Photos of Sierra Leone

Introduction

Background

The British set up a trading post near present-day Freetown in the 17th century. Originally, the trade involved timber and ivory, but later it expanded to slaves. Following the American Revolution, a colony was established in 1787 and Sierra Leone became a destination for resettling black loyalists who had originally been resettled in Nova Scotia. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, British crews delivered thousands of Africans liberated from illegal slave ships to Sierra Leone, particularly Freetown. The colony gradually expanded inland during the course of the 19th century; independence was attained in 1961. Democracy is slowly being reestablished after the civil war (1991-2002) that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (about one-third of the population). The military, which took over full responsibility for security following the departure of UN peacekeepers at the end of 2005, has developed as a guarantor of the country's stability; the armed forces remained on the sideline during the 2007, 2012, and 2018 national elections. In March 2014, the closure of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone marked the end of more than 15 years of peacekeeping and political operations in Sierra Leone. The government's stated priorities include free primary and secondary education, economic growth, accountable governance, health, and infrastructure.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

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

Geographic coordinates

8 30 N, 11 30 W

Area

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

Coastline

402 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 24 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

continental shelf: 200 nm

Climate

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

Terrain

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

Elevation

mean elevation: 279 m

lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m

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

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

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, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands

signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification

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

Nationality

noun: Sierra Leonean(s)

adjective: Sierra Leonean

Ethnic groups

Temne 35.5%, Mende 33.2%, Limba 6.4%, Kono 4.4%, Fullah 3.4%, Loko 2.9%, Koranko 2.8%, Sherbro 2.6%, Mandingo 2.4%, 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 Sierra Leone 4.7%, other foreign 0.3% (includes refugees from Liberia's civil war, and small numbers of Europeans, Lebanese, Pakistanis, and Indians), unspecified 0.2% (2013 est.)

Languages

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%)

Religions

Muslim 78.6%, Christian 20.8%, other 0.3%, unspecified 0.2% (2013 est.)

Demographic profile

Sierra Leone’s youthful and growing population is driven by its high total fertility rate (TFR) of almost 5 children per woman, 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. As of 2015, less than 1,000 Liberians still reside in Sierra Leone.

Age structure

0-14 years: 41.38% (male 1,369,942/female 1,371,537)

15-24 years: 18.83% (male 610,396/female 636,880)

25-54 years: 32.21% (male 1,020,741/female 1,112,946)

55-64 years: 3.89% (male 121,733/female 135,664)

65 years and over: 3.7% (male 100,712/female 144,382) (2020 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 76.3

youth dependency ratio: 71.1

elderly dependency ratio: 5.2

potential support ratio: 19.4 (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

35.04 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 18

Death rate

9.7 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 41

Net migration rate

-0.96 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 142

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

Urbanization

urban population: 42.9% of total population (2020)

rate of urbanization: 3.12% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)

Major urban areas - population

1.236 million FREETOWN (capital) (2021)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 0.96 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 0.92 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.9 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.7 male(s)/female

total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

19.2 years (2013 est.)

note: median age at first birth among women 25-29

Maternal mortality rate

1,120 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 3

Infant mortality rate

total: 65.34 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 73.97 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 56.45 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 6

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 60.19 years

male: 57.48 years

female: 62.97 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 218

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 89.5% of population

rural: 55.7% of population

total: 69.8% of population

unimproved: urban: 10.5% of population

rural: 44.3% of population

total: 30.2% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

0.03 physicians/1,000 population (2011)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 74.3% of population

rural: 31.9% of population

total: 49.6% of population

unimproved: urban: 25.7% of population

rural: 68.1% of population

total: 50.4% of population (2017 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: very high (2020)

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

Literacy

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

total population: 43.2%

male: 51.6%

female: 39.8% (2018)

Unemployment, youth ages 15-24

total: 9.4%

male: 14.8%

female: 6.1% (2014 est.)

country comparison to the world: 131

Government

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

Capital

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*

Independence

27 April 1961 (from the UK)

National holiday

Independence Day, 27 April (1961)

Constitution

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 2013

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

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

Suffrage

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)

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 131, women 15, percent of women 10.3%

Judicial branch

highest courts: 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

ACP, AfDB, AU, C, ECOWAS, EITI (compliant country), FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO (pending member), ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO (correspondent), ITU, ITUC (NGOs), MIGA, MINUSMA, NAM, OIC, OPCW, UN, UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNISFA, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Sidique Abou-Bakarr WAI (since 4 April 2008)

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

telephone: [1] (202) 939-9261 through 9263

FAX: [1] (202) 483-1793

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Maria E. BREWER (since 20 December 2017)

telephone: [232] 99 105 000

embassy: Southridge-Hill Station, Freetown

mailing address: use embassy street address

FAX: [232] 99 515 355

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

Economy

Economic overview

Sierra Leone is extremely poor and nearly half of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. The country possesses substantial mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources, but it is still recovering from a civil war that destroyed most institutions before ending in the early 2000s.

