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 into 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 and 2012 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 furthering development - including recovering from the Ebola epidemic - creating jobs, and stamping out endemic corruption.



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

Geographic coordinates

8 30 N, 11 30 W

Map references



total: 71,740 sq km
land: 71,620 sq km
water: 120 sq km

Area - comparative

slightly smaller than South Carolina

Land boundaries

total: 1,093 km
border countries (2): Guinea 794 km, Liberia 299 km


402 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm


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


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


mean elevation: 279 m
elevation extremes: 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%
arable land 23.4%; permanent crops 2.3%; permanent pasture 30.5%
forest: 37.5%
other: 6.3% (2011 est.)

Irrigated land

300 sq km (2012)

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 and soil exhaustion; civil war depleted natural resources; overfishing

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, 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


6,018,888 (July 2016 est.)


noun: Sierra Leonean(s)
adjective: Sierra Leonean

Ethnic groups

Temne 35%, Mende 31%, Limba 8%, Kono 5%, Kriole 2% (descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area in the late-18th century; also known as Krio), Mandingo 2%, Loko 2%, other 15% (includes refugees from Liberia's recent civil war, and small numbers of Europeans, Lebanese, Pakistanis, and Indians) (2008 census)


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%)


Muslim 60%, Christian 10%, indigenous beliefs 30%

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: 41.9% (male 1,257,997/female 1,263,961)
15-24 years: 18.57% (male 542,975/female 574,669)
25-54 years: 32.04% (male 924,331/female 1,003,895)
55-64 years: 3.74% (male 104,415/female 120,953)
65 years and over: 3.75% (male 94,520/female 131,172) (2016 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 81.9%
youth dependency ratio: 77.1%
elderly dependency ratio: 4.9%
potential support ratio: 20.6% (2015 est.)

Median age

total: 19 years
male: 18.4 years
female: 19.6 years (2016 est.)

Population growth rate

2.36% (2016 est.)

Birth rate

36.7 births/1,000 population (2016 est.)

Death rate

10.6 deaths/1,000 population (2016 est.)

Net migration rate

-2.4 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2016 est.)


urban population: 39.9% of total population (2015)
rate of urbanization: 2.75% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

Major urban areas - population

FREETOWN (capital) 1.007 million (2015)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 0.94 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 0.92 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.86 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.73 male(s)/female
total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2016 est.)

Child labor - children ages 5-14

total number: 573,287
percentage: 48% (2005 est.)

Maternal mortality rate

1,360 deaths/100,000 live births (2015 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 70 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 78.4 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 61.4 deaths/1,000 live births (2016 est.)

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 58.2 years
male: 55.6 years
female: 60.9 years (2016 est.)

Total fertility rate

4.76 children born/woman (2016 est.)

Contraceptive prevalence rate

16.6% (2013)

Health expenditures

11.1% of GDP (2014)

Physicians density

0.02 physicians/1,000 population (2010)

Hospital bed density

0.4 beds/1,000 population (2006)

Drinking water source

urban: 84.9% of population
rural: 47.8% of population
total: 62.6% of population
urban: 15.1% of population
rural: 52.2% of population
total: 37.4% of population (2015 est.)

Sanitation facility access

urban: 22.8% of population
rural: 6.9% of population
total: 13.3% of population
urban: 77.2% of population
rural: 93.1% of population
total: 86.7% of population (2015 est.)

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate

1.34% (2015 est.)

HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS

51,100 (2015 est.)

HIV/AIDS - deaths

2,500 (2015 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: very high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever
water contact disease: schistosomiasis
animal contact disease: rabies
aerosolized dust or soil contact disease: Lassa fever (2016)

Obesity - adult prevalence rate

6.6% (2014)

Children under the age of 5 years underweight

18.1% (2013)

Education expenditures

2.7% of GDP (2014)


definition: age 15 and over can read and write English, Mende, Temne, or Arabic
total population: 48.1%
male: 58.7%
female: 37.7% (2015 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

note: median age at first birth among women 25-29 (2013 est.)


