The Republic of Sierra Leone is a West African country that became popular due to diamond mining. Aside from diamonds, the country is also one of the major producers of titanium, bauxite, and gold. However, even with its rich mineral deposits, around 60% of its citizens