In recent years, economic growth has been driven by mining - particularly iron ore. The country’s principal exports are iron ore, diamonds, and rutile, and the economy is vulnerable to fluctuations in international prices. Until 2014, the government had relied on external assistance to support its budget, but it was gradually becoming more independent. The Ebola outbreak of 2014 and 2015, combined with falling global commodities prices, caused a significant contraction of economic activity in all areas. While the World Health Organization declared an end to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in November 2015, low commodity prices in 2015-2016 contributed to the country’s biggest fiscal shortfall since 2001. In 2017, increased iron ore exports, together with the end of the Ebola epidemic, supported a resumption of economic growth.

Continued economic growth will depend on rising commodities prices and increased efforts to diversify the sources of growth. Non-mining activities will remain constrained by inadequate infrastructure, such as power and roads, even though power sector projects may provide some additional electricity capacity in the near term. Pervasive corruption and undeveloped human capital will continue to deter foreign investors. Sustained international donor support in the near future will partially offset these fiscal constraints.

Real GDP growth rate

3.7% (2017 est.)

6.3% (2016 est.)

-20.5% (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 80

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

14.8% (2019 est.)

16% (2018 est.)

18.2% (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 215

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$13.425 billion (2019 est.)

$12.724 billion (2018 est.)

$12.3 billion (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2010 dollars

country comparison to the world: 157

GDP (official exchange rate)

$4.132 billion (2020 est.)

Real GDP per capita

$1,718 (2019 est.)

$1,663 (2018 est.)

$1,643 (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

country comparison to the world: 215

Gross national saving

-7.3% of GDP (2018 est.)

4.3% of GDP (2017 est.)

-5.9% of GDP (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 190

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

Industries

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.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share

lowest 10%: 2.6%

highest 10%: 33.6% (2003)

Budget

revenues: 562 million (2017 est.)

expenditures: 846.4 million (2017 est.)

Public debt

63.9% of GDP (2017 est.)

54.9% of GDP (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 63

Fiscal year

calendar year

Current account balance

-$407 million (2017 est.)

-$88 million (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 117

Exports

$1.085 billion (2018 est.)

$1.632 billion (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 158

Exports - partners

Cote dIvoire 37.7%, Belgium 20.5%, US 15.7%, China 10.2%, Netherlands 6.1% (2017)

Exports - commodities

iron ore, diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee, fish

Imports

$2.619 billion (2020 est.)

$2.414 billion (2019 est.)

$2.072 billion (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 158

Imports - partners

China 11.5%, US 9.2%, Belgium 8.8%, UAE 7.7%, India 7.4%, Turkey 5.2%, Senegal 5.1%, Netherlands 4.3% (2017)

Imports - commodities

foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels and lubricants, chemicals

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold

$478 million (31 December 2017 est.)

$497.2 million (31 December 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 152

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 -

7,396.3 (2017 est.)

6,289.9 (2016 est.)

6,289.9 (2015 est.)

5,080.8 (2014 est.)

4,524.2 (2013 est.)

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 26% (2019)

electrification - urban areas: 52% (2019)

electrification - rural areas: 6% (2019)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 2,586

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: less than 1 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 215

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 5,569,221

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 86.13 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 115

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: the stability in the country has led to international investment; telecom regulator continues to improve the market; telephone service improving with the expansion of the mobile sector; mobile-cellular service has grown rapidly from a small base, overcoming the deficiencies of the fixed-line sector; mobile sector has a high penetration; regulator approves 27% price increase for mobile voice calls; LTE launched in 2018 to compete with state owned almost monopoly on fixed-line (2020)

domestic: fixed-line less than 1 per 100 and mobile-cellular 86 per 100 (2019)

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)

note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

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 

(2019)

Internet users

total: 568,099

percent of population: 9% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 150

Transportation

National air transport system

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

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

Airports - with paved runways

total: 1 (2019)

over 3,047 m: 1

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 7 (2013)

914 to 1,523 m: 7 (2013)

Heliports

2 (2013)

Roadways

total: 11,700 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: 134

Waterways

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

country comparison to the world: 72

Merchant marine

total: 557

by type: bulk carrier 31, container ship 12, general cargo 286, oil tanker 104, other 124 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 40

Ports and terminals

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

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF): Army (includes Maritime Wing and Air Wing) (2019)

Military expenditures

0.7% of GDP (2019)

0.8% of GDP (2018)

1.1% of GDP (2017)

1.1% of GDP (2016)

0.9% of GDP (2015)

country comparison to the world: 140

Military and security service personnel strengths

the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is comprised of about 8,500 personnel, including an estimated 300 in the air and maritime wings (2019 est.)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the RSLAF's small inventory includes a mix of Soviet-origin and other older foreign-supplied equipment; since 2010, it has received limited quantities of material from China and South Africa (2019 est.)

Military service age and obligation

18-29 for voluntary military service; women are eligible to serve; no conscription (2019)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Sierra Leone opposes 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 have 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

Refugees and internally displaced persons

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