The Sierra Leone estuary became a focal point for trade and interaction between Africans and Europeans because of its exceptional harbor, starting in the mid-15th century. European ships were unable to land along much of the West African coast due to lack of safe anchorage. By contrast, the Sierra Leone estuary offers ideal anchorage for trading ships (the estuary is the largest natural harbor on the continent). Around 1672, the English established and fortified themselves at Bunce Island. By the mid-18th century, Sierra Leone had become a major trading participant with Europe and the Americas. Part of Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown appears as the greyish area in the lower left corner. This satellite image covers an area of 32 x 45 km (20 x 28 mi). Photo courtesy of NASA.
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Continuously populated for at least 2,500 years, the dense jungle in the area of Sierra Leone allowed the region to remain relatively protected from invaders from empires in West Africa. Traders introduced Sierra Leone to Islam, which occupies a central role in Sierra Leonean culture and history. In the 17th century, the British set up a trading post near present-day Freetown. The trade originally involved timber and ivory but later expanded to enslaved people. In 1787, following the American Revolution, Sierra Leone became a destination for Black British loyalists from the new United States. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, British ships delivered thousands of liberated Africans to Sierra Leone. During the 19th century, the colony gradually expanded inland.

In 1961, Sierra Leone became independent of the UK. While Sierra Leone held free and fair elections in 1962 and 1967, Siaka STEVENS - Sierra Leone’s second prime minister - quickly reverted to authoritarian tendencies, outlawing most political parties and ruling from 1967 to 1985. In 1991, Sierra Leonean soldiers launched a civil war against STEVENS’ ruling party. The war caused tens of thousands of deaths and displaced more than 2 million people (about one third of the population). In 1998, a Nigerian-led West African coalition military force intervened, installing Tejan KABBAH - who was originally elected in 1996 - as prime minister. In 2002, KABBAH officially announced the end of the war. Since 1998, Sierra Leone has conducted uninterrupted democratic elections, dominated by the two main political parties. In 2018, Julius Maada BIO of the Sierra Leone People’s Party won the presidential election that saw a high voter turnout despite some allegations of voter intimidation. The next presidential election is scheduled for March 2023.

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Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea and Liberia

Geographic coordinates

8 30 N, 11 30 W


total: 71,740 sq km

land: 71,620 sq km

water: 120 sq km

country comparison to the world: 119

Area - comparative

slightly smaller than South Carolina

Land boundaries

total: 1,093 km

border countries (2): Guinea 794 km; Liberia 299 km


402 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 24 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

continental shelf: 200 nm


tropical; hot, humid; summer rainy season (May to December); winter dry season (December to April)


coastal belt of mangrove swamps, wooded hill country, upland plateau, mountains in east


highest point: Loma Mansa (Bintimani) 1,948 m

lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m

mean elevation: 279 m

Natural resources

diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold, chromite

Land use

agricultural land: 56.2% (2018 est.)

arable land: 23.4% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 2.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 30.5% (2018 est.)

forest: 37.5% (2018 est.)

other: 6.3% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

300 sq km (2012)

Major watersheds (area sq km)

Atlantic Ocean drainage: Niger (2,261,741 sq km)

Population distribution

population clusters are found in the lower elevations of the south and west; the northern third of the country is less populated as shown on this population distribution map

Natural hazards

dry, sand-laden harmattan winds blow from the Sahara (December to February); sandstorms, dust storms

Geography - note

rainfall along the coast can reach 495 cm (195 inches) a year, making it one of the wettest places along coastal, western Africa

People and Society


noun: Sierra Leonean(s)

adjective: Sierra Leonean

Ethnic groups

Temne 35.4%, Mende 30.8%, Limba 8.8%, Kono 4.3%, Korankoh 4%, Fullah 3.8%, Mandingo 2.8%, Loko 2%, Sherbro 1.9%, Creole 1.2% (descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area in the late-18th century; also known as Krio), other 5% (2019 est.)


English (official, regular use limited to literate minority), Mende (principal vernacular in the south), Temne (principal vernacular in the north), Krio (English-based Creole, spoken by the descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area, a lingua franca and a first language for 10% of the population but understood by 95%)


Muslim 77.1%, Christian 22.9% (2019 est.)

