Currently viewing country profile for Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone, in West Africa, emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002, with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission.
More than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters. Several years on, the country still faces the challenge of reconstruction.
A lasting feature of the war, in which tens of thousands died, was the atrocities committed by the rebels, whose trademark was to hack off the hands or feet of their victims.
A UN-backed war crimes court was set up to try those, from both sides, who bear the greatest responsibility for the brutalities. It completed its work at the end of 2009. Its remaining case, the trial of Charles Taylor, continues in The Hague.
Sierra Leone has experienced substantial economic growth in recent years, although poverty and unemployment remain major challenges.
In September 2010, the UN Security Council lifted the last remaining sanctions against Sierra Leone saying the government had fully re-established control over its territory, and former rebel fighters had been disarmed and demobilised.
Economic recovery has been slow partly because the reconstruction needs are so great. Around half of government revenue comes from donors.
The restoration of peace was expected to aid the the country's promotion as a tourist destination in the long term. Sierra Leone boasts miles of unspoilt beaches along its Atlantic coast, and hopes to emulate its neighbour Gambia in attracting tourists.
Sierra Leone is also rich in diamonds and other minerals. The trade in illicit gems, known as "blood diamonds" for their role in funding conflicts, perpetuated the civil war. The government has attempted to crack down on cross-border diamond trafficking.
Sierra Leone has a special significance in the history of the transatlantic slave trade. It was the departure point for thousands of west African captives. The capital, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787
- Full name: Republic of Sierra Leone
- Population: 5.7 million (UN, 2009)
- Capital: Freetown
- Area: 71,740 sq km (27,699 sq miles)
- Major languages: English, Krio (Creole language derived from English) and a range of African languages
- Major religions: Islam, Christianity
- Life expectancy: 46 years (men), 49 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: Leone
- Main exports: Diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee, fish
- GNI per capita: US $320 (World Bank, 2008)
- Internet domain: .sl
- International dialling code: +232
President : Ernest Bai Koroma
Ernest Bai Koroma was sworn in as Sierra Leone's new president on 17 September 2007. He won 54.6% of the vote in a run-off with the incumbent vice-president Solomon Berewa.
Mr Koroma promised zero tolerance on corruption in his inaugural speech. He also said he'd fight against the mismanagement of state resources.
Addressing thousands of cheering supporters, Mr Koroma said: "We know how high your expectations are and that you have suffered for too long."
Mr Koroma's All People's Congress (APC) also won a majority in parliamentary elections held in August 2007.
He was born in northern Makeni in 1953, and is an insurance broker who says he wants to run Sierra Leone like a business concern.
His predecessor Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is credited with bringing in foreign help to rescue the country. Mr Kabbah stepped down in August 2007 after serving two terms in office.
Media freedom in Sierra Leone has its limits; media rights monitors say high-level corruption is a taboo topic, with officials using libel laws to target errant journalists.
Challenges facing broadcasters include unreliable power supplies, poor funding and low advertising revenues. There are dozens of radio stations, most of them privately owned.
A national public broadcaster, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), was formed in April 2010 by a merger of the former state-run broadcaster and a UN radio network.
BBC World Service can be heard on FM in Freetown (94.3), Bo (94.5) and Kenema (95.3). Voice of America and Radio France Internationale broadcast on FM in Freetown.
Dozens of newspapers are published in Freetown, despite low literacy levels. Most of them are privately-run and are often critical of the government.
By June 2009 there were 13,900 internet users, comprising less than 0.5% of the population (Internetworldstats).
- Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) - terrestrial network with limited coverage
- ABC TV - private
- Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) - national broadcaster
- Radio Democracy 98.1 FM - Freetown station, once the voice of the exiled Kabbah government, regarded as pro-government
- Kiss FM - private station in Bo
- SKYY FM - private station in Freetown
- Capital Radio - private station in Freetown
- Believers Broadcasting Network - Freetown, Christian FM station
- Voice of the Handicapped - founded as an FM station for disabled citizens, but attracts a wider audience
- Cotton Tree News - news website, operated by NGOs
- Sierra Leone News Agency
A chronology of key events
1787 - British abolitionists and philanthropists establish a settlement in Freetown for repatriated and rescued slaves.
1808 - Freetown settlement becomes crown colony.
1896 - Britain sets up a protectorate over the Freetown hinterland.
1954 - Sir Milton Margai, leader of the Sierra Leone People's Party, appointed chief minister.
1961 - Sierra Leone becomes independent.
1967 - Military coup deposes Premier Siaka Stevens' government.
1968 - Siaka Stevens returns to power at the head of a civilian government following another military coup.
1971 - Sierra Leone declared a republic, Stevens becomes executive president.
1978 - New constitution proclaims Sierra Leone a one-party state with the All People's Congress as the sole legal party.
1985 - Major-General Joseph Saidu Momoh becomes president following Stevens's retirement.
1987 - Momoh declares state of economic emergency.
War and coups
1991 - Start of civil war. Former army corporal Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) begin campaign against President Momoh, capturing towns on border with Liberia.