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


name: Freetown
geographic coordinates: 8 29 N, 13 14 W
time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

Administrative divisions

3 provinces and 1 area*; Eastern, Northern, Southern, Western*


27 April 1961 (from the UK)

National holiday

Independence Day, 27 April (1961)


several previous; latest in effect 1 October 1991; amended several times, last in 2013 (2016)

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 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


18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Ernest Bai KOROMA (since 17 September 2007); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Ernest Bai KOROMA (since 17 September 2007)
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 17 November 2012 (next to be held in 2017)
election results: Ernest Bai KOROMA reelected president; percent of vote - Ernest Bai KOROMA (APC) 58.7%, Julius Maada BIO (SLPP) 37.4%, other 3.9%

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Parliament (124 seats; 112 members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote and 12 seats filled in separate elections by non-partisan members of Parliament called "paramount chiefs;" members serve 5-year terms)
elections: last held on 17 November 2012 (next to be held in 2017)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - APC 69, SLPP 43

Judicial branch

highest court(s): 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 subject to the approval of Parliament; all Judicature judges appointed 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]
Sierra Leone People's Party or SLPP [Somano KAPEN]
numerous other parties

Political pressure groups and leaders

other: student unions; trade unions

International organization participation


Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Bockari Kortu STEVENS (since 28 March 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 John HOOVER (since 4 November 4 December 2014))
embassy: Southridge-Hill Station, Freetown
mailing address: use embassy street address
telephone: [232] (76) 99 1055 00
FAX: [232] (76) 515 355

Flag description

three equal horizontal bands of green (top), white, and 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 - 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 mos

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 re

While the World Health Organization declared an end to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in November 2015, economic recovery will depend on rising commodities prices and increased efforts to diversify the sources of growth. Pervasive corruption and undev

GDP (purchasing power parity)

$10.64 billion (2016 est.)
$10.2 billion (2015 est.)
$12.92 billion (2014 est.)
note: data are in 2016 dollars

GDP (official exchange rate)

$4.289 billion (2015 est.)

GDP - real growth rate

4.3% (2016 est.)
-21.1% (2015 est.)
4.6% (2014 est.)

GDP - per capita (PPP)

$1,700 (2016 est.)
$1,600 (2015 est.)
$2,100 (2014 est.)
note: data are in 2016 dollars

Gross national saving

2% of GDP (2016 est.)
2.1% of GDP (2015 est.)
-7.2% of GDP (2014 est.)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 83.7%
government consumption: 9.5%
investment in fixed capital: 33.7%
investment in inventories: 0.1%
exports of goods and services: 15.2%
imports of goods and services: -42.2% (2016 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 71.1%
industry: 7.9%
services: 21% (2016 est.)

Agriculture - products

rice, coffee, cocoa, palm kernels, palm oil, peanuts, cashews; poultry, cattle, sheep, pigs; fish


diamond mining; iron ore, rutile and bauxite mining; small-scale manufacturing (beverages, textiles, footwear)

Industrial production growth rate

14% (2016 est.)

Labor force

2.678 million (2016 est.)

Unemployment rate

9.1% (2014 est.)

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 61.1%
industry: NA%
services: 33.4% (2014 est.)

Population below poverty line

70.2% (2004 est.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share

lowest 10%: 2.6%
highest 10%: 33.6% (2003)

Distribution of family income - Gini index

34 (2011)
62.9 (1989)


revenues: $558.1 million
expenditures: $738.6 million (2016 est.)

Taxes and other revenues

13% of GDP (2016 est.)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-)

-4.2% of GDP (2016 est.)

Public debt

43.3% of GDP (2016 est.)
41.6% of GDP (2015 est.)

Fiscal year

calendar year

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

7.1% (2016 est.)
8% (2015 est.)

Central bank discount rate


Commercial bank prime lending rate

18.9% (31 December 2016 est.)
18.78% (31 December 2015 est.)

Stock of narrow money

$444 million (31 December 2016 est.)
$458.4 million (31 December 2015 est.)

Stock of broad money

$967.9 million (31 December 2016 est.)
$904.6 million (31 December 2015 est.)

Stock of domestic credit

$505.2 million (31 December 2016 est.)
$501.7 million (31 December 2015 est.)

Market value of publicly traded shares


Current account balance

-$696 million (2016 est.)
-$681 million (2015 est.)


$886.4 million (2016 est.)
$569.4 million (2015 est.)

Exports - commodities

Iron ore, diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee, fish

Exports - partners

China 31.3%, Belgium 27.8%, Romania 11.3%, US 7.3%, India 4% (2015)


$1.303 billion (2016 est.)
$1.575 billion (2015 est.)

