (port. Serra da Leoa) - "the ridge of the lioness." In a distorted form, "Sierra Leone" (Spanish Sierra Leone) - "lion mountains", this name appeared on Spanish maps, while there is no reason to associate it with lions that do not live in this area. Some linguists have suggested that the toponym could have appeared due to the lion-like roar of the surf or the wind in the mountains. In 1961, the country declared independence under the established name of Sierra Leone.



The history of Sierra Leone as a colonial possession dates back to the 15th century; as an independent state since 1961.

Pre-colonial period
Archaeological finds show that the territory of Sierra Leone has been inhabited by people for at least about 2,500 years. Around the 9th century, the inhabitants of this region began to use iron, and about a thousand years ago, the tribes living near the ocean coast switched to the development of agriculture. Dense rainforests isolated these lands from other pre-colonial African cultures and contributed to the spread of Islam. Today, about 78% of the population are Muslims.

The first documentary sources on the history of Sierra Leone date back to the 16th century. According to the information contained in them, during the Middle Ages, various African tribes that competed with each other lived on the territory of Sierra Leone. In particular, the large peninsula, in the northwest of which Freetown is today, was originally inhabited by the Sherbro and Crane tribes. By the 15th century, feudal relations began to take shape among the inhabitants of modern Sierra Leone, but the traditions of slavery continued to be preserved. There is an assumption that the Bullom people, who now make up the majority of the population of the state, reached the shores of Sierra Leone by sea, but this hypothesis has not yet been confirmed.

During the period of mass migrations of African peoples across the mainland, most of the peninsula was gradually occupied by representatives of the Temne people, as well as the small tribe of Limba [en]. Prior to this, the Temne's place of residence was the Futa-Jalon Plateau, from where they were forced out by the Susu and Dyalonke. The most developed people were the Fulbe (Fula). The Fula traded among themselves and with other tribes, mainly in finely crafted iron, salt, clothing, and gold.

Portuguese colonization
Arrival of the Europeans
The territory of modern Sierra Leone was one of the first in West Africa, mastered by Europeans. The first inhabitants of Europe to set foot on this land were the Portuguese. When they landed on the peninsula, there were no states either on it or on the mainland adjacent to it, but only separate politically independent tribal associations existed. Their representatives spoke similar, but different languages, and did not have a common religion.

In 1462, the Portuguese founded a number of small trading posts on the developed lands, and also invented the name for the peninsula they discovered - "Sierra Leone", which in Portuguese meant "Lion Mountains". As the colonists moved deeper into the continent, this name spread to the entire territory that the country occupies today. The steatite figurines known as “nomoli” also belong to this period, which were made in the 16th century by order of Portuguese merchants and, presumably, were entirely exchanged for European goods.

Sierra Leone's harbor, being one of the most convenient in North West Africa, soon made it a favorite destination for European sailors. In 1662, the British built the first fort in Sierra Leone.

Slave trade
Prior to the arrival of Europeans in Sierra Leone, the slave trade was virtually non-existent. Guyanese historian Walter Rodney found records of the first Portuguese travelers in Sierra Leone, which mentioned only one type of slavery among the locals. According to Rodney, the Portuguese tended to keep detailed and meticulous records, especially in relation to trade, so it was extremely unlikely that they would remain silent or ignore any important event related to the slave trade. The specific type of slavery mentioned in the Portuguese records was as follows: a person who, for one reason or another, is forced to flee from the power of his ruler, can ask for protection from another ruler, while becoming his "slave". However, such a person had the right to free labor and, probably, could rise in status over time.

If the Africans themselves had no interest in acquiring slaves, then with the Europeans everything was completely different. Since the beginning of the 17th century, Portuguese, English, Dutch and French ships have repeatedly come to Sierra Leone. They exported natives and then sold them as slaves in the West Indies, North and South America. Initially, they did this by kidnapping, raiding West African lands, but over time they found that the leaders of the local tribes were ready to cooperate with them. Trading in slaves, tribal leaders often had not only material benefits, but also got rid of the least desirable tribesmen. As a rule, slaves were exchanged for rum, fabrics, beads, firearms and other products brought by Europeans.