Demographic profile

Sierra Leone’s youthful and growing population is driven by its high total fertility rate (TFR) of almost 4 children per woman as of 2022, which has declined little over the last two decades. Its elevated TFR is sustained by the continued desire for large families, the low level of contraceptive use, and the early start of childbearing. Despite its high TFR, Sierra Leone’s population growth is somewhat tempered by high infant, child, and maternal mortality rates that are among the world’s highest and are a result of poverty, a lack of potable water and sanitation, poor nutrition, limited access to quality health care services, and the prevalence of female genital cutting.

Sierra Leone’s large youth cohort – about 60% of the population is under the age of 25 – continues to struggle with high levels of unemployment, which was one of the major causes of the country’s 1991-2002 civil war and remains a threat to stability today. Its estimated 60% youth unemployment rate is attributed to high levels of illiteracy and unskilled labor, a lack of private sector jobs, and low pay.

Sierra Leone has been a source of and destination for refugees. Sierra Leone’s civil war internally displaced as many as 2 million people, or almost half the population, and forced almost another half million to seek refuge in neighboring countries (370,000 Sierra Leoneans fled to Guinea and 120,000 to Liberia). The UNHCR has helped almost 180,000 Sierra Leoneans to return home, while more than 90,000 others have repatriated on their own. Of the more than 65,000 Liberians who took refuge in Sierra Leone during their country’s civil war (1989-2003), about 50,000 have been voluntarily repatriated by the UNHCR and others have returned home independently.

Age structure

0-14 years: 40.54% (male 1,820,988/female 1,790,185)

15-64 years: 56.89% (male 2,476,286/female 2,591,155)

65 years and over: 2.58% (2023 est.) (male 111,937/female 117,489)

2023 population pyramids
2023 population pyramids

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 74

youth dependency ratio: 68.5

elderly dependency ratio: 5.5

potential support ratio: 18.3 (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 19.1 years

male: 18.5 years

female: 19.7 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 206

Birth rate

31.49 births/1,000 population (2023 est.)

country comparison to the world: 25

Death rate

9.14 deaths/1,000 population (2023 est.)

country comparison to the world: 57

Net migration rate

1.72 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2023 est.)

country comparison to the world: 52

Population distribution

population clusters are found in the lower elevations of the south and west; the northern third of the country is less populated as shown on this population distribution map


urban population: 44.3% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 3.02% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major urban areas - population

1.309 million FREETOWN (capital) (2023)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.02 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 0.96 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.95 male(s)/female

total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2023 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

19.6 years (2019 est.)

note: data represents median age at first birth among women 20-49

Maternal mortality ratio

443 deaths/100,000 live births (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 18

Infant mortality rate

total: 72.3 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 77.24 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 67.22 deaths/1,000 live births (2023 est.)

country comparison to the world: 5

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 59.07 years

male: 57.48 years

female: 60.71 years (2023 est.)

country comparison to the world: 223

Gross reproduction rate

1.83 (2023 est.)

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 92.5% of population

rural: 58% of population

total: 72.8% of population

unimproved: urban: 7.5% of population

rural: 42% of population

total: 27.2% of population (2020 est.)

Current health expenditure

8.8% of GDP (2020)

Physicians density

0.07 physicians/1,000 population (2018)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 79.5% of population

rural: 35.5% of population

total: 54.4% of population

unimproved: urban: 20.5% of population

rural: 64.5% of population

total: 45.6% of population (2020 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: very high (2023)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever

vectorborne diseases: malaria and dengue fever

water contact diseases: schistosomiasis

animal contact diseases: rabies

aerosolized dust or soil contact diseases: Lassa fever

note: on 21 March 2022, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Travel Alert for polio in Africa; Sierra Leone is currently considered a high risk to travelers for circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV); vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) is a strain of the weakened poliovirus that was initially included in oral polio vaccine (OPV) and that has changed over time and behaves more like the wild or naturally occurring virus; this means it can be spread more easily to people who are unvaccinated against polio and who come in contact with the stool or respiratory secretions, such as from a sneeze, of an “infected” person who received oral polio vaccine; the CDC recommends that before any international travel, anyone unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, or with an unknown polio vaccination status should complete the routine polio vaccine series; before travel to any high-risk destination, the CDC recommends that adults who previously completed the full, routine polio vaccine series receive a single, lifetime booster dose of polio vaccine

