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JUNE 1994
Official Name: Republic of Sierra Leone


Area:  72,325 sq. km. (29,925 sq. mi.); slightly smaller 
than South Carolina.  

Cities:  Capital--Freetown (est. 470,000).  Principal 
district towns--Bo (269,000), Kenema (337,000), Makeni 

Terrain:  Three areas--mangrove swamps and beaches along 
the coast, wooded hills along the immediate interior, and 
a mountainous plateau in the interior.

Nationality:  Noun and adjective--Sierra Leonean(s).  

Population ( 1990 est.):  4.1 million.  

Annual growth rate (1990 est.):   2.4%.  

Ethnic groups:  Temne 30%, Mende 29%, Creole 2%; 39% 
spread over 15 other ethnic groups.  

Religions:  Muslim 60%, Animist 30%, Christian 10%.  

Languages:  English, Krio, Temne, Mende, and various 
other indigenous languages.  

Education:  Literacy--less than 21%.  Health:  Life 
expectancy--42 yrs.  

Work force:  Agriculture--75%.  Industry--17%.  Services-

Type:  Republic currently under military rule.  The 
National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) rules by 

Independence:  From Britain, April 27, 1961.  
Constitution:  October 1, 1991, in force, but severely 
restricted by military decrees.  

Political parties:  Political parties were suspended by 
the NPRC after the April 29, 1992, coup.

GDP (1990 est.):  $950 million.  GDP growth rate:  0.5%.  
Per capita GNP (est.):  $230.  Annual inflation rate:  

Natural resources:  Diamonds, rutile, bauxite, iron ore, 
gold, platinum, and chromite. 

Agriculture:  Coffee, cocoa, ginger, palm kernels, 
kassava, bananas, citrus, peanuts, plantains, rice, sweet 
potatoes, vegetables.  Land--30% potentially arable, 8% 

Industry:  Diamonds, bauxite, and rutile mining; 
forestry; beverages; cigarettes; construction goods; 

Trade (1991):  Exports--$149 million:  mining 62%, 
agriculture 37%.  Major markets--Netherlands 31%, U.K. 
15%, Germany 11%, U.S. 9%.  Imports--$161 million:  crude 
oil, rice, chemicals, machinery, pharmaceuticals, 
building materials, light consumer goods, foodstuffs, 
used clothing, textiles. 

Exchange rate: 580 Leones=U.S.$1.  

Eighteen ethnic groups make up the indigenous population 
of Sierra Leone.  The Temne in the north and the Mende in 
the South are the largest.  About 60,000 are Creoles, 
descendants of freed slaves who returned to Sierra Leone 
from Great Britain and North America.  In addition, about 
11,000 Lebanese, 500 Indians, and 2,000 Europeans reside 
in the country.  

In the past, Sierra Leoneans were noted for their 
educational achievement, trading activity, 
entrepreneurial skills, and arts and crafts work, 
particularly wood carving.  Many are part of larger 
ethnic networks extending into several countries, which 
link West African states in the area.  However, the level 
of education and infrastructure have declined sharply 
over the last 20 years.

European contacts with Sierra Leone were among the first 
in West Africa, and Sierra Leone was one of the first 
West African British colonies.  

Foreign settlement did not occur until 1787, when the 
British prepared a refuge within the British empire for 
freed slaves; that year, the site of Freetown received 
400 freedmen from Great Britain.  Disease and hostility 
from the indigenous people nearly eliminated the first 
group of returnees.    

Thousands of slaves were returned to or liberated in 
Freetown.  Most chose to remain in Sierra Leone.  These 
returned Africans--or Creoles as they came to be called--
were from all areas of Africa.  Cut off from their homes 
and traditions by the experience of slavery, they 
assimilated British styles of life and built a 
flourishing trade on the West African coast.  

