ABOUT SIERRA LEONE
Sierra Leone is situated on the West Coast
of Africa, latitudes 7° and 10° North and longitudes 10.50° and 13° West.
It is bounded on the North and North East by the Republic of Guinea, on
the east and southeast by Liberia and on the West and South by the
Atlantic Ocean with a coastline stretching some 300 miles extending from
the boundary with the Republic of Guinea to the north of the mouth of the
Great Scarcies river on to southeast at the mouth of Mano
From an approximately 70 mile-wide coastal
belt of low-lying land the country rises to a mountain plateau near the
eastern frontier, to a height of some 4,000 to 6,000 feet in the rich
timber forest region. The western area consists of the Sierra Leone
Peninsula, the small islands of Sherbro, Tasso, Plantain, Banana, Turtle,
York and others, as well as areas of inland territory approximately 255
square miles in all. The country has a total land area of some 27,925
square miles (73,326 sq km),with a population of four million people.
Freetown, the capital and main commercial centre, has the highest density
per sq km, and roughly about a quarter of the inhabitants of the western
area are Krios.
The Peninsula on which Freetown stands is
25 miles long and 10 miles wide. A mountainous promontory, it rises in
places to 300 feet above sea level, and is one of the few parts on the
West African Coast where there is such high land so near the sea. This
area has one of the world's best white sandy beaches, azure seas,
pulsating resorts where the lush green forest spills down the hillsides to
meet the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches.
Sierra Leone is a tropical country with
temperatures averaging 80°F (26°C). There are two seasons; the Dry Season,
from November to April, has the best holiday weather; and the Wet or Rainy
Season is from May to October.
PEOPLE and LANGUAGES
Population of 4,726,000 (1995). Also
includes several thousand Lebanese, Indians, Pakistanis, and refugees from
Liberia. Literacy rate 15%; blind population 28,000 (1982 WCE); deaf
The main religions are Muslim, Christian, and Traditional.
The official and commercial language of
the country is English. Each of the 15 main ethnic groups has its own
ethnic language, with the
Temnes and Mendes comprising two-thirds of the population. However, an
important vehicle of communication is Krio, the 'Lingua Franca', which is
widely spoken within the country.
Agriculture is the backbone of the
nation's economy. About 80 per cent of the country's manpower is engaged
in agricultural activities. The social organisation of agriculture is
still based on land tenure. The land is communally owned by the tribe, but
legal ownership is vested in the Chief on trust for the whole tribe. This
practice is predominant in the rural areas. Land can also be inherited in
some tribal communities which cannot be sold or bought by non-members.
However, land tenure does not apply to the Western Area where the West
European system of land tenure applies.
Diamonds and other minerals still form a
substantial portion of the country's export earnings. The main diamond and
gold mining areas are in the Eastern Province: Tongo Field in the Kenema
District, Yengema, Njaima Sewafe, Njaima Nimikoro, Tumbudu, Sefadu, and
Koidu in the Kono District. There is alluvial mining also in the South.
Gold mining also takes place in the Tonkolili and Koinadugu Districts in
the Northem Province.
Visitors are advised that it is illegal to
buy or smuggle diamonds or gold out of the country without the necessary
licences. Other important products that are also traded for export are
timber, gold, bauxite, rutile, iron ore, coffee and ginger.
Industrialisation is making steady
progress, although it has been hampered in recent times by a rebel war.
This pace will be considerably accelerated when the hydroelectric project
at Bumbuna is complete
The history of the country's poetic name
'Sierra Leone' dates back to 1462, when a Portuguese explorer, Pedro da
Cintra, sailed down the coast of West Africa and saw the long range of
mountains of what is now the Freetown Peninsula. As a result of the
topographic configuration and climatic conditions experienced by the
explorer at the time, he called the lands 'Sierra Lyoa' meaning 'Lion
Mountains'. In the sixteenth century an English sailor called it 'Sierra
Leoa'; by the seventeenth it was 'Sierra Leona', and by 1787, under the
Sierra Leone Company, it became the first of several British
Administrations. Through the years of British Colonisation, the original
name was modified and it became 'Sierra Leone', the name by which the
country is known today.
Before being discovered by Europeans, the
original local name for what is now 'Freetown' was 'Romarong', meaning the
place of the 'Wailers'; so-called because of the constant weeping and
screaming of victims of storm and cross-current disasters at the mouth of
the Sierra Leone river. (Interestingly, when the Portuguese sailor, Pedro
da Cintra called the country by its present name 'Sierra Lyoa', he had not
deviated much from the concept of the indigenous people of names based on
the observation of nature.
During the latter half of the 18th
Century, Bunce Island was one of the major slave trading operations on the
Rice Coast of West Africa. Sierra Leone was for many years used as a slave
trading outpost until it was gradually phased out and later, in the 18th
century, it became a settlement for freed slaves after the English
philanthropist Granville Sharpe, who was deeply concerned about the
welfare of freed slaves, published his proposal to take them all back to
Africa and settle them there where they could prosper in a genial climate.
Much has been written of the traumatic history of the Slave Trade, but one
of the most courageous stories of the fight of Sierra Leoneans against
slavery is the story of the Amistad. Part of the legacy of the Slave Trade
can still be seen in the USA, amongst the Gullah, who still retain many
cultural traits from their origins in Sierra Leone.
Through its period of British
colonisation, Sierra Leone also served as the seat of Government for other
British Colonies along the West African Coast. The first college for
higher education in West Africa and indeed in tropical Africa, Fourah Bay
College, was established in Sierra Leone in 1827. The country is therefore
well known for its early achievements in the fields of medicine, law and
education which originally earned it the name, 'the Athens of West
Freetown, the capital, seat of government
and centre of all commercial activities in the country has spread
considerably, from its population of a mere 7,400 in 1874 to about 700,000
inhabitants now; and this figure is still growing. Freetown also provides
natural anchorage and berthing facilities for ships at the Queen Elizabeth
II Quay, the third largest natural harbour in the world. The City contains
many important buildings and landmarks of historical and cultural
interest, the most prominent and significant of which is the Cotton Tree,
standing almost in the centre of Freetown, and reputed to be more than 300
Sierra Leone’s recent history has been
marred by a rebel war which began in 1991 and lasted until July 7 1999
when a peace agreement was signed between the Government and the
Revolutionary United Front (RUF) the group that had been waging the
Sierra Leone became an independent,
Sovereign state within the Commonwealth on 27 April 1961, thus ending its
British administration. Ten years later, on 19 April 1971, the country
became a Republic, with its own elected President as Head of State.
In 1978, the country became a
one-party state with the All People’s Congress (APC) in power.
In 1991, a multi-party democratic
constitution was adopted, and multi-party elections scheduled for
1992. However, the army, led
by Captain Valentine Strasser, overthrew the APC government in April 1992
and formed the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) which ruled the
country for four years. The current President, Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, was democratically elected
and voted into office, in 1996.
The concept of government was influenced for a long time by the
British model of a Parliament of elected Members drawn from national
constituencies, with a Cabinet of Ministers responsible for Government
Departments. The government was headed by a Prime Minister until 1971 when
a Republic was declared and the British Monarch ceased being Head of
State. The 1991 Constitution
is modeled on the American system, with an Executive President.
Government also encompasses and
recognises the roles of local Chiefs and Chiefdoms. These two cultural
practices of government are combined to form the single platform upon
which the Republic is governed.