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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 72,325 sq km
Population: 5.7m (2009 World Bank estimate)
Capital city: Freetown (875,000, 2009 estimate)
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: Sierra Leonean Leone (SLL). 1 Leone = 100 cent
Major political parties: Eight registered parties contested the 2007 elections. The main ones are: SLPP - Sierra Leone Peoples Party; APC - All Peoples Congress; PMDC - People’s Movement for Democratic Change
Head of State: President Ernest Bai Koroma
Foreign Minister: Joseph Bandabla Dauda
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.

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ECONOMY

Basic economic facts

GDP at market prices: US$1.9 Billion (2009 World Bank estimate)
Real GDP Growth: 4.0% (2009 World Bank estimate)
Inflation: 11.7% (2008 est)
(Sources: IMF, World Bank, UNDP)
Exchange rate: $1 = 4,359 SLL £1 = 7,148 SLL
Major trading partners: Belgium, Germany, United states, United Kingdom, China, West African countries.

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 (source of titanium) 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. Around 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 significant smuggling but government revenue from diamonds has increased in the last three years. Bauxite and rutile mining has also restarted, and there has been a surge in mineral prospecting since the new APC government came in 2007. A number of offshore oil discoveries were announced in 2009 and 2010 which could prove significant for Sierra Leone’s economic growth. Recent discovery of a huge iron ore deposit has attracted strong commercial interest from international investors, notably from China. The IMF completed a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility program that helped stabilize economic growth and reduce inflation and in 2010 approved a new program worth $45 million over three years.

International Monetary Fund - Sierra Leone (http://www.imf.org/external/country/sle/index.htm)

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HISTORY

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. But the military eventually 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's 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. Indeed, the military were more often than not complicit with the rebels in violence and looting.

Strasser was deposed in January 1996 by his fellow junta leaders. His replacement, Brigadier Julius 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 Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and the SLPP. The new government signed a peace agreement with the RUF in Abidjan 1996 but it failed to stop the rebellion. Kabbah's government was subsequently overthrown in a further coup in 1997 and took refuge in neighbouring Guinea. The military junta, headed by Major Johnny Paul Koroma, invited the RUF to join the government. But the junta was complicit in looting and violence, often in association with the RUF, and was unable to consolidate its position. It was eventually overthrown and 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, committing appalling acts of violence against the civilian population in the process. 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. Some UN peacekeepers were killed and others detained by the rebels. Security was restored with the intervention of British troops in May 2000 and RUF ministers, including its leader Foday Sankoh, were arrested. The signing of the Abuja peace agreement in November 2000, together with the deployment of UNAMSIL across the country, allowed the gradual restoration of government authority throughout the territory. The war was officially declared over in February 2002.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

In West Africa, Sierra Leone, together with Liberia, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, form the Mano River Union, which was originally 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. In the past relations 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. 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 and has good relations with Nigeria.

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. It finally withdrew at the end of 2005 and has been replaced by the UN Integrated Office for Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL). The task of UNIOSIL is to help the country consolidate peace and assist the Government of Sierra Leone strengthen capacity of State institutions, rule of law, human rights, and the security sector, accelerate the Millennium Development Goals, improve transparency, and to help with the holding of local elections in July 2008. UNOSIL was replaced by UNIPSIL, a UN political coordinator’s office towards the end of 2008.

ECOWAS (http://www.ecowas.info/)
UNIPSIL (http://unipsil.unmissions.org/)

Bilateral relations with the UK

The UK played a major part in helping to end the civil war in Sierra Leone. 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 Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT). The UK also trained and helped to equip a new Police Force as part of a Commonwealth Training Team, and provided the Inspector General of Police 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.

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.

The UK and Sierra Leone have long enjoyed substantial links. There are around 2,000 UK citizens in Sierra Leone. There is a large Sierra Leone community in the UK, estimated at over 60,000. British Council - Sierra Leone (http://www.britishcouncil.org/sierraleone)

Visits

A large number of high level visits to and from Sierra Leone underline the strength and depth of the relationship.

Most recently, the Foreign Office Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham MP, visited in April to join the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Sierra Leonean independence.