In the early 19th century, Freetown served as the 
residence of the British governor who also ruled the Gold 
Coast (now Ghana) and the Gambia settlements.  Sierra 
Leone served as the educational center of British West 
Africa as well.  Fourah Bay College, established in 1827, 
rapidly became a magnet for English-speaking Africans on 
the West Coast.  For more than a century, it was the only 
European-style university in Western Sub-Saharan Africa.  

The colonial history of Sierra Leone was not placid.  The 
indigenous people mounted several unsuccessful revolts 
against British rule and Creole domination.  Most of the 
20th century history of the colony was peaceful, however, 
and independence was achieved without violence.  The 1951 
constitution provided a framework for decolonization.  
Local ministerial responsibility was introduced in 1953, 
when Sir Milton Margai was appointed Chief Minister.  He 
became Prime Minister after successful completion of 
constitutional talks in London in 1960.  Independence 
came in April 1961, and Sierra Leone opted for a 
parliamentary system within the British Commonwealth.

Sir Milton's Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) led the 
country to independence and the first general election 
under universal adult franchise in May 1962.  Upon Sir 
Milton's death in 1964, his half-brother, Sir Albert 
Margai, succeeded him as Prime Minister.  Sir Albert 
attempted to establish a one-party political system but 
met fierce resistance from the opposition All Peoples 
Congress (APC).  He ultimately abandoned the idea.  

In closely contested elections in March 1967, the APC won 
a plurality of the parliamentary seats.  Accordingly, the 
governor general (representing the British Monarch) 
declared Siaka Stevens--APC leader and Mayor of Freetown-
-as the new Prime Minister.  Within a few hours, Stevens 
and Margai were placed under house arrest by Brigadier 
David Lansana, the Commander of the Republic of Sierra 
Leone Military Forces (RSLMF), on grounds that the 
determination of office should await the election of the 
tribal representatives to the house.  A group of senior 
military officers overrode this action by seizing control 
of the government on March 23, arresting Brigadier 
Lansana, and suspending the constitution.  The group 
constituted itself as the National Reformation Council 
(NRC) with Brigadier A.T. Juxon-Smith as its chairman.  
The NRC in turn was overthrown in April 1968 by a 
"sergeants' revolt," the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary 
Movement.  NRC members were imprisoned, and other army 
and police officers deposed.  Stevens at last assumed the 
office of Prime Minister under the restored constitution. 

The return to civilian rule led to bi-elections beginning 
in the fall of 1978 and the appointment of an all-APC 
cabinet.  Tranquillity was not completely restored.  In 
1970, a state of emergency was declared after provincial 
disturbances, and in March 1971 and July 1974, alleged 
military coup plots were uncovered by the government.  
The leaders of the plots were tried and executed.  In 
1977, student demonstrations against the government 
disrupted Sierra Leone politics. 

Following the adoption of the republican constitution in 
April 1971, Siaka Stevens was appointed President of the 
Republic by the House; he was inaugurated for a second 
five-year term in April 1977.  In the national election 
that followed in May 1977, the APC won 74 seats and the 
opposition SLPP 15.  The next year, Stevens' Government 
won approval for the idea of one-party government, which 
the APC had once rejected.  Following enactment of the 
1978 constitution, SLPP members of parliament joined the 

The first election under the new one-party constitution 
took place on May 1, 1982.  Elections in about two-thirds 
of the constituencies were contested.  Because of 
irregularities, elections in 13 constituencies were 
canceled by the government.  Bi-elections took place on 
June 4, 1982.  The new cabinet appointed after the 
election was balanced ethnically between Temnes and 
Mendes.  It included as the new Finance Minister Salia 
Jusu-Sheriff, a former leader of the SLPP who returned to 
that party in late 1981.  His accession to the cabinet 
was viewed by many as a step toward making the APC a true 
national party. 

