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  Sierra Leone Information

The name Sierra Leone

The name Sierra Leone dates back to 1462, when a Portuguese explorer sailed down the coast of West Africa. There seems some dispute whether it was the shape or climatic conditions that influenced Pedro da Cintra to come up with “Sierra Lyoa” meaning Lion Mountains.

Some say the coastal regions looked like “lion’s teeth”. Others suggest he thought the thunderstorms over the mountainous peninsula sounded like the roar of a lion. Sixteenth century English sailors called it Sierra Leoa which evolved in the 17th Century to Sierra Leone. The British officially adopted the name Sierra Leone in 1787.

The capital city – Freetown

In 1787, British philanthropists founded the “Province of Freedom” which later became Freetown, a British crown colony and the principal base for the suppression of the slave trade. The local name for Freetown before the Europeans came was “Romarong” meaning the place of the wailers. This name came from the sounds of the constant weeping and screaming of victims of storms and cross current disasters at the mouth of the Sierra Leone River.

Sierra Leone's Ethnic Groups

In all there are 16 ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. The largest of these is the Mende, found in the Southern and Eastern Provinces. Next to them in number is the Temne in the North. The third largest group is the Limba, also in the Northern Province, followed by the Kono in the Eastern Province. There's also the Koranko in the North as well as Yalunka, Loko, Soso, Madingo and Fula. On the coast, north and south are the Bullom and Sherbro followed by the much smaller groups of Krim, Vai, Gola, with the Kissi further inland in the Eastern Province. The Western area, including Freetown, is more mixed in population, but is basically the home of the Krio group.

Sierra Leone Weather

There are two distinct seasons in Sierra Leone. November to April is the dry season and the best holiday weather. May to October is the wet (rainy) season. There is also the harmattan period of during the months of December to February when very dry winds arrive from the Sahara.


Sierra Leone is located on the West Coast of Africa between latitudes 7 and 10 degrees North and longitudes 10.5 and 13 degrees west. The Republic of Guinea is to the north and Liberia is on East and North East, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west and south. It has 300 Miles of coastline.

From an approximate 70-mile costal belt of low-lying land, the country rises to a mountain plateau near the Eastern Frontier rising 4000 to 6000 feet with a rich timber forest region. The Western area encompasses the SL peninsula on which the capital and main commercial centre of Freetown stands; is 24 miles long and 10miles wide.

A mountainous promontory, it rises in places up to 300 feet above sea level – one of the few places in West Africa where the high land is so close to the sea. Where the lush green forest spills down the hillsides to meet the most beautiful white sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.

This 29,925 square mile (73,326 sq km) country has a population of approximately 4.5 million people. Sierra Leone is divided into four main provinces, West, North, East and South. There are twelve districts in the entire country.

Political and Economic Summary

Mining the wealth of minerals which Sierra Leone possesses provides a crucial source of income for the majority of rural households as well as the political and economic elites. For the poorest, this is often combined with subsistence farming and agricultural wage labour.

Alluvial diamond mining remains the major source of hard currency earnings, accounting for nearly 90% of Sierra Leone's exports. The continued growth in the economy is highly dependent upon the maintenance of political stability, and increasing private investment both domestically and from abroad.

Elections held in August 2007 passed peacefully and were generally considered to be free and fair. A second round presidential run off in September 2007 was won by Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People's Congress (APC). A peaceful transition to an opposition party represented a notable success for the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone and the Millennium Development Goals

Whilst the Government of Sierra Leone is committed to meeting the eight Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets, limited progress has been made. The most recent figures from the 2003/04 household survey found that 70% of the population lived below the national poverty line (£0.52p a day) and 26% of the population lived in extreme poverty.

In the education sector significant improvements have been reported in the aftermath of the war, with recent figures from the Ministry of Education showing an increase in the number of children in primary schools rising to 1.28 million. However, despite this impressive progress, Sierra Leone is far from reaching the target of all primary aged children completing a full course of primary schooling by 2015, and more needs to be done to improve female participation, especially in rural areas.


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