The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Sierra Leone: Prospects for diamond, gold mining
Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. The name Sierra Leone was adapted from the Portuguese name for the country: Serra Leoa. The literal meaning is "Lioness Mountains." During the 1700s Sierra Leone was an important center of the trans- atlantic slave trade. The capital Freetown was founded in 1787 as a home for enslaved Africans who had fought for the British in the American War of Independence.
From 1991 to 2002, the country suffered greatly under the devastating effects of rebel incursions. To end rebel activities, UN and British forces disarmed 17,000 militia and rebels in the largest UN peacekeeping act of the decade. While the fighting has ended, Sierra Leone remains extremely impoverished. Though the nation is rich in mineral resources, there are wide disparities in wealth distribution.
Situated on the west coast of Africa, Sierra Leone has an area of 27,699 square miles, extending 210 miles. It is bounded on the northeast by Guinea, on the southeast by Liberia, and on the southwest by the Atlantic Ocean, with a total boundary length of 845 miles, of which 250 miles is coastline. In addition to the mainland proper, Sierra Leone also includes the offshore Banana and Turtle islands and Sherbro Island, as well as other small islets.
The Sierra Leone Peninsula in the extreme west is mostly mountainous, rising to 2,900 feet. The western part of the country, excluding the Peninsula, consists of coastal mangrove swamps. Far- ther east, a coastal plain extends inland for roughly 60-100 miles. Many rivers in this area are navigable for short distances. Stretches of wooded hill country lead east and northeast to a plateau region generally ranging in elevation from 1,000 to 2,000 feet. There are peaks reaching a maximum of 6,390 feet at Loma Mansa (Bintimani) in the Loma Mountains.
Climate and environment
Temperatures and humidity are high, and rainfall is heavy. The mean temperature is about 81 degrees Fahrenheit on the coast and almost as high on the eastern plateau. There are two dis-tinct seasons: the dry season, from November to April, and the wet season, over the balance of the year, with the heaviest precipitation in July, August, and September. Rainfall is greatest along the coast, especially in the mountains, where there is more than 230 inches annually. Average rainfall is more than 125 inches a year in most of the country. The relative humidity ranges from an average of 80 percent during the wet season to 50 percent during the dry season.
Water pollution is a significant problem in Sierra Leone due to mining by-products and sewage. The nation has about 160 cubic kilometers of renewable water resource, with 89 percent of annual withdrawals used for farming and 4 percent for industrial purposes. Only 75 percent of the nation’s city dwellers and 46 percent of those living in rural areas have access to improved water sources. The nation's cities have produced an average of about 0.3 million tons of solid waste per year.
Population pressure, leading to an intensification of agriculture, has resulted in soil depletion, while lumbering, cattle grazing, and slash-and-burn farming have decimated the primary forest. By 1985, deforestation had progressed to a total of 23 square miles. Agricultural lands are gradually replacing forestlands due to the need for food by a population that increased by 80 percent during the period between 1963 and 1990.
Freetown is a port city and capital of Sierra Leone, in West Africa, bearing a population of 1.2 million. It is known for its beaches and historical role in the transatlantic slave trade. The old town’s centuries-old Cotton Tree is a symbol of emancipation. On the waterfront is the King’s Yard Gate, through which former slaves walked to freedom. The Sierra Leone National Museum includes exhibits relating to the 19th-century military leader Bai Bureh.
The land is suitable for the cultivation of a wide range of crops including rice (the country's staple food), cassava, maize, millet, cashew, rubber, ginger, vegetables, fruits, and sugarcane. Cash crops such as cocoa, coffee, and oil palm have increased In the last 11 years. In Sierra Leone, rearing of livestock is a major part of agriculture as well.
Sierra Leone has identified 15 different species of primates in its rain- forests that include bush baby, monkeys and chimpanzees. The coun- try's largest primate, chimpanzees, are found throughout the country, boasting an estimated population in excess of 50,000. The avifauna of Sierra Leone include a total of 675 species, including avians like flamingoes, grebes, pigeons, and doves. Egyptian Plover in flight (right).
Nile crocodile are abundant in Sierra Leone’s rivers and lakes with the large and aggressive reptile responsible for many human deaths annually throughout Africa. It is generally more common and more dangerous than the dwarf and slender-snouted crocodile. Sierra Leone is home to many venomous snakes, including the western green mamba and spitting cobras. The symptoms of snake toxin vary by species, but they can include pain, swelling, nausea, vomiting, and nerve and tissue damage.
Sierra Leone is home to several endangered endemic species of birds. Notable among them is the Timneh Parrot is one. This gray-colored bird is now endangered by trapping and forest loss. It’s an intelligent bird, skilled in vocal mimicry. The emerald cuckoo, another imperiled endemic avain, which has been described as the most beautiful bird in Africa, is found in Sierra Leone, although it has disappeared from the rest of West Africa. Other species include the Senegal firefinch, common bulbul, little African swift, Didric cuckoo, bronze manakin, and cattle egret (or "tickbird").