1991 September - New constitution providing for a multiparty system adopted.
1992 - President Joseph Momoh ousted in military coup led by Captain Valentine Strasser, apparently frustrated by failure to deal with rebels. Under international pressure, Strasser announces plans for the first multi-party elections since 1967.
1996 January - Strasser ousted in military coup led by his defence minister, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.
1996 - Ahmad Tejan Kabbah elected president in February, signs peace accord with Sankoh's rebels in November.
1997 - Peace deal unravels. President Kabbah deposed by army in May. Major Johnny Paul Koroma, in prison awaiting the outcome of a treason trial, leads the military junta - the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Koroma suspends the constitution, bans demonstrations and abolishes political parties.
Kabbah flees to Guinea to mobilise international support.
1997 July - The Commonwealth suspends Sierra Leone.
1997 October - The UN Security Council imposes sanctions against Sierra Leone, barring the supply of arms and petroleum products. A British company, Sandline, nonetheless supplies "logistical support", including rifles, to Kabbah allies.
1998 February - Nigerian-led West African intervention force Ecomog storms Freetown and drives rebels out.
1998 March - Kabbah makes a triumphant return to Freetown amid scenes of public rejoicing.
1999 January - Rebels backing Revolutionary United Front leader Foday Sankoh seize parts of Freetown from Ecomog. After weeks of bitter fighting they are driven out, leaving behind 5,000 dead and a devastated city.
1999 May - A ceasefire is greeted with cautious optimism in Freetown amid hopes that eight years of civil war may soon be over.
1999 July - Six weeks of talks in the Togolese capital, Lome, result in a peace agreement, under which the rebels receive posts in government and assurances they will not be prosecuted for war crimes.
1999 November/December - UN troops arrive to police the peace agreement - but one rebel leader, Sam Bokari, says they are not welcome. Meanwhile, Ecomog troops are attacked outside Freetown.
2000 April/May - UN forces come under attack in the east of the country, but far worse is in store when first 50, then several hundred UN troops are abducted.
2000 May - Rebels close in on Freetown; 800 British paratroopers sent to Freetown to evacuate British citizens and to help secure the airport for UN peacekeepers; rebel leader Foday Sankoh captured.
2000 August - Eleven British soldiers taken hostage by a renegade militia group called the West Side Boys.
2000 September - British forces mount operation to rescue remaining UK hostages.
2001 January - Government postpones presidential and parliamentary elections - set for February and March - because of continuing insecurity.
2001 March - UN troops for the first time begin to deploy peacefully in rebel-held territory.
2001 May - Disarmament of rebels begins, and British-trained Sierra Leone army starts deploying in rebel-held areas.
2002 January - War declared over. UN mission says disarmament of 45,000 fighters is complete. Government, UN agree to set up war crimes court.
2002 May - Kabbah wins a landslide victory in elections. His Sierra Leone People's Party secures a majority in parliament.
2002 July - British troops leave Sierra Leone after their two-year mission to help end the civil war.
2003 July - Rebel leader Foday Sankoh dies of natural causes while waiting to be tried for war crimes.
2003 August - President Kabbah tells truth and reconciliation commission that he had no say over operations of pro-government militias during war.
2004 February - Disarmament and rehabilitation of more than 70,000 civil war combatants officially completed.
War crimes trials
2004 March - UN-backed war crimes tribunal opens courthouse to try senior militia leaders from both sides of civil war.
2004 May - First local elections in more than three decades.
2004 June - War crimes trials begin.
2004 September - UN hands control of security in capital over to local forces.
2005 August - UN Security Council authorises opening of a UN assistance mission in Sierra Leone from 2006, to follow departure of peacekeepers in December.
2005 December - The last UN peacekeeping troops leave Sierra Leone, marking the end of a five-year mission to restore order.
2006 March - Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor is arrested in Nigeria and handed over to the war crimes court in Sierra Leone which indicted him.
2006 December - President Kabbah says 90% of the country's $1.6bn (£815m) debt has been written off after negotiations with international creditors.
2007 June - Start of former Liberian president Charles Taylor's war crimes trial in The Hague, where he stands accused of instigating atrocities in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone's special war crimes court in Freetown delivers its first verdicts, finding three militia leaders guilty.
2007 August - Presidential and parliamentary polls. Ernest Bai Koroma wins the presidency and his All People's Congress, formerly in opposition, wins a majority in parliament.
2008 January - Former Liberian president Charles Taylor's war crimes trial in The Hague resumes after a six-month delay.
2008 August - Local elections are marred by violence between the supporters of the two main parties
2009 April - Three former senior leaders of rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) sentenced to long jail terms for civil war atrocities.
2009 October - UN-backed Special Court winds down after seven years investigating civil war atrocities. Its remaining case, trial of Charles Taylor, continues in The Hague.
2010 May - Head of anti-corruption commission quits.
2010 September - UN Security Council lifts last remaining sanctions against Sierra Leone - an arms embargo and a travel ban for rebels.
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