Siaka P. Stevens, who had been head of state of Sierra 
Leone for 18 years, retired from that position in 
November 1985, although he continued his role as chairman 
of the ruling APC party.  In August 1985, the APC named 
military commander Joseph Saidu Momoh as party candidate 
to succeed Stevens; he was Stevens' own choice.  Momoh 
was elected President in a one-party referendum on 
October 1, 1985.  A formal inauguration was held in 
January 1986; new parliamentary elections were held in 
May 1986.  

In October 1990, President Momoh set up a constitutional 
review commission to review the one-party 1978 
constitution with a view to broadening the existing 
political process, guaranteeing fundamental human rights 
and the rule of law, and strengthening and consolidating 
the democratic foundation and structure of the nation.  
The commission, in its report presented January 1991, 
recommended re-establishment of a multi-party system of 
government.  Based on that recommendation, a constitution 
was approved by parliament in July 1991 and ratified in 
September; it received presidential assent in September 
and became effective on October 1, 1991.  There was great 
suspicion that Momoh was not serious, however, and APC 
rule was increasingly marked by abuses of power.  The 
rebel war in the eastern part of the county posed an 
increasing burden on the country, and on April 29, 1992, 
a group of young RSLMF officers launched a military coup 
which sent Momoh into exile in Guinea and established the 
NPRC as the ruling authority in Sierra Leone.

The NPRC suspended the 1991 constitution and rules by 
decree of the Supreme Council of State (SCS).  In 
November 1993, the NPRC announced a timetable which calls 
for debate on and adoption of a new constitution, and 
general elections in late-1995.  Most civil rights are 
respected.  A critical press continues to operate, though 
the government has intervened with individual editors in 
response to alleged inaccuracies.  Press guidelines 
enacted  early in 1994 impose heavy new financial burdens 
on publishers, and may serve to reduce the number of 
newspapers being published.  Political parties remain 

The judicial system continues to function for civil 
cases.  It is comprised of a supreme court, court of 
appeal and a high court of justice with judges appointed 
by the head of state.  Local courts administer 
traditional law, with lay judges; appeals move from these 
courts to the superior courts. 

The basic unit of local government generally is the 
paramount chief and council elders.  There is also an 
elected council and mayor in Freetown, Bo, Kenema, and 
Makeni.  The three provinces each have a resident 

Principal Government Officials
Head of State and Chairman of the National Provisional 
Ruling Council--Captain Valentine E.M.  Strasser 
Deputy Chairman of the National Provisional Ruling 
Council and Chief Secretary of State--Captain Julius 
Maada Bio
Secretary of State in the Chairman's Office--John 
Foreign Minister--Dr. Abass Bundu
Ambassador to the U.S.--Dr. Thomas K. Kargbo
Ambassador to the UN--Paolo Bangura

Sierra Leone maintains an embassy in the United States at 
1701 19th Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20009, tel. 202-
939-9261; and a permanent mission to the United Nations 
in New York at 245 East 49th Street, New York, New York 
10017, tel. (212) 688-1656.

Rich in minerals, Sierra Leone has relied on the mining 
sector in general, and diamonds in particular, for its 
economic base.  In the 1970s and early 1980s, economic 
growth rate slowed because of a decline in the mining 
sector.  Maintaining unrealistic exchange rates and 
excessive government budget deficits led to sizable 
balance-of-payments deficits and inflation.  
Inappropriate policy responses to external factors and 
inefficient implementation of aid projects and 
maintenance have led to a general decline in economic 
activity and a serious degradation of economic 
infrastructures.  Sierra Leone's short-term prospects 
depend upon continued adherence to IMF programs and 
continued external assistance. 

Although 75% of the population engages in subsistence 
agriculture, and despite the fact that most Sierra 
Leoneans derive their livelihood from it, agriculture 
accounts for only 30% of national income.  The government 
is trying to increase food and cash crop production and 
upgrade small farmer skills.  Also, the government works 
with several foreign donors to operate integrated rural 
development and agricultural projects. 