Hunting for food has reduced the stock of wild mammals, and Cutamba Killimi National Park, which has some wildlife species found only in this part of West Africa, is exploited by poachers. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 12 types of mammals, 10 species of birds, three types of reptiles, two species of amphibians, eight species of fish, four species of invertebrate, and 47 types of plants.
In 2005, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Bird-life International agreed to support a conservation-sustainable development project in the Gola Forest in southeastern Sierra Leone, the most important surviving fragment of rainforest in Sierra Leone. Deforestation rates have increased 7.3 percent since the end of the civil war.
Armed forces personnel are active duty military personnel, including paramilitary forces if the training, organiza- tion, equipment, and control suggest they may be used to support or replace regular military forces. In 2013, Sierra Leone took part in its largest international military deployment in the country’s history when it sent a battalion to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). This was not only an operational achievement but one with symbolic significance.
It signaled the move from a country that just seven years prior hosted a peacekeeping mission to one that could make large contributions to peacekeeping in other countries. As will be detailed, this was a difficult and dangerous deployment and assessments afterwards suggested ways to improve future deployments including additional training, equipment acquisition, and changes to internal procedures.
Yet, the technical reports that followed the mission neglected one aspect that many of the contingent members said was a significant challenge: family-related stress.
Government and politics
Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. The presi- dent is the head of state, the head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers, which must be approved by the parliament. The president is elected by popular vote to a maximum of two five-year terms. The president's power is checked by the House of Representatives.
The parliament is unicameral, with 124 seats, of which 112 are elected concurrently with the presidential elec- tions; the other 12 seats are filled by paramount chiefs from each of the country's 12 administrative districts. All members serve five-year terms.
The Sierra Leone judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, High Court of Justice, and magistrate courts. The president appoints and parliament approves justices for the three courts.
Sierra Leone is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations, African Union (AU), and the Organization of Islamic Conference. Sierra Leone, along with Liberia and Guinea, formed the Manor River Union (MRU). The Manor River Union is primarily designed to implement development projects and promote regional economic integration among the three nations. Sierra Leone has maintained cordial relations with the West, in particular with former rulers, the UK. Sierra Leone also maintains diplomatic relations with China, Libya, Iran, and Cuba.
Sierra Leone is an extremely poor nation with tremendous inequality in income distribution. While it possesses substantial mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources, its economic and social infrastructure is not well devel- oped, and serious social disorders continue to hamper economic development. Nearly half of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. Manufacturing consists mainly of the processing of raw materials and of light manufacturing for the domestic market. Alluvial diamond mining remains the major source of hard currency earnings, accounting for nearly half of Sierra Leone's exports.
The fate of the economy depends upon the maintenance of domestic peace and the continued receipt of substan- tial aid from abroad, which is essential to offset the severe trade imbalance and supplement government reven- ues. A recent increase in political stability has led to a revival of economic activity, such as the rehabilitation of bauxite and rutile mining.
Much of Sierra Leone’s formal economy was destroyed in the country’s civil war. Since the cessation of hostilities in 2002, massive infusions of outside assistance have helped it begin to recover. Mineral exports remain Sierra Leone's principal foreign exchange earner. Sierra Leone is a major producer of gem-quality diamonds. Though rich in this resource, the country has historically struggled to manage its exploitation and export. Annual production estimates range between $250-300 million.
However, not all of that passes through formal export channels, although formal exports have improved dramati-cally improved since the days of civil war. A key indicator of success is the effectiveness of government manage- ment of its diamond sector. Efforts to improve the management of the export trade have met with some success. In October 2000, a UN-approved export certification system for exporting diamonds from Sierra Leone was put into place that led to a dramatic increase in legal exports.
In 2001, the government created a mining community development fund, which returns a portion of diamond export taxes to diamond mining communities, to raise local communities' stake in legal diamond trade. Agriculture accounts for 52.5 percent of national income. The government is trying to increase food and cash crop production and upgrade small farmer skills.
Despite its successes and development, the Sierra Leone economy still faces some significant challenges. There is a high rate of unemployment, particularly among the youth and ex-military personnel. Authorities have been slow to implement reforms in the civil service, and the pace of the privatization program is also slacking. With other foreign investors hesitant to move in, China has done so eagerly and now is operating in every sector of Sierra Leone’s economy.
Currency of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone’s currency is the Leone (Le). The central bank of the country is the Bank of Sierra Leone, which is located in the capital, Freetown. The Bank of Sierra Leone is a 100 percent state-owned corporate body.
Population and demographics
The current population of Sierra Leone is 8.2 million based on World-o-meter elaboration of the latest UN data. The UN estimates that 37 percent of the population lives in urban areas in , and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.59 percent. The current metro area population of Freetown, the capital city, is 1.2 million, a 2.91 percent increase from 2021. Other main towns are Koindu, Bo, Kenema, and Makeni. in 2022
Although English is the official language spoken in schools and government administration, Krio, a language derived from English and several African languages and native to the Sierra Leone Krio people, is the de facto national language spoken throughout the country. It is widely spoken among all the tribes in Sierra Leone.
The population of Sierra Leone is comprised of about 16 ethnic groups; each with its own language and customs, the two largest being the Mende and Temne, about equal in numbers and representing 60 percent of the popu- lation. The Mende predominate in the Southern Province, and the Temne in the Northern Province.
