Country Profiles:
Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, is located in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the north-east, Liberia to the south-east and the Atlantic Ocean to the south-west. Sierra Leone has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savannah to rainforests. The country owes its name to the 15th-century Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra, the first European to sight and map Freetown harbor. The original Portuguese name, Serra Lyoa (“Lion Mountains”), referred to the range of hills that surrounds the harbor. The capital, Freetown, harbors one of the world’s largest natural resources.

Pedro de Sintra began mapping out the hills surrounding Freetown Harbor, and Portuguese traders, as well as the Dutch and French, quickly followed. During the late 18th century a settlement was founded called the “Province of Freedom,” where recently freed slaves seek refuge.

Sierra Leone served as the residence of the British governor during the early 20th century.

Indigenous peoples, and several unsuccessful revolts against the British were carried out, including the Hut Tax war of 1898 led by Bai Bureh. As a result, Sierra Leone was divided into a Protectorate and a Colony in 1924, with each side having their own political system. However, conflict between both sides in 1947 sparked a move to provide for a single political system, and in 1951 Sir Milton Margai oversaw the drafting of a new constitution. Sierra Leone finally achieved independence from Great Britain on April 27th 1961, and Sir Milton Margai was elected the country’s first Prime Minister. After Sir Milton’s unexpected death in 1964, the parliament appointed his half-brother, Sir Albert Margai as Prime Minister, who introduced an authoritarian era of ruling. Riots erupted in Freetown against Sir Milton’s policies, and in 1967 Siaka Stevens was sworn in as Prime Minister. After an eighteen year reign, Stevens retired from politics in 1985, and Major General Momoh was appointed to the position. In March 1991, after a failed attempt to overthrow Momoh’s government, a civil war enveloped the country, lasting a decade and resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people. Rebel leader Foday Sankoh led the RUF rebel movement and was notorious for mass rape and mutilations. According to the BBC, what perpetuated the civil war was the trade in illicit gems, known as “blood diamonds” for their role in funding conflicts. The brutal civil war that ended in 2002 with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission. Ernest Bai Koroma was elected president. President Koroma is considered by his numerous followers all around Sierra Leone and in the Diaspora as The Hope of the Future.

Sierra Leone is one of the 10 top diamond producing countries in the world, and as such, diamonds and other mineral exports are the country's main source of income.

Other minerals include bauxite, columbite (a black mineral of iron, manganese, and niobium), gold, platinum, chromite, and reserves of rutile (titanium dioxide) that are among the world’s largest. Most of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, primarily for the domestic market but some also for export. Cash crops include millet, peanuts (groundnuts), cassava (manioc), sweet potatoes, and  palm oil.

There are about 18 ethnic groups in the country. The largest groups are the Mende, the Temne, the Limba, Kuranko, Susu, Yalunka, and Loko, the Kono and Kisi,  the Sherbro. Minor groups include the coastal Bullom, Vai, and Krim and the Fulani and Malinke. The Creoles—descendants of liberated blacks who colonized the coast from the late 18th to the mid-19th century—are found mainly in and around Freetown. English is the official language. Creole (derived from English and several indigenous African languages) is the most widely spoken language in virtually all parts of Sierra Leone.

Cuisine in Sierra Leone is quite simple, consisting mainly of rice-based dishes and hearty meaty stews. The staple food is rice. There is a popular saying, “if I haven’t had my rice, I haven’t eaten today.” Popular dishes includes: Agidi, a sweet pounded-corn snack, steamed in a banana leaf and soft and moist in texture; Caurel steaks, is a red-fleshed fish; Local spiny lobster; Banana pancakes; Fry fry is a catchall term for a variety of (usually fried) foods—plus spaghetti; Binch/bean dishes, Black-eyed beans, known as binch; Fufu; Peanut/Groundnut soup.

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