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Flag of Sierra Leone

Full Country Name: The Republic of Sierra Leone

Country Profile: Sierra Leone

Map of Sierra Leone
Area: 72,325 sq km
Population: 5.0m (UN estimate 2003)
Capital City: Freetown (1.2m)
People and languages: Several ethnic groups make up Sierra Leone, including the Temne, the Mende and the Limbas. About 2% of the population are Creoles, descendants of freed slaves returned from the UK and USA. English and Krio are national languages. Indigenous languages are widely spoken.
Religions: Islam, Christianity and indigenous beliefs.
Currency: Leone (L). 1 leone = 100 cent
Major Political Parties: There are 22 registered parties. The main ones are: SLPP - Sierra Leone Peoples Party; APC -All Peoples Congress
Head of State: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
Foreign Minister: Momodu Koroma
Membership of international groups/organisations: United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), Commonwealth, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Development Bank (AFDB), Mano River Union.


Sierra Leone is situated on the west coast of Africa and shares borders with Guinea and Liberia, Its 400 km coastline overlooks the North Atlantic Ocean. The country can broadly be divided into three areas: mangrove swamps and beaches along the coast; a belt of low-lying wooded land in the immediate interior; and a mountain plateau rising to 2,000 metres further inland. The climate is tropical, with a hot, humid, rainy season from May to December and a winter dry season from December to April.


Sierra Leone was founded by returned slaves from Britain and North America in 1787. The colony of Sierra Leone (roughly the current day Western Province around Freetown) was administered by the British. In 1896 the hinterland came under British control as a protectorate. Following the Second World War, the indigenous populations of the protectorate gained greater political voice, culminating in the election of Dr (later Sir) Milton Margai of the SLPP as Chief Minister in 1953 and later Prime Minister in 1958. He led the country to full independence on April 27th 1961.

The SLPP ruled until 1967 when the electoral victory of the opposition APC was cut short by the country's first military coup. The military handed over to the APC and its leader Siaka Stevens in 1968,. He turned the country into a one -party state in 1978. He finally retired in 1985, handing over to his deputy, General Momoh. Under popular pressure, one party rule was ended in 1991, and a new constitution providing for a return to multi-party politics was approved in August of that year. Elections were scheduled for 1992. But, by this stage, Sierra Leone was a failed state, its institutions had collapsed, mismanagement and corruption had ruined the economy and rising youth unemployment was a serious problem.

Taking advantage of the collapse, a rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) emerged , with backing from a warlord, Charles Taylor, in neighbouring Liberia, and in 1991 led a rebellion against the APC government. The government was unable to cope with the insurrection, and was overthrown in a Junior Officers coup in April 1992. Its leader, Capt Strasser, was however unable to defeat the RUF or secure his position within the junta. Indeed, the military were more often than not complicit with the rebels. He was in turn deposed in January 1996. His replacement, Major Maada Bio, under international pressure, agreed to organise elections in February 1996. The RUF refused to take part and continued the conflict. The elections were won by Tejan Kabbah and the SLPP. The new government signed a peace agreement, the Abidjan Agreement, with the RUF in 1996 but it failed to stop the rebellion. Kabbah's government was subsequently overthrown in a further coup in 1997. The military junta, headed by Major Johnny Paul Koroma, invited the RUF to join government. The Kabbah government was re-instated in 1998 with the help of troops from ECOWAS.

The destructive force of the rebellion reached Freetown for the first time when the RUF, combined with renegade elements of the army, invaded the capital in January 1999. They were repulsed by the Nigerian troops of ECOMOG, but at great human cost. A second peace agreement, the Lome Accord of 1999, to be supervised by a UN peacekeeping force, brought the RUF officially into government. But, this collapsed in 2000 when the RUF attacked UN peacekeepers upcountry and threatened to invade Freetown again. Security was restored with the intervention of British troops in May 2000, the signing of the Abuja peace agreement in November 2000, together with the deployment of UNAMSIL across the country. This allowed the gradual restoration of government authority throughout the territory. The war was officially declared over in February 2002.