Thus, until the 18th century in West Africa, including Sierra Leone, the slave trade had only an export character. Tribal leaders began to conduct slave trade among themselves somewhat later than with Europeans. In addition to them, foreigners also traded in labor. It was not until the end of the century that the African leaders managed to seize the initiative: many had entire states of "domestic" slaves. According to the assumption of the American anthropologist M. McCulloch, about 15% of the representatives of the largest Mende tribal group in Sierra Leone, which at that time amounted to about 560,000 people, were “domestic” slaves.


British colonization

The English followed the Portuguese in the middle of the 16th century.

Arrival of settlers
Depiction of the British fort on Bunce Island (1727)

At the end of the 18th century, a slave ship en route to America was shipwrecked off the British Isles. Several hundred Africans ended up in Liverpool. According to the laws of Great Britain, they could not be recognized as slaves on British soil, as a result of which they were declared free. To spare these people from starvation, several English philanthropists formed the "Committee for the Liberation of the Unfortunate Blacks" to help both them and other victims of the slave trade. They proposed to create in Africa the Province of Freedom, where all the freed slaves could settle. The founder of the committee, Sharp, gathered 351 Africans in Liverpool and, with the help of his acquaintances, transported them to West Africa.

In May 1787, English ships moored on the shores of the Sierra Leone peninsula. Here, in its northern part, Sharp acquired a piece of land from the Temne leader Naim Bana, on which the former slaves settled. A few years later, another large group of Africans (1131 people) from Canada (“black loyalists”) were brought to the peninsula, who had previously fought on the side of Great Britain in the war against the United States and received freedom for this. Initially, they were given land in Nova Scotia, but the Africans themselves preferred to move to warm Africa. After the arrival of the second group of settlers in Sierra Leone, the settlement of Freetown (eng. "city of the free"), the future capital of Sierra Leone, was founded by the joint forces of the freed slaves. The management of the settlement passed into the hands of the English colonial Sierra Leone Company.

It is from these settlers that the current population of Freetown, the Creole, originates. Due to the fact that the vast majority of Africans did not remember their tribal affiliation and native language, their language became Krio - a modified version of the English language with a significant admixture of African words. Today, Krio is the official language of Sierra Leone.

19th century in Sierra Leone
Creoles gradually gained a dominant position in Sierra Leone. In 1796, the Creoles who inhabited Freetown for the first time opposed the election of whites to the Freetown council. In 1800, Creole riots forced the British to establish an elected municipality and a Creole jury in Freetown.

In 1808, Freetown and its environs officially came under the authority of the British Crown. During the 19th century, the British gradually occupied the entire territory of the modern state of Sierra Leone, overcoming the resistance of the French. Thanks to the British, there was a leap in the development of Sierra Leone. In particular, in 1827, the oldest university in West Africa, Fourah Bay University, was established in Freetown.

The population was replenished with slaves freed from slave ships. From 1819 to 1866, an American-British commission worked in Freetown, which considered cases of captured ships flying American and British flags, which were suspected of being in the slave trade. The commission considered 535 cases, freeing more than 55 thousand slaves.

During the 19th century, the local population repeatedly rebelled against the British. So, in February 1898, Africans in the vicinity of the city of Port Loko refused to pay taxes, the leader of the Loko tribe named Bai-Bure gathered 3 thousand fighters and unleashed hostilities against the British. As a result, by the end of the year, more than 2 thousand rebels were killed, 96 of their leaders were executed, however, the British also suffered serious losses: 160 people were killed and more than 260 were wounded.

In 1896, a British protectorate was established over Sierra Leone. As a result, local tribal leaders became officials of the British colonial administration. The final borders with the colonial possessions of France - England's main rival in the colonization of the African continent - were established in 1904, with Liberia - in 1911.

world wars
British Expeditionary Forces in Freetown (1919)

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the development of the mining industry began in Sierra Leone, the intensive construction of roads, including railways, and urban settlements were created. In 1928, the British officially banned "domestic" slavery, but in reality this ban meant almost nothing.

