Republic of Sierra Leone is
a small country with a
population of about 5.3 million
on the west coast of Africa
bordered by Guinea and Liberia.
The life expectancy of men is 39
years and women 42 years. The
name is an adaptation of the
Portuguese, "serra leoa" (lion
mountains). During the 18th
century it was an important
center for the slave trade. In
the late 18th century, British
abolitionists and the Sierra
Leone Company founded Freetown
as a home for Black Britons* and
in 1808 the country became the
first British colony in Africa.
By 1821 Freetown was the seat of
government for all British
colonies in West Africa.
Sierra Leone gained its independence in 1961. In 1967 a military coup deposed Premier Siaka Stevens' government; a year later Stevens returned to power following another military coup. In 1978 Stevens declared a "one-party" state with himself as the leader of the one party. In 1985 Major-General Joseph Saidu Momoh became president following Stevens' retirement and promptly declared a state of economic emergency.
Civil war broke out in 1991 and a new multi-party constitution was adopted the same year; a year later President Momoh was ousted in a military coup led by Captain Strasser; four years later Strasser was ousted in a military coup led by his defense minister. Soon after a peace deal was signed with the rebels; but that unraveled soon after. In 1997 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Sierra Leone barring the supply of arms and petroleum products, but a plentiful supply of naturally occurring diamonds ("blood diamonds") ensured Sierra Leone a continuous source of tradeable goods with which to buy arms.
After 8 years a ceasefire was achieved in 1999 and UN troops arrived to police the agreement, but the peace did not last and UN forces came under attack with several hundred UN troops abducted in 2000 - British forces mounted an operation to rescue the hostages and the rebel leader was captured. In 2002, peace was eventually established and by 2004 17,000 foreign troops had disarmed more than 70,000 soldiers including many boy-soldiers. In 2002 it was estimated that 2/3rd of the population had been displaced by the conflict, 75,000 killed, and many thousands more had been raped or had had limbs amputated by machetes in a systematic terror campaign.
*Black Britons (or Black Loyalists) was the term used to describe former North American slaves or free blacks who joined the British Army against the colonists in the American Revolutionary War.
Child Soldiers (from The Human Rights Watch)
This article was originally published in February 2007, and has been updated for the
August 2008 paperback release.
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