Imports - commodities

foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels and lubricants, chemicals

Imports - partners

China 23%, India 7.9%, US 6.4%, Netherlands 5.1% (2015)

Debt - external

$1.561 billion (31 December 2016 est.)
$1.403 billion (31 December 2015 est.)

Stock of direct foreign investment - at home

$1.629 billion (31 December 2016 est.)
$1.296 billion (31 December 2015 est.)

Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad

$9.7 million (31 December 2015 est.)
$6.7 million (31 December 2014 est.)

Exchange rates

leones (SLL) per US dollar -
6,201.4 (2016 est.)
5,080.8 (2015 est.)
5,080.8 (2014 est.)
4,524.2 (2013 est.)
4,344 (2012 est.)


Electricity - access

population without electricity: 5,800,000
electrification - total population: 5%
electrification - urban areas: 11%
electrification - rural areas: 1% (2013)

Electricity - production

300 million kWh (2014 est.)

Electricity - consumption

200 million kWh (2014 est.)

Electricity - exports

0 kWh (2013 est.)

Electricity - imports

0 kWh (2013 est.)

Electricity - installed generating capacity

100,000 kW (2015 est.)

Electricity - from fossil fuels

33.3% of total installed capacity (2012 est.)

Electricity - from nuclear fuels

0% of total installed capacity (2012 est.)

Electricity - from hydroelectric plants

66.7% of total installed capacity (2012 est.)

Electricity - from other renewable sources

0% of total installed capacity (2012 est.)

Crude oil - production

0 bbl/day (2015 est.)

Crude oil - exports

0 bbl/day (2013 est.)

Crude oil - imports

0 bbl/day (2013 est.)

Crude oil - proved reserves

0 bbl (1 January 2016 es)

Refined petroleum products - production

0 bbl/day (2013 est.)

Refined petroleum products - consumption

7,500 bbl/day (2014 est.)

Refined petroleum products - exports

0 bbl/day (2013 est.)

Refined petroleum products - imports

7,354 bbl/day (2013 est.)

Natural gas - production

0 cu m (2013 est.)

Natural gas - consumption

0 cu m (2013 est.)

Natural gas - exports

0 cu m (2013 est.)

Natural gas - imports

0 cu m (2013 est.)

Natural gas - proved reserves

0 cu m (1 January 2014 es)

Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy

1.4 million Mt (2013 est.)


Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 17,000
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: less than 1 (July 2015 est.)

Telephones - mobile cellular

total: 5.657 million
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 96 (July 2015 est.)

Telephone system

general assessment: marginal telephone service with poor infrastructure
domestic: the national microwave radio relay trunk system connects Freetown to Bo and Kenema; while mobile-cellular service is growing rapidly from a small base, service area coverage remains limited
international: country code - 232; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) (2010)

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 internati (2016)

Internet country code


Internet users

total: 147,000
percent of population: 2.5% (July 2015 est.)


National air transport system

number of registered air carriers:
inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers:
annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers: 50,193
annual freight traffic on registered air carriers: 0 mt-km (2015)

Civil aircraft registration country code prefix

9L (2016)


8 (2013)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 1
over 3,047 m: 1 (2013)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 7
914 to 1,523 m: 7 (2013)


2 (2013)


total: 11,300 km
paved: 904 km
unpaved: 10,396 km (2002)


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

Merchant marine

total: 215
by type: bulk carrier 22, cargo 120, carrier 2, chemical tanker 19, container 6, liquefied gas 3, passenger/cargo 2, petroleum tanker 28, refrigerated cargo 7, roll on/roll off 4, specialized tanker 1, vehicle carrier 1
foreign-owned: 98 (Bangladesh 1, China 19, Cyprus 2, Egypt 3, Estonia 2, Hong Kong 7, Japan 4, Lebanon 2, North Korea 2, Romania 2, Russia 7, Singapore 9, Syria 13, Taiwan 7, Turkey 9, UAE 1, UK 1, Ukraine 5, Yemen 2) (2010)

Ports and terminals

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


Military branches

Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF): Army (includes Maritime Wing and Air Wing) (2013)

Military service age and obligation

18 is the legal minimum age for voluntary military service (younger with parental consent); women are eligible to serve; no conscription; candidates must be HIV negative (2012)

Military expenditures

0.72% of GDP (2012)
0.8% of GDP (2011)
0.72% of GDP (2010)

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