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State

Capital

Sierra Leone

Freetown

Currency unit

Leone

Connections

Empire

Islam

Population

Sahel
 West Africa

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

History

The name is Spanish for Lion Mountain, after a prominent hill above the capital. Before colonial times the country was inhabited by a group of peoples related to those in neighboring Guinea. The culture of the peoples, dominated by secret initiation societies, is shared with many other African peoples.

Like Liberia the country was founded for the settlement of freed slaves, especially those who fought for Britain in the American war of Independence. The pioneers were brought from Nova Scotia. The first slave release at Freetown under the Sierra Leone Company was as early as 1787. Freetown was the headquarters of the British navy's anti-slavery patrol from 1808, after it had to leave Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea). The interior was conquered in 1898-99.

During colonial times the ruling group was composed of the descendants of the freed slaves. A new language grew, Pidgin - a language derived from the contact between European sailors and the local people, similar along the west African coast). Their culture was similar to that of the Americo-Liberians, and usually had English names. They migrated throughout Anglo West Africa and formed a middle class of professionals, especially lawyers.

On independence in 1961 these lost their dominant position to the majority peoples of the interior. The Sierra Leone People's party formed a government under Milton Margai as Prime Minister. He tried to institute a single party state, but an opposition grew.

There was a coup in 1967 when the ruling party lost an election to Siaka Stevens' All People's Congress. Civilian rule was regained in 1968 when Siaka Stevens became prime minister and later president and himself instituted a one-party regime. He retired in 1985 and handed over to the next president, General Joseph Momoh who presided over what was essentially a tyranny enforced by party thugs. It was in the time of Stevens that political thugs became important and the rule of law decayed. He also borrowed from western bankers leading to the financial weakness of what could have been a rich country.

The fighting in Liberia spilled across the border in March 1991 with an invasion from Charles Taylor's guerrillas, led in SL by Foday Sankoh. The rebels from Liberia seem to have had some support from within the country. The SL army was unable to drive them out of the country or maintain security.

By March 1992 it was estimated that 20% of the territory was affected by a war of similar type to that in Mozambique. Charles Taylor's forces had invaded and terrorized the southern and eastern provinces - those bordering Liberia. They were expelled by another group from Liberia. This was a crushing burden for a country already one of the poorest in the world. Requests for assistance from Britain were refused. The military took power at the end of April 1992 but failed to stop the fighting.

Many years of bad government have made this one of the poorest countries in the world. The industries have either run down or been looted by the multi-national companies who export the profits along with the bauxite, timber and diamonds.

As in Liberia there has been a general breakdown of ordinary life. The military coup was led by younger officers. They claimed they wanted to restore order, but admitted they might be unable to do so without outside help. The turning point seems to have been the employment of a South African "Security Company" a private army which trained an effective force. After mainly British and Nigerian help a civilian government was restored in summer 1998. However, this government had little control of the country. Again the military overthrew it and the war got worse with ill-disciplined armies on both sides trying to control the diamond trade from the unofficial diamond diggings.

The main event bringing the war to an end was probably the arrival of British troops. Originally these were intended to evacuate Europeans from the fighting. However, it soon became obvious that a small contingent of professional British soldiers was enough to stop the fighting. British "advisors" remain in the country, especially in the civil service, rebuilding the administration.

Foday Sankoh was sent to the International Court at Den Haag in the Netherlands, but died before being tried. Charles Taylor is still on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone at the Hague (2010).

Languages

Numerous African languages of Niger-Congo family

Mande group including:

Mende

Vai Gbande

West Atlantic group:

Gola

Sherbro

Temne

Official

English

Pidgin

 History

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

Politics

There was a single-party government (All People's Congress), with talk of changing to a multi-party system. The reality of the political situation may be that a secret society, the Poro, rules the country, which may account for the complete stagnation and poverty of the country as the Poro has the effect of a Mafia.

A military revolt on 30 April 1992 threw out the civilian president, former General Momoh. A 27 year old Captain Valentine Strasser took power in a junior officers' coup. But the state continued to decay. There were no signs the soldiers would rebuild it. Most of the country was controlled by rebels. As in Liberia the state collapsed.

Foday Sankoh was said to be the rebel leader. But his forces practice nothing but terror and robbery so probably he has no political program, other than putting himself into power. But what would power mean in a collapsed country? Dust and ashes. Possibly he was only a front man for Charles Taylor of Liberia.

Elections were planned for February 1996 but Strasser was ousted by the other military leaders, who probably didn't want to give up power. The new leader's sister was said to be the mistress of Foday Sankoh. Who cared about the people? None of them.

Elections held 1996. Did they solve the problems? No. Only the towns voted - the countryside was insecure. However, a nominally civilian government made it possible for outside governments to assist.

A military rising by junior officers (Jonny Paul Koroma) reduced the country to chaos. Sanctions and military force by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) troops (mainly Nigerian) restored the civilian government eventually (with some British help).

After a British force helped restore order - as Craig Murray points out, in reality a restoration of colonialism - an election was held on 15 May 2002 for a government which at last seems to control most of the territory - assisted by a large UN peacekeeping force, and a British force.

Interesting reading

Ishmael Beah - A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier


A Long Way Gone: The True Story of a Child Soldier


Craig Murray - Catholic Orangemen



The inside story of African negotiations.
Christopher Fyfe - a History of Sierra Leone


Short History of Sierra Leone
See also Liberia and Graham Greene

 History

 Politics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

Economics

Much of the export wealth in colonial days came from diamonds. However, the government does not see much (any) of the foreign currency from diamonds as most of them are bought by unofficial traders and smuggled out of the country.

There are also considerable mining industries of Bauxite and Rutile. The wealth of these does not go to the country but is obtained by the extraction companies, leaving the country extremely poor. This is a typical case of the poor terms of trade which many post-colonial countries experience, and refutes the case of agencies such as the World Bank that people benefit from automatic trickle down. The effect of the war is making the economic position even worse. The country is claimed to be the poorest in the world, though there must be questions about the accuracy of this claim, as Haiti seems worse. There is a rapid inflation.

The country is a good example of the results of failure to tax. Without the taxes from the major industries the state couldn't afford police and a properly trained army. As a result the state decayed away. From the time of Siaka Stevens the government borrowed huge sums which were spent on conspicuous consumption.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Rights

 Climate

Green/Ecology

Mining causes a loss of soil and forest and poisoning of the rivers.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Climate

Human Rights

Before the war Amnesty reported occasional torture, but now? Horrors.

The rebels under Foday Sankoh had a practice of cutting of the hands of people, more or less at random.

Climate effects

Last revised 8/05/11


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