Sierra Leone

Map of Africa locating Sierra LeoneMap of Africa locating Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is found in West Africa, fronting onto the Atlantic Ocean, and flanked by Liberia and Guinea.

The very earliest inhabitants of Sierra Leone were possibly the Bulom people. The 15th century saw the Mende, Temne and Fulani peoples follow them. The first peoples from Europe to explore here were the Portuguese. They gave Sierra Leone its present name, meaning "lion mountains.” The coastal port of Freetown was ceded to English settlers in 1787 as a home for runaway slaves and Blacks discharged from the British Army. In 1808 the coastal zone was colonized by the British, and in 1896 the British proclaimed a protectorate inland.

Sierra Leone became an independent nation on April 27, 1961. This was followed by a long history of coups and military dictatorships. In 1996, another military coup led surprisingly to a multiparty presidential election and Ahmad Kabbah became Sierra Leone's first democratically elected president. Political power and rich diamond fields were hotly contested so yet another coup followed a year later. This began a destructive reign of terror -including torture, rape, and brutal amputations of thousands, including children.

The official ending of conflict in January 2002 left some 50,000 people dead after the decade-long civil war. The UN installed a large peacekeeping force and shortly after, Kabbah was reelected.

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