President Koroma and a number of members of his Cabinet visited the United Kingdom in November 2009 to lead the Sierra Leonean Conference a trade and investment event that successfully promoted Sierra Leone to both non-traditional donors but also to British businesses and investors.

Before this President Koroma visited the UK as a guest of government in January 2008, accompanied by the Foreign Minister, the Finance Minister and other members of the new government.

For UK policy and parliamentary interest in Sierra Leone – see the Hansard (http://www.parliament.uk/hansard/hansard.cfm)website.

Sierra Leone Conference (http://Sierra Leone Conference)

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GEOGRAPHY

Sierra Leone is situated on the west coast of Africa and shares borders with Guinea and Liberia, Its 400km 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.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and investment with the UK

UK exports of goods to Sierra Leone, which consist of a diverse range of goods, machinery and road vehicles, were worth £21 million in 2009. UK exports to Sierra Leone for the first quarter of 2010 increased by just less than 30% against the same period in 2009.UK imports from Sierra Leone, principally ferrous ores and metal scrap were valued at £12 million in 2009.

Development

Sierra Leone lies towards the bottom of the UNDP's Human Development Index, although it is beginning to climb up the rankings. Sierra Leone is now ranked 180 out of 187countries. 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. 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, although school attendance has gone up significantly since the end of the war. The RUF rebellion also caused massive population displacement and prevented the delivery of services to the countryside. Some recent progress has been registered, including on food security, but 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. DFID effort is concentrated on reforming the civil service, the security sector and the judiciary and stimulating the private sector. Currently around a third of DFID funds are given to the government in the form of direct budgetary support.

The European Commission (EC) also works in Sierra Leone, focussing on two areas: good governance and institutional support and rehabilitation of priority infrastructure with total funding for these projects being approximately €135 million. The EC also provides general budget support of €118 million and approximately €29 million support for Sierra Leonean trade, agriculture and regional programmes.

DFID - Sierra Leone (http://www.dfid.gov.uk/countries/africa/sierraleone.asp)

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (http://www.undp.org/)
World Bank (http://www.worldbank.org/)
European Commission (http://ec.europa.eu)

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POLITICS

Sierra Leone is a constitutional democratic republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral parliament of 124 seats. Both President and Parliament serve five year terms. In the parliament, 112 seats are elected by popular vote and paramount chiefs (elected separately) fill the other 12. The present APC government and President Koroma were elected in August/September 2007 for a five year term. The APC won 59 of the elected seats; the SLPP won 43 seats and the PMDC, a new party which broke away from the SLPP shortly before the elections, won 10 seats. The APC subsequently won three by-elections, brought about by the resignation of APC parliamentarians who were named ministers (parliamentary and government office are incompatible) .SLPP has steadily increased its parliamentary seats to 45 through by-elections held in PMDC constituencies. President Koroma has publicly stated his priorities will be to improve energy supplies; develop the country’s infrastructure, boost agricultural productivity, strengthen the Anti-Corruption Commission; and increase employment. The next Presidential and Parliamentary elections are due in Autumn 2012.

BBC News Country Profile: Sierra Leone (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/country_profiles/1061561.stm)

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HUMAN RIGHTS

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. A total of 13 people have been indicted, from all sides of the conflict. Foday Sankoh and Sam Bockarie have since died and the whereabouts of Johnny Paul Koroma is unknown. Of the 10 remaining individuals, three from the AFRC military junta have been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. Their appeals against the length of these terms were rejected in March 2008. Three individuals from the CDF, a pro-government militia force, have also been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. Their appeal also failed, in May. The 3 indictees, from the rebel RUF group, were also convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. , However, the trial of the most high profile indictee, former Liberian President Charles Taylor is being carried out in The Hague for security reasons. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was also established in 2002. The Commission heard around 9,000 testimonies, and submitted its report in 2005. A Human Rights Commission ( a key recommendation of the TRC report) has now been set up.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (http://www.sc-sl.org)
Sierra Leone's Truth & Reconciliation Commission Report (http://www.trcsierraleone.org/drwebsite/publish/index.shtml)

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Last Updated: November 2011

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