The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Sierra Leone





6,312,212 (July 2018 est.)




7,396.3 leones (SLL) = 1 USD (2012 est.)

Important Cities

Bonthe, Lungi, Magburaka





Sierra Leonean

Major Peoples

Mende, Sapi


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



Principal Language

Krio, Temne, Mende

Official Language



Head Of State

President Julius Maada Bio (since 4 April 2018)

Type of Government

Presidential Republic

Date of Independence

April 17, 1961

Major Exports

Diamonds, Rutile, Cocoa, Coffee, Fish, Iron ore

Precolonial History

Prior to European arrival, Bulom (Sherbro), Temne, and Limba peoples settled on the coast of Sierra Leone. Mende and Fulani peoples arrived in the 15th century. The Mende and Temne are the largest ethnic groups in Sierra Leone today. In 1462, Portuguese navigator Pedro de Cintra explored the coast and named the country Serra de Leão, or “lion mountains.” Sierra Leone began trading with Europe, with slaves becoming the main export. Portuguese dominance diminished in the region by the 1650s. The Dutch, French, and English also engaged in the slave trade, competing for forts and territory until the late 18th century. In 1787, British philanthropists founded a coastal settlement, the Province of Freedom, as an experimental colony for freed slaves. Initially disastrous, the colony was re-established and named Freetown. Over one thousand former slaves arrived from North America in 1791. Freetown was declared a British colony in 1808, and became a naval operations base against slave trading ships. Up to 50,000 freed slaves were brought to Freetown by the mid-19th century. Britain declared the territory a protectorate in 1896, albeit without consulting local rulers. Temne and Mende groups began leading unsuccessful uprisings against the British and the Creoles, descendants of the former slaves who settled Freetown. In the early 1950s, Sir Milton Margai of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) administered a new constitution that included an agenda for decolonization.

Postcolonial History

Sierra Leone was granted its independence within the British Commonwealth in 1961. Sir Milton became the first prime minister, bringing political stability to the new parliamentary government. He was succeeded by his half-brother, Sir Albert Margai, upon his death in 1964. Siaka Stevens of the All People’s Congress (APC) was elected prime minister in 1967, and became Sierra Leone’s first president when the country was declared a republic in 1971. Stevens abolished all other political parties and remained in power until his retirement in 1985. He was succeeded by his military commander, Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, who was overthrown by a military coup d’état in 1992. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected president in 1996 amid a decade of civil war instigated by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). After civil war ended in 2002, a war crimes tribunal prosecuted offenders and Tejan Kabba was re-elected president. The government invested $36.5 million in the disarmament and reintegration of over 72,000 former rebels, over ten percent of whom were children. Conflict in the region has continued to diminish, and economic prospects have soared with recent discoveries in offshore oil reserves.

Recommended Sources:

Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook (

C. Magbaily Fyle, Historical Dictionary of Sierra Leone (Lanham, Toronto, and Oxford, UK: 2006).

Richard Synge and Christopher Clapham, “Sierra Leone: Recent History,” in Africa South of the Sahara (London: Routledge, 2008).

Audio and Video