Alcohol consumption per capita

total: 3.22 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

beer: 0.17 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

wine: 0.01 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

spirits: 0.15 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

other alcohols: 2.9 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 107

Tobacco use

total: 13.5% (2020 est.)

male: 20.5% (2020 est.)

female: 6.4% (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 115

Child marriage

women married by age 15: 8.6%

women married by age 18: 29.6%

men married by age 18: 4.1% (2019 est.)


definition: age 15 and over can read and write English, Mende, Temne, or Arabic

total population: 47.7%

male: 55.3%

female: 39.8% (2021)

Youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24)

total: 10.8%

male: 15.8%

female: 7.6% (2021 est.)


Environment - current issues

rapid population growth pressuring the environment; overharvesting of timber, expansion of cattle grazing, and slash-and-burn agriculture have resulted in deforestation, soil exhaustion, and flooding; loss of biodiversity; air pollution; water pollution; overfishing

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping-London Convention, Marine Dumping-London Protocol, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands

signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification


tropical; hot, humid; summer rainy season (May to December); winter dry season (December to April)

Land use

agricultural land: 56.2% (2018 est.)

arable land: 23.4% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 2.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 30.5% (2018 est.)

forest: 37.5% (2018 est.)

other: 6.3% (2018 est.)


urban population: 44.3% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 3.02% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Food insecurity

severe localized food insecurity: due to high food prices and reduced incomes - about 1.6 million people are estimated to be severely food insecure between June and August 2022 on account of high food prices and low purchasing power, resulting in acute constraints on households’ economic access to food (2022)

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 20.63 micrograms per cubic meter (2016 est.)

carbon dioxide emissions: 1.09 megatons (2016 est.)

methane emissions: 3.16 megatons (2020 est.)

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 610,222 tons (2004 est.)

Major watersheds (area sq km)

Atlantic Ocean drainage: Niger (2,261,741 sq km)

Total water withdrawal

municipal: 110 million cubic meters (2020 est.)

industrial: 60 million cubic meters (2020 est.)

agricultural: 50 million cubic meters (2020 est.)

Total renewable water resources

160 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: Republic of Sierra Leone

conventional short form: Sierra Leone

local long form: Republic of Sierra Leone

local short form: Sierra Leone

etymology: the Portuguese explorer Pedro de SINTRA named the country "Serra Leoa" (Lion Mountains) for the impressive mountains he saw while sailing the West African coast in 1462

Government type

presidential republic


name: Freetown

geographic coordinates: 8 29 N, 13 14 W

time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: name derived from the fact that the original settlement served as a haven for free-born and freed African Americans, as well as for liberated Africans rescued from slave ships

Administrative divisions

4 provinces and 1 area*; Eastern, Northern, North Western, Southern, Western*


27 April 1961 (from the UK)

National holiday

Independence Day, 27 April (1961)


history: several previous; latest effective 1 October 1991

amendments: proposed by Parliament; passage of amendments requires at least two-thirds majority vote of Parliament in two successive readings and assent of the president of the republic; passage of amendments affecting fundamental rights and freedoms and many other constitutional sections also requires approval in a referendum with participation of at least one half of qualified voters and at least two thirds of votes cast; amended several times, last in 2016

Legal system

mixed legal system of English common law and customary law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction


citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent or grandparent must be a citizen of Sierra Leone

dual citizenship recognized: yes

residency requirement for naturalization: 5 years


18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Julius Maada BIO (since 4 April 2018); Vice President Mohamed Juldeh JALLOH (since 4 April 2018) ; note - the president is both chief of state, head of government, and minister of defense

head of government: President Julius Maada BIO (since 4 April 2018); Vice President Mohamed Juldeh JALLOH (since 4 April 2018)

cabinet: Ministers of State appointed by the president, approved by Parliament; the cabinet is responsible to the president

elections/appointments: president directly elected by absolute majority popular vote in 2 rounds if needed for a 5-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 4 April 2018 (next to be in 2023) (2018)

election results: Julius Maada BIO elected president in second round; percent of vote - Julius Maada BIO (SLPP) 51.8%, Samura KAMARA (APC) 48.2%