PDF History of conflict in Sierra Leone  (PDF, 56K)


Sierra Leone is a constitutional democratic republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral parliament of 124 seats. 112 seats are elected by popular vote and paramount chiefs (elected separately) fill the other 12. The Present SLPP government and President Kabbah were re-elected for a five year term in May 2002. The SLPP currently have 70% of the 124 seats in Parliament. The next elections are due in 2007.

The main opposition party, the APC, remain a significant political force, although they are currently weakened by a long running dispute over leadership of the party between Eddie Turay and Ernest Koroma. In 2004 local elections were held for the first time in nearly 40 years.
This is an external link Sierra Leone Presidency
This is an external link Sierra Leone government website
This is an external link BBC Country Profile - Sierra Leone


The 10-year RUF rebellion saw widespread killings, rape, looting and destruction of property , largely in the countryside but also in Freetown in 1999. Renegade soldiers also took part in atrocities against civilians. At least 50,000 people died. A third of the population was displaced. Some 30,000 civilians were deliberately maimed through the amputation of limbs and other physical atrocities. Thousands of children were forcibly recruited into the RUF ranks where they too committed gross human rights abuses, often against their own families. Although the human rights has greatly improved since the end of the conflict, a few issues such as the protracted detention of remand prisoners, and the widespread practice of female genital mutilation, remain of concern.

In January 2002 The UN and Government of Sierra Leone established the Special Court for Sierra Leone to bring to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes and atrocities. The Court opened in March 2004. 9 people have been indicted (from the RUF, the military junta of 1997 and the local Civil Defence Force). A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was also established in 2002. The Commission heard around 9,000 testimonies, and submitted its report in 2005.

Human Rights Report

This is an external link The Special Court for Sierra Leone
PDF Truth and Reconciliation Commission act 2000  (PDF, 35K)


Basic Economic Facts

GDP at market prices: 989M US$ (2003)
GDP per capita: US$520 (2003)
Real GDP Growth: 9.3% (2003)
Inflation: 8.2% (2003) (Sources: IMF, World Bank, UNDP)
Exchange rate: $1 = Le2900 £1 = Le 5000

Sierra Leone's economy had virtually collapsed by the late 1980s because of mismanagement and corruption. This was made worse by the conflict. The diamond industry, a key plank of the economy, remained in rebel hands for a decade. The RUF also overran and closed down the rutile mines, while the once-flourishing agricultural sector fell into a steep decline. Economic recovery has been slow partly because the reconstruction needs are so great. Well over half of government revenue comes from donors. Efforts have been made to reorganise the diamond industry, and Sierra Leone has signed up to the Kimberley process. There is still leakage but government revenue from diamonds has increased significantly in the last two years. Rutile mining has also restarted. Corruption remains a problem. An anti-corruption Commission was established in 2002 with UK support. Major Trading Partners: European Union, US.

This is an external link International Monetary Fund - Sierra Leone


Sierra Leone is at the bottom of the UNDP's Human Development Index , ranked 177 out of 177 countries. Poverty is high - 57% live on less than a dollar a day and 74% live on less than $2 a day. The large diaspora provides a safety net with significant remittances going back home. The IMF has provided significant funding for poverty reduction programmes but it has expressed its concern at the lack of progress. Sierra Leone's tradition of high education standards has been eroded in the past two decades. Almost two-thirds of the population are now illiterate. The RUF rebellion also caused massive population displacement and prevented the delivery of services to the countryside. Reversing the damage is a long-term and costly task.

The UK's Department for International Development has made a long term commitment to Sierra Leone. A memorandum of understanding was signed in November 2002. DfID have undertaken to provide £120m over three financial years (2003/4 to 2005/6), and to provide long term support beyond that. The DfID effort is concentrated on reforming the civil service, the security sector and the judiciary. Currently around a third of DfID funds are given to the government in the form of direct budgetary support.