Both during the First and during the Second World War, military operations were not conducted on the territory of Sierra Leone. During the First World War, due to the fact that Africa was colonized mainly by the powers of the Entente, there was no threat of attack from the German colonies in relation to Sierra Leone. The closest German colonial possession to Sierra Leone was Togoland, but almost immediately after the declaration of war, it was occupied by British troops. During World War II, the next military conflict took place in 1940 in Senegal (Senegalese operation), when the troops of Vichy France managed to repel the attack of the forces of the Anti-Hitler coalition.


Independent state

Declaration of Independence
In 1951, Milton Margai, the first native medical doctor in the Protectorate, founded the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP). She represented the interests of the Mende people, conservative tribal leaders and prosperous merchants. The main opposition force against the SLPP was the All People's Congress (AC) led by Siaka Stevens, initially formed by dissidents from the SLPP, dissatisfied with its pro-British orientation. The VC enjoyed support among the population of the northern regions of Sierra Leone, primarily the Temne and Limba peoples, as well as small traders and hired workers from different parts of the protectorate.

While most of the African colonies organized the struggle for independence, the inhabitants of Sierra Leone were not going to separate from the mother country, but in the end the colony nevertheless received sovereignty: in 1961, Sierra Leone became a dominion within the Commonwealth of Nations, and later The SLPP, led by Milton Margai, won the first elections in independent Sierra Leone. Margai died in a plane crash on April 28, 1964, and then his brother Albert Margai became prime minister and head of the party.

Period of coups
According to the results of the 1967 elections, the All People's Congress won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives (unicameral parliament). Siaka Stevens was asked to form a government, but this did not happen: on March 21, 1967, a military coup led by General Lansana took place in the country, and on March 23 it was followed by another military coup. As a result, the "National Council for Transformation" (NRC), headed by General E. Jackson-Smith, came to power. Margai was arrested. On April 17, 1968, a group of junior officers led by Patrick Conte overthrew the SNP and restored civilian rule to the country. On April 26, Stevens formed a 15-member coalition government. It included 6 representatives of the All People's Congress, 4 representatives of the NSPL and 5 independents.

In March 1969, by-elections to the parliament were held in Sierra Leone. Their results allowed Siaka Stevens to form a one-party government, which, however, failed to achieve political stabilization. In 1970, a state of emergency was introduced in Sierra Leone, and on March 23, 1971, when another military coup was attempted in the country, led by Army Commander General Bangura, Stevens was forced to seek help from the government of Guinea. Parts of the Guinean army were in Sierra Leone for two years.

April 19, 1971 Sierra Leone was proclaimed a republic, Stevens became president.

In 1973, SLPP candidates were excluded from the general election, but in 1977, when mass demonstrations forced the government to hold snap elections, the party managed to win a number of seats in parliament. Then Siaka Stevens said that in the event that a one-party system is not introduced in Sierra Leone, the country will fall apart due to tribal strife. In 1978, a new constitution was adopted in the state, which provided for the establishment of one-party rule by the All People's Congress. This constitution was approved by the majority of parliamentarians and the population of the country in an urgent national referendum. Stevens was elected president for a seven-year term.

Elections held in 1982 and 1985 on a one-party basis were accompanied by abuses, political assassinations and the non-election of many former deputies to the new parliament. At the end of 1985, President Stevens retired at the age of 82 and handed over the presidency to 41-year-old Major General Joseph Said Momo. In the same year, his appointment was approved by Parliament. In 1986, under a one-party system, general parliamentary elections were held.

Widespread unrest and acts of civil disobedience that swept the country in 1990 forced the government to hold a popular referendum in 1991, which called for a return to a multi-party system. A new constitution was soon drafted, but Sierra Leone was never destined to return to a constitutional and democratic form of government.


Civil War

In the early 1990s, a group of Libyan-trained radicals, with the support of Liberian rebel leader Charles Taylor, created the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which waged war against successive governments in the country for the next decade. The civil war, which in essence was a combination of RUF actions and government responses, was characterized by extreme cruelty and mass atrocities against the civilian population. The practice of amputating limbs against persons whom the RUF considered their enemies became widespread.