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Parliament (146 seats; 132 members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote and 14 seats filled in separate elections by non-partisan members of Parliament called "paramount chiefs;" members serve 5-year terms)

elections: last held on 7 March 2018 (next to be held in March 2023)

election results: percent of vote by party - n/a; seats by party - APC 68, SLPP 49, C4C 8, other 7; composition - men 128, women 18, percent of women 12.3%

Judicial branch

highest court(s): Superior Court of Judicature (consists of the Supreme Court - at the apex - with the chief justice and 4 other judges, the Court of Appeal with the chief justice and 7 other judges, and the High Court of Justice with the chief justice and 9 other judges); note – the Judicature has jurisdiction in all civil, criminal, and constitutional matters

judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court chief justice and other judges of the Judicature appointed by the president on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, a 7-member independent body of judges, presidential appointees, and the Commission chairman, and are subject to approval by Parliament; all Judicature judges serve until retirement at age 65

subordinate courts: magistrates' courts; District Appeals Court; local courts

Political parties and leaders

All People's Congress or APC [Ernest Bai KOROMA]
Coalition for Change or C4C [Tamba R. SANDY]
National Grand Coalition or NGC [Dr. Dennis BRIGHT]
Sierra Leone People's Party or SLPP [Dr. Prince HARDING]
numerous other parties

International organization participation


Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Sidique Abou-Bakarr WAI (since 8 April 2019)

chancery: 1701 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009-1605

telephone: [1] (202) 939-9261

FAX: [1] (202) 483-1793

email address and website:

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador David REIMER (since 24 March 2021)

embassy: Southridge-Hill Station, Freetown

mailing address: 2160 Freetown Place, Washington DC  20521-2160

telephone: [232] 99 105 000

email address and website:

Flag description

three equal horizontal bands of light green (top), white, and light blue; green symbolizes agriculture, mountains, and natural resources, white represents unity and justice, and blue the sea and the natural harbor in Freetown

National symbol(s)

lion; national colors: green, white, blue

National anthem

name: "High We Exalt Thee, Realm of the Free"

lyrics/music: Clifford Nelson FYLE/John Joseph AKA

note: adopted 1961


Economic overview

low-income West African economy; primarily subsistent agriculture; key iron and diamond mining activities suspended; slow recovery from 1990s civil war; systemic corruption; high-risk debt; high youth unemployment; natural resource rich

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$13.597 billion (2021 est.)

$13.061 billion (2020 est.)

$13.323 billion (2019 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

country comparison to the world: 158

Real GDP growth rate

4.1% (2021 est.)

-1.97% (2020 est.)

5.25% (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 119

Real GDP per capita

$1,600 (2021 est.)

$1,600 (2020 est.)

$1,700 (2019 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

country comparison to the world: 217

GDP (official exchange rate)

$4.132 billion (2020 est.)

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

11.87% (2021 est.)

13.45% (2020 est.)

14.8% (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 207

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 60.7% (2017 est.)

industry: 6.5% (2017 est.)

services: 32.9% (2017 est.)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 97.9% (2017 est.)

government consumption: 12.1% (2017 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 18.1% (2017 est.)

investment in inventories: 0.4% (2017 est.)

exports of goods and services: 26.8% (2017 est.)

imports of goods and services: -55.3% (2017 est.)

Agricultural products

cassava, rice, vegetables, oil palm fruit, sweet potatoes, milk, citrus fruit, groundnuts, fruit, pulses nes


diamond mining; iron ore, rutile and bauxite mining; small-scale manufacturing (beverages, textiles, footwear)

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 61.1%

industry: 5.5%

services: 33.4% (2014 est.)

Unemployment rate

5.33% (2021 est.)

5.2% (2020 est.)

4.65% (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 90

Household income or consumption by percentage share

lowest 10%: 2.6%

highest 10%: 33.6% (2003)


revenues: $740 million (2019 est.)

expenditures: $867 million (2019 est.)

Public debt

63.9% of GDP (2017 est.)

54.9% of GDP (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 71

Fiscal year

calendar year

Current account balance

-$275.638 million (2020 est.)

-$583.555 million (2019 est.)