The third largest ethnic group is the Limba, representing about 9.5 percent of the population. Like the Temne, the Limba are mostly found in the Northern Province. The Krios, descendants of freed slaves who arrived to Freetown from the West Indies, America, and Britain, make up 3 percent of the population, but their language is spoken throughout Sierra Leone.
Most Krios live in the Western Area, particularly Freetown. Other minority ethnic groups in the country include the Sherbro, Kuranko, Mandinka, Kissi, Loko, Fula, Kono, Susu, Yalunka, and Vai. Two percent of Sierra Leoneans are of Nigerian or Lebanese descent. The latter fled Lebanon in the late 19th century.
Health, life expectancy
The average life expectancy at birth of a Sierra Leonean is 38 years for males and 43 years for females. Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, nearly 200 times higher than in developed countries, according to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF. The country, which is still recovering from war, ranks second to the last on the UN Human Development Index, just above Niger—a desert country with far fewer resources than diamond- and gold-rich Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone has an education system with six years of primary school (grades 1-6), and six years of secondary school (grades 7-12); secondary schools are further divided into junior secondary school (grades 7-9) and senior secondary school (grades 10-12). Education in Sierra Leone is offered in private schools and government-spon-sored public schools. Primary schools usually start from ages 6 to 12, and secondary schools usually start from
13 years and above.
The country's two main universities are Fourah Bay College in Freetown, founded in 1827, and Njala University, founded in 1963. Fourah Bay, established to train missionaries and teachers, is the oldest university below the Saharan Desert divide. Africa. technical institutes and vocational schools exist throughout Sierra Leone.
The majority of Sierra Leoneans are Muslim. According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2007, approximately 60 percent are Muslim; 20-30 percent are Christian, and 5-10 percent practice indigenous and other religious beliefs. There are small numbers of Baha'is, Hindus, and Jews as well. The Sierra Leone constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government generally protects this right and does not tolerate its abuse. Unlike many other countries, the religious and tribal mix of Sierra Leone rarely causes conflict.
Culture, music, literature
Several Hollywood films have been produced that relate to Sierra Leone. Steven Spielberg’s film Amistad (1997) is about an 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship enroute to America. Edward Zwick’s film, Blood Diamond (2006) follows the story of diamonds mined in Sierra Leone, Angola, and Congo, sold in major diamond cutting centers to finance armed conflicts in Africa. The film is centered in Sierra Leone and portrays many of the atrocities that occurred in the civil war to spread fear and insecurity in the country and to gain control over the country’s mining of diamonds, gold, bauxite, and rutile.
In literature, Sierra Leone is the setting for Graham Greene's classic novel, The Heart of the Matter, which deals with diamond smuggling during World War II. Since the rebel incursion in the early 1990s, a number of books have been written about the "precious minerals-for-weapons" trade. Writers of note include Ishmael Beah (A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier), Abioseh Nicol (The Truly Married Woman and Other Stories), Robert Wellesley Cole (Kossoh Town Boy), Syl Cheney-Coker (The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar), William Conton (Kissimi Kamara), Amadu Yullisa Maddy (No Past, No Present, No Future), and Sheikh Gibril Kamara (The Spirit of Badenia).
Hugh Paxton's novel Homunculus juxtaposes the realities of the war in Sierra Leone with a fantasy of the exploita- tion of the war for the trade in blood diamonds and for the testing, demonstration, and sale by auctioneers of bio-weapons to a select clientele of international arms dealers and mercenaries.
The most commonly eaten food in Sierra Leone is rice, typically served as part of every meal. Many Sierra Leon- eans consider a meal incomplete without rice. Another popular staple food is cassava, which is pounded to make fufu. The leaves of the cassava plant are formed into a green stew. Commonly eaten meat include chicken, beef, as well as pork as an added ingredient in some dishes. Palm oil and peanuts are also widely eaten, and while yams are found in Sierra Leone, they are not a mainstay of the diet as they are in other parts of West Africa. Other staples in the Sierra Leonean diet include cinnamon, coconut, ginger, okra, plantains, and tamarind.
and pineapples are fruits commonly eaten.
Stews made with cassava are a fundamental part of Sierra Leone's cuisine, called the country's national dish, served with jollof rice, white rice, plantain, akara, yam or cassava. Groundnut stew, also called peanut stew or peanut soup, often is made with chicken and vegetables. This is often served to families as a large meal.
The Sierra Leone constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and freedom of the press; however, the government at times restricts these rights in practice. Dozens of newspapers are published in the country, most of them privat- ely run and critical of the government. Under legislation enacted in 1980, all newspapers must register with the Ministry of Information and pay a sizable registration fee to operate.
All major cities in the country run their own radio stations. Inaugurated in 1963, The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service is the government-run station responsible for television and radio broadcasting in the country. The UN Mission in Sierra Leone operates radio services, broadcasting news of UN activities, and human rights informa- tion, as well as music and news. Radio Sierra Leone, the oldest broadcasting service in English-speaking West Africa, broadcasts mainly in English, with regular news and talk programs on various issues and topics.
Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License