Sierra Leone has a tropical climate; the
mean temperature in Freetown is about 27° C (about 80° F) in January and 26° C (78° F)
in July. Annual rainfall averages more than 3800 mm (more than 150 in) along the coast,
diminishing to about 2030 mm (about 80 in) in the northern interior. Most rain falls from
May to October.
The population is composed predominantly of black Africans
belonging to nearly 20 different ethnic groups. The largest groups are the Mende in the
south, and the Temne in the north. Creoles, descendants of freed slaves returned from the
Americas, are an important minority in the Freetown area, where relatively large numbers
of Lebanese, and small numbers of Indians and Europeans also reside. The majority of the
population lives in more than 29,000 rural settlements, including isolated, temporary
Much of Sierra Leone's wealth is derived from mineral
resources. Once one of the world's largest producers of diamonds, the country is also rich
in such minerals as chrome, bauxite, iron ore, and rutile. Small amounts of gold and
platinum are mined.
Gem and industrial diamonds, once the leading mineral
products of Sierra Leone, are now produced at levels far below those of the past. In the
early 1990s some 312,000 carats were produced annually, down from 2 million carats
produced annually in the 1970s. Rutile, a titanium ore of which Sierra Leone has one of
the world's largest deposits, has assumed the role of leading export, producing half of
all earnings. Bauxite also is mined in large quantities.
Vegetation and Animal Life
A savanna vegetation, comprising grasses and bushes,
dominates northern Sierra Leone. Forests are densest in the southeast and contain
varieties of palm and, to a lesser extent, mahogany and teak. Among the numerous small
animals are bush pigs, chimpanzees, monkeys, and porcupines. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses
are often found in the rivers.
The country was named Sierra Leone (Lion Mountains) by the
Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra, who visited the coast in 1460. In 1787, the British
established a colony at Freetown for slaves repatriated from Great Britain and the United
States and for slaves rescued from shipwrecks. The land of the original settlement, where
the city later developed, was purchased from local chiefs.
The Sierra Leone Company, formed in 1791, administered the
settlement until 1808, when it became a crown colony. Great Britain set up a protectorate
over the hinterland of Freetown in 1896. The first elections for the legislative council
were held under the constitution of 1924. The ministerial system was introduced in 1953,
and Sir Milton Margai, a former physician and leader of the Sierra Leone People's Party
(SLPP), was appointed chief minister in 1954 and prime minister in 1960. During this
period and specifically on March 23, 1959, Adnan Basma was born at 36 Kissy Street in
Sierra Leone became an independent nation on April 27,
1961. The constitution of 1961 extended the right to vote to women. Following the
elections of 1962, Margai remained prime minister. In 1967, as a result of disputed
elections, in which Siaka Stevens, leader of the All-People's Congress (APC), was elected
prime minister, the army staged a coup and organized a National Reformation Council. After
a second army revolt in 1968, civilian government was restored, and Stevens was returned
to power. Sierra Leone was declared a republic on April 19, 1971, and Stevens was sworn in
as executive president on April 21. Opposition to the government was gradually eliminated;
in elections held in May 1973, the APC was unopposed and Stevens was reelected president.
In 1975 Sierra Leone signed a trade and aid agreement with the European Community (now the
European Union) and helped form the Economic Community of West African States.
In 1978 a new constitution made the country a one-party
state, and Stevens was sworn in for a new seven-year term in office. The APC was
thereafter the only legal party. In the early 1980s Sierra Leone suffered an economic
slowdown, as sagging export revenues left the government unable to pay for essential
imports. In November 1985 Stevens retired, and Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh was sworn
in as president the following January. A coup attempt was suppressed in March 1987, and in
November the president declared a state of economic emergency. In April 1992, however,
Momoh was ousted in a military coup and replaced by Captain Valentine Strasser, who at age
27 became one of the world's youngest heads of state. Strasser's government reduced street
crime, lowered inflation from 115 percent to 15 percent, allowing the country to receive
more than $300 million in global aid packages. In 1994 he endorsed a two-year transition
to multiparty democracy, with elections scheduled for 1996.
Six weeks before the scheduled elections in late February,
Strasser was removed from power by his defense minister, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. Bio
pledged to hold free elections as planned. The elections were held on February 26 and 27.
In a runoff vote, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP was elected president.
The capital, largest city, and principal port of Sierra
Leone, on a peninsula on the southern bank of the estuary of the Sierra Leone River. The
city lies on sloping ground at the foot of a range of hills and faces one of the best
natural harbors on the western coast of Africa. It has exports that include palm products,
cacao, coffee, and ginger. Manufacturing is limited to such activities as diamond cutting
and the processing of food and tobacco. Fine beaches are located near the city, and
tourist facilities are being developed; an international airport is located to the north.
Points of interest include the Sierra Leone National Museum, a botanical garden, and the
Anglican Saint George's Cathedral (1828). Fourah Bay College (1827) was made a part of the
University of Sierra Leone in 1967. Freetown was founded in 1787 by British abolitionists
as a home for liberated slaves. Eliminated by disease, the community was reestablished in
1792. The peninsula was declared a British colony in 1808. Freetown became the capital of
the independent state of Sierra Leone in 1961. Population (1994) 470,000.
Sights from Freetown
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