-$504.851 million (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 104


$700.971 million (2020 est.) note: data are in current year dollars

$1.06 billion (2019 est.) note: data are in current year dollars

$963.948 million (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 186

Exports - partners

Belgium 26%, China 25%, Romania 9%, United Arab Emirates 6%, Germany 5%, Netherlands 5% (2019)

Exports - commodities

titanium, lumber, diamonds, aluminum, cocoa beans (2019)


$1.418 billion (2020 est.) note: data are in current year dollars

$1.818 billion (2019 est.) note: data are in current year dollars

$1.594 billion (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 181

Imports - partners

China 27%, India 11%, United States 6%, Ghana 5%, Turkey 5% (2019)

Imports - commodities

rice, plastics, packaged medicines, sauces/seasonings, cars (2019)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold

$945.908 million (31 December 2021 est.)

$707.704 million (31 December 2020 est.)

$530.138 million (31 December 2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 149

Debt - external

$1.615 billion (31 December 2017 est.)

$1.503 billion (31 December 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 159

Exchange rates

leones (SLL) per US dollar -

10,439.425 (2021 est.)

9,829.927 (2020 est.)

9,010.221 (2019 est.)

7,931.632 (2018 est.)

7,384.432 (2017 est.)


Electricity access

electrification - total population: 26% (2019)

electrification - urban areas: 52% (2019)

electrification - rural areas: 6% (2019)


installed generating capacity: 180,000 kW (2020 est.)

consumption: 130.708 million kWh (2019 est.)

exports: 0 kWh (2019 est.)

imports: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

transmission/distribution losses: 77 million kWh (2019 est.)

Electricity generation sources

fossil fuels: 8.2% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

nuclear: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

solar: 2.9% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

wind: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

hydroelectricity: 87% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

tide and wave: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

geothermal: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

biomass and waste: 1.9% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)


production: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

consumption: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

exports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

imports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

proven reserves: 0 metric tons (2019 est.)


total petroleum production: 0 bbl/day (2021 est.)

refined petroleum consumption: 5,900 bbl/day (2019 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate exports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate imports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil estimated reserves: 0 barrels (2021 est.)

Natural gas

production: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

consumption: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

exports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

imports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

proven reserves: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions

899,000 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from coal and metallurgical coke: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from petroleum and other liquids: 899,000 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from consumed natural gas: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 175


Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 269 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 0 (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 221

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 8,227,093 (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 98 (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 99

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: the telecom sector has only gradually recovered from the destruction caused during the war years, and only since 2019 has there been an effective terrestrial fiber backbone infrastructure, while the cable link to neighboring Guinea was not completed until February 2020; there is considerable available capacity from the ACE submarine cable and the national fiber network, but this is used inefficiently and so the price of internet connectivity remains one of the highest in the region; the theft of equipment and cabling, compounded by neglect, mismanagement, and under investment, means that telcos continue to operate in difficult conditions; the telecom regulator has made efforts to improve the market, including the liberalization of the international gateway and regular checks on QoS; the regulator reduced the price floor for mobile voice calls in early 2020, though consumers objected to the MNOs withdrawing a number of cheap packages as a response; the mobile sector has been the main driver of overall telecom revenue (2022)

domestic: fixed-line less than 0 per 100 and mobile-cellular just over 98 per 100 (2021)

international: country code - 232; landing point for the ACE submarine cable linking to South Africa, over 20 western African countries and Europe; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) (2019)

Broadcast media

1 government-owned TV station; 3 private TV stations; a pay-TV service began operations in late 2007; 1 government-owned national radio station; about two-dozen private radio stations primarily clustered in major cities; transmissions of several international broadcasters are available 


Internet users

total: 1,047,499 (2022 est.)

percent of population: 12.7% (2022 est.)

country comparison to the world: 149


National air transport system

annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers: 50,193 (2015)

annual freight traffic on registered air carriers: 0 (2015) mt-km

Airports - with paved runways


note: paved runways have a concrete or asphalt surface but not all have facilities for refueling, maintenance, or air traffic control; the length of a runway required for aircraft to safely operate depends on a number of factors including the type of aircraft, the takeoff weight (including passengers, cargo, and fuel), engine types, flap settings, landing speed, elevation of the airport, and average maximum daily air temperature; paved runways can reach a length of 5,000 m (16,000 ft.), but the “typical” length of a commercial airline runway is between 2,500-4,000 m (8,000-13,000 ft.)

