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Sierra Leone

( Download “Sierra Leone Overview” as a PDF)

Basic Statistics

  • Total population: 6,440,000 (Ranked 103rd in the world by the US Census Bureau).
  • National GDP: US $4.3 billion.
  • GDP per capita: US $735.
  • Median Age: 17.5.
  • Infant Mortality: 154.4 per 1,000 live births.


  • Location: On the western coast of West Africa.
  • Borders: Guinea and Liberia.
  • Area: 27,740 square miles.
  • Topography: From the 210 miles of Pacific coastline of mangrove swamps and beaches in the west the land grade rises to a densely forested plateau and mountain range in the East.
  • Climate: Tropical; hot, humid; summer rainy season (May to December); winter dry season (December to April).
  • Capital and population: Freetown-1, 070,200.
  • 3 provinces and 1 area: Eastern, Northern, Southern, and the Western Area.


  • Population density: 206 people per square mile.
  • Children 0-14: 44.5%-(male 1,407,226/female 1,460,366)
  • 15-64 years: 52.2% (male 1,613,554/female 1,750,250)
  • 65 years and over: 3.2% (male 95,533/female 113,124) (2009 est.)
  • Male to female ratio: 94 males per 100 females.
  • Birth rate: 44.7 per 1,000 people.
  • Life expectancy at birth: 38.9 for males and 43.6 for females.
  • Infant mortality rate: 154.4 per 1,000 live births.
  • Official language: English.
  • Principal languages: Krio, Mende, Temne.
  • Ethnic groups: 90% is a combination of 20 native African tribes (30% Temne, 30% Mende, and 30% other) and 10% Creole (descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area in the late-eighteenth century). Less than 1% is comprised of refugees from Liberia’s recent civil war, Europeans, Lebanese, Pakistanis, and Indians.
  • Religious affiliations: 47.4% Muslims (2,777,000), 37.6% Ethnoreligionists (2,192,000), 13.2% Christian (767,2000), Agnostics 1.5% (80,000). Less than 1% Baha’is, Hindus, Atheists and other.
  • Education: No formal mandated system.
  • Literacy rate: 35.1%.


  • Currency: Leone.
  • GDP per capita: US $735.
  • National GDP: US $4.3 billion.
  • Major Industries: Mining and light manufacturing.
  • Chief crops: Cocoa, coffee, palm kernels, rice.
  • Electricity production: 80 million kWh (2007).
  • Radios: 222 per 1,000 people.
  • Telephones: 3.7 per 1,000 people.

Historical Background

In 1460, Pedro da Cintra, a Portuguese explorer, first called the region Sierra Leone (meaning Lion Mountains) when he visited its coast. The specific ancient history of Sierra Leone, however, is shrouded in mystery, but we do know of the great cultures and kingdoms of West Africa generally. We know of a people in the 16th century called the Manes (who may be ancestors to the Mende and Loko of today), who extended their power from the southeast coast into the north-west hinterland. By the 17th and 18th centuries, many tribal states operated within social order partially sustained by secret societies such as the Poro. About 1775, Futa Jalon established a theocratic Muslim state. The British established Sierra Leone as a colony in 1808. Earlier in 1787, they had settled freed slaves in the capital they called Freetown. Voting rights were granted to the colony in 1924. From the early 1800s until 1961, when Sierra Leone gained independence, it was known as a British protectorate. Economic instability and corruption have plagued the country from its inception. Since 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has waged an extremely violent civil war, killing and maiming thousands of civilians, and forcing children to become soldiers. Nigerian forces have tried to assist the Sierra Leone government but resources are all but depleted, especially now that the RUF has control of most of the diamond mining areas. The ware continued until 2001 when international forces, particularly the British military intervened. The rebel leaders have since been tried by UN courts for Sierra Leone, and the children soldiers have been reintegrated into society.

Trends and Social Issues

Meeting the daily needs of people is still a critical issue in Sierra Leone. Poverty is high because the cost of living is especially high. The current global economic downturn has greatly affected the economy. It still remains 2nd to last in the UN Development index. It is a donor-driven country, relying heavily on foreign aid. The mineral resources are present, but there are NO factories owned by the Sierra Leonean people to manufacture the raw materials. All current manufacturing is happening from the outside.

The continual change in government has slowed the pace of political activity. The current party has placed only other members of its party in power. Thus, the opposite party members are neglected, even those who have the expertise to have develop the country’s infrastructure and economy. In this author’s opinion, these are the same problems that led the country to civil war in the early 90’s.

For younger generation, who are seeking university level training, the high cost of educational fees often prevent them from pursuing education further. Like it was mentioned earlier, even the grants and scholarships for education are given by outside donors.

Franklyn Jusu Macavoray and Jordan Easley

© 2018 CYS

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