Mineral exports remain Sierra Leone's principal foreign 
exchange earner.  Diamonds alone account for more than 
half of export earnings.  The loss in 1992 of the Kono 
district diamond mining area to rebel forces has deprived 
the country of this major source of foreign exchange.  

Sierra Leone's second largest recorded export is bauxite, 
mined in the Sherbro area by a Swiss firm.  This 
production reached 50,000 tons in 1990.  Sierra Leone has 
one of the world's largest deposits of rutile, a titanium 
ore used as paint pigment and welding rod coatings.  
Sierra Rutile Ltd., wholly owned by Nord Resources of the 
United States, began commercial mining operations near 
Bonthe in early 1979.  Sierra Rutile is the largest non-
petroleum U.S. investment in West Africa.  The export of 
88,000 tons realized $75 million for the country in 1990.  
The company and the Government of Sierra Leone concluded 
a new agreement on the terms of the company's concession 
in Sierra Leone in 1990. 

Sierra Leone, since independence, has been traditionally 
a pro-business nation.  The government encourages foreign 
investment, although the business climate has been 
hampered by a shortage of foreign exchange and 
uncertainty resulting from civil conflicts.  Investors 
are protected by an agreement that allows for arbitration 
under the 1965 World Bank Convention.  Legislation 
provides for transfer of interest, dividends, and 

Sierra Leone is a member of the Economic Community of 
West African States (ECOWAS).  With Liberia and Guinea, 
it formed the Mano River Union (MRU) customs union, 
primarily designed to implement development projects and 
promote regional economic integration.  The MRU has so 
far been inactive, however, in part because of domestic 
problems and the civil war in Liberia.  The future of the 
MRU depends on the ability of its members to deal with 
the Liberian civil war. 

Sierra Leone continues to rely on significant amounts of 
foreign assistance, principally from multilateral donors.  
After the United States, Italy is the largest bilateral 
donor, concentrating on electricity development, and it 
is followed by Germany, the United Kingdom and the 
European Union.

Sierra Leone has maintained cordial relations with the 
West, in particular with the United Kingdom.  It also 
maintains diplomatic relations with the republics of the 
former Soviet Union as well as with North Korea and Iran.  
President Stevens' Government had sought closer relations 
with neighboring Guinea and Liberia; the NPRC is 
continuing this effort. 

Sierra Leone is a member of the UN and its specialized 
agencies, the Commonwealth, the Organization of African 
Unity (OAU), the Economic Community of West African 
States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank (AFDB), the 
Mano River Union (MRU), the Organization of the Islamic 
Conference (OIC), and the Non-Aligned Movement.

U.S. relations with Sierra Leone began with missionary 
activities in the 19th century.  In 1959, the U.S. opened 
a consulate in Freetown and elevated it to embassy status 
when Sierra Leone became independent in 1961. 

U.S.-Sierra Leone relations today are cordial, with 
ethnic ties between groups in the two countries receiving 
increasing historical interest.  Many thousand Sierra 
Leoneans reside in the United States.

In FY 1992, total U.S. aid to Sierra Leone in all 
categories was about $13.5 million, primarily through 
commodity contributions through PL-480, Title II programs 
with the World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services.  
U.S. aid also stressed vocational education, agriculture, 
rural development, and health and human resources 

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Lauralee M. Peters 
Deputy Chief of Mission--Charles Ray 
Public Affairs Officer--Kiki Munshi 
Peace Corps Director--(vacant)

The U.S. embassy is located at the corner of Walpole and 
Siaka Stevens Streets, Freetown, tel: 232 22 226 481  
fax: 232 22 225 471.  


Published by the United States Department of State -- 
Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public 
Communication -- Washington, DC  June 1994 -- Managing 
Editor:  Peter A. Knecht -- Editor:  Josephine C. Brooks  

Department of State Publication 8069 -- Background Notes 
Series.  For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, 
U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC  20402.

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