Airports - with unpaved runways


note: unpaved runways have a surface composition such as grass or packed earth and are most suited to the operation of light aircraft; unpaved runways are usually short, often less than 1,000 m (3,280 ft.) in length; airports with unpaved runways often lack facilities for refueling, maintenance, or air traffic control


2 (2021)


total: 11,701 km (2015)

paved: 1,051 km (2015)

unpaved: 10,650 km (2015)

urban: 3,000 km (2015)

non-urban: 8,700 km (2015)

country comparison to the world: 133


800 km (2011) (600 km navigable year-round)

country comparison to the world: 79

Merchant marine

total: 605

by type: bulk carrier 36, container ship 6, general cargo 325, oil tanker 104, other 134 (2022)

country comparison to the world: 37

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Freetown, Pepel, Sherbro Islands

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF): operates under a Joint Force Command with Land Forces, Maritime Forces, and an Air Wing; Ministry of Internal Affairs: Sierre Leone Police (2022)

Military expenditures

0.6% of GDP (2022 est.)

0.3% of GDP (2021 est.)

0.3% of GDP (2020 est.)

0.3% of GDP (2019 est.)

0.3% of GDP (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 158

Military and security service personnel strengths

approximately 9,000 personnel, mostly ground forces (2022)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the RSLAF has a small inventory that includes a mix of Soviet-origin and other older foreign-supplied equipment; in recent years, it has received limited amounts of mostly donations and secondhand equipment (2022)

Military service age and obligation

18-29 for voluntary military service; women are eligible to serve; no conscription (2022)

Military - note

the RSLAF’s principle responsibilities are securing the borders and the country’s territorial waters, supporting civil authorities during emergencies and reconstruction efforts, and participating in peacekeeping missions; it is small, lightly armed, and has a limited budget; since being reduced in size and restructured with British assistance after the end of the civil war in 2002, it has received assistance from several foreign militaries, including those of Canada, China, France, the UK, and the US; the RSLAF has participated in peacekeeping operations in Somalia and Sudan; the Land Forces are by far the largest service and have 4 small light infantry brigades; the Maritime Forces have a few small coastal and in-shore patrol boats, while the Air Wing has a handful of serviceable combat helicopters

the RSLAF’s origins lie in the Sierra Leone Battalion of the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF), a multi-regiment force formed by the British colonial office in 1900 to garrison the West African colonies of Gold Coast (Ghana), Nigeria (Lagos and the protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria), Sierra Leone, and Gambia; the RWAFF fought in both World Wars (2023)

Maritime threats

the International Maritime Bureau reported one incident in the territorial waters of Sierra Leone in 2022 where the ship was hijacked, this was the first incident reported in two years; this incident was one of only two hijackings Worldwide in 2022; the Niger Delta and Gulf of Guinea remain a very high risk for piracy and armed robbery of ships; past incidents have been reported where vessels were attacked and crews kidnapped; these incidents showed that the pirates / robbers in the area are well armed and violent; pirates have robbed vessels and kidnapped crews for ransom; in the past, product tankers were hijacked and cargo stolen; the Maritime Administration of the US Department of Transportation has issued a Maritime Advisory (2023-001 - Gulf of Guinea-Piracy/Armed Robbery/Kidnapping for Ransom) effective 3 January 2023, which states in part, "Piracy, armed robbery, and kidnapping for ransom continue to serve as significant threats to US-flagged vessels transiting or operating in the Gulf of Guinea"

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Sierra Leone-Guinea: Sierra Leone opposed Guinean troops' continued occupation of Yenga, a small village on the Makona River that serves as a border with Guinea; Guinea's forces came to Yenga in the mid-1990s to help the Sierra Leonean military to suppress rebels and to secure their common border but remained there even after both countries signed a 2005 agreement acknowledging that Yenga belonged to Sierra Leone; in 2012, the two sides signed a declaration to demilitarize the area; in 2019, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation stated that the dispute over Yenga had been resolved; however, at a 2021 ECOWAS meeting, Sierra Leone’s President BIO called on the bloc to help resolve an incursion of Guinean troops in Yenga

Sierra Leone-Liberia: none identified

Refugees and internally displaced persons

IDPs: 5,500 (displacement caused by post-electoral violence in 2018 and clashes in the Pujehun region in 2019) (2021)