This is an external link Sierra Leone's National Commission for Social Action
This is an external link DFID - Sierra Leone

United Nations Development Programme

World Bank

EU Directorate Development


In West Africa, Sierra Leone, together with Guinea and Liberia, belongs to the Mano River Union, set up in 1973 . Sierra Leone's relations with Guinea have remained good although there is a small ongoing dispute about the border demarcation around Yenga. By contrast, those with Liberia have been poor because of Charles Taylor's support for the RUF. In an attempt to break the link, the UNSC introduced sanctions against Liberia in March 2001. These include an arms embargo, travel ban on designated senior political and military figures, and a ban on the export of rough diamonds. Sierra Leone enjoyed the support of the wider Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which it is a member, in its several attempts to resolve the RUF rebellion.

The conflict in Sierra Leone brought it much international attention. The UN mounted a peacekeeping force, UNAMSIL in 2000. At its height it comprised 17,500 soldiers from ten countries, and was one of the UN's biggest operations. The UK provided some senior officers to UNAMSIL's headquarters in Freetown. In 2004, UNAMSIL handed over formal control of the country's security to the Sierra Leone Government. Its phased withdrawal is to be completed at the end of 2005.


Bilateral Relations with the UK

The UK played a major part in helping to end the conflict. Its military intervention in May 2000 to secure the airport and the capital both stopped a threatened RUF invasion and allowed the secure deployment of arriving UN troops. The UK has also played a leading role in training the new Sierra Leone Army – initially as the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT), and from 2002 as part of the International Advisory and Training Team (IMATT). The UK is committed to a training role until at least 2010. The UK also trained and helped to equip a new Police Force as part of a Commonwealth Training Team, and provided the IGP for the first few years.

The UK's long-term commitment to Sierra Leone is in recognition of the long time required to rebuild a collapsed state. Its holistic approach involving broad institutional change in-country and taking account of the regional dynamics, is widely considered a model for post-conflict environments. The pillars of UK support are: to improve national security; to develop governance, and tackle corruption ; to foster a just and inclusive economy and society; and, to improve stability in the sub-region.

Sierra Leone: Making a Difference

Trade and Investment with the UK

The UK trade balance with Sierra Leone is in the UK's favour. In 2003 UK exports to Sierra Leone were worth £32.35 million dropping to £24.03 million in 2004, while UK imports from Sierra Leone were valued at £4.21 million in 2003 dropping to £2.08 million in 2004.

In October 2002 Trade Partners UK sponsored a mission to identify potential opportunities for UK companies in the infrastructure sectors. The mission report includes sector reports on water, roads, construction, power, healthcare, education, tourism, telecommunications, agriculture and mining/minerals. Subsequently, the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce visited Sierra Leone twice in 2003 and 2004, as did a BCCB trade mission also in 2004.

PDF Report on 2002 TPUK mission to Sierra Leone:  (PDF, 89K)

UKTI country profile - Sierra Leone

Diplomatic Representation

UK representation in Sierra Leone : High Commissioner Dr John Mitchiner
Sierra Leonean representation in the UK : High Commissioner Sulaiman Tejan-Jalloh

Cultural relations with the UK

The British Council has had an office in Freetown since 1943. Inter alia, it currently manages a portfolio of DFID projects on gender, youth, education and access to justice, budgeted at £28m over the next 3-5 years.

British Council - Sierra Leone


A large number of high level visits to and from Sierra Leone underscore the strength and depth of the relationship. Key ones have been:

President Kabbah visited the UK in July 2003, June 2002 and 2000. Vice-President Berewa visited the UK in January 2004 and February 2005. Foreign Minister Koroma visited in January 2005.

Chris Mullin, Minister for Africa, visited Freetown in July 2003 and November 2004. Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for International Development, visited in 2004. In addition, since 1999, the following ministers have visited: Peter Hain (as Minister for Africa); Clare Short (as International Development Secretary (twice); Robin Cook (as Foreign Secretary); John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister; and Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary (twice).

Number of UK citizens in Sierra Leone: 1500 There is a large Sierra Leone community in the UK, estimated at over 60,000 For UK policy and parliamentary interest in Sierra Leone – see the Hansard website.


Travel Advice: Sierra Leone
NHS travel health advice

Last reviewed: 5 May 2005

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