As a result of a military coup in 1992, the country was headed by the National Interim Ruling Council (since July 1992 - the Supreme State Council). 27-year-old Captain Valentine Melvin Strasser, who became the youngest head of state in the world at that time, was appointed its head. On January 17, 1996, Strasser's regime was in turn overthrown by another group of young officers, led by Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio.

Despite the ongoing civil war, in 1996 the country held multi-party parliamentary elections. In the first round, the Sierra Leone People's Party, led by Ahmed Tijan Kabbah, won the support of 36% of voters. In second place was the United National People's Party of John Caref-Smart (23% of the vote). Eleven other political organizations also participated in the first free multi-party elections since 1967.

In 1997, against the background of ongoing fighting with the rebels in the countryside, a military coup was carried out in Sierra Leone, as a result of which a junta led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma came to power. Nevertheless, the military forces of the peacekeeping contingent of the countries of the region, led by the Nigerian, stood up for the deposed President Kabbah. In 1999 and 2000, rebels from the United Revolutionary Front tried to storm Freetown, but in both cases, peacekeepers, supported by Kabbah loyalists, managed to repel attacks on the capital.

In 1999, with the active mediation of the UN and the countries of the region, a peace treaty was concluded between the rebels and the legitimate government. President Kabbah was reinstated, representatives of the RUF entered the government, and its leader Fodey Sankoh became vice president of the country. However, many rebels continued to fight, after which the UK and Guinea sent troops to Sierra Leone. The remnants of the RUF suffered a series of defeats and soon ceased hostilities.

In 2002, Kabbah again won the presidential election, but in 2007 the election was won by the representative of the All People's Congress, Ernest Bai Koroma, who was re-elected for a second term in November 2012. In 2018, according to the results of the next presidential election, the leader of the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party, Julius Maada Bio, became the president of the country.


Geographic data

The river network of Sierra Leone is highly developed. The main rivers are the Big Scarsies (Kolente), Little Scarsies (Kaba), Roquel, Jong, Mabole, Seva, Moa and Makona. There are many convenient bays on the coast, in particular, the port of Freetown.

Minerals - diamonds, bauxite, iron, gold and rutile (mineral, titanium dioxide).

The climate is subequatorial, hot and humid, with a dry winter season (November-April) and a humid summer season (May-October). On the coast, in Freetown, the average temperature of the warmest month is + 29 ° C, the coldest - + 24 ° C, the average annual rainfall is 2740 mm, and inland, in Bo, respectively + 31 ° C, + 21 ° C and 2770 mm of precipitation.

A strip of mangroves stretches along the coast. The main type of vegetation is tall-grass savanna with thickets of shrubs and isolated baobab trees. Moist equatorial forests, preserved only on the eastern slopes of mountains and hills and in the south, occupy less than 5% of the country's area.

In the coastal zone, coconut trees are grown, and in the savannas, oil palms. Ceiba, or cotton tree, teak, pink and ebony, cola grow in the forests.

The animal world consists of many species of birds, mammals include elephant, buffalo, leopard, antelope, zebra, hyena, wild boar, various monkeys, hippos, reptiles - crocodiles, snakes, lizards. Scorpions are found everywhere, a lot of insect species - from the malarial mosquito to large beautiful butterflies and swamp dragonflies. Barracudas and sharks are found in estuaries and coastal waters.

Political structure
When Sierra Leone gained independence on April 27, 1961, legislative and executive power in the country was in the hands of the Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers, and the British monarch, represented by the Governor General, was considered the nominal head of state. Following constitutional amendments in 1971, Sierra Leone was proclaimed a republic with executive power vested in the president.

In 2000, Tony Blair sent 1,500 British troops to Sierra Leone, who took over the defense of the country's capital, Freetown, from the rebel army of the Revolutionary United Front. On May 30, 2007, Tony Blair was solemnly proclaimed Paramount Chief of Sierra Leone. The new title formally gives Tony Blair the right to sit in the Parliament of Sierra Leone. Thus, according to The Daily Telegraph, the country's authorities noted his role in ending the civil war.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the country was classified as a hybrid regime in 2018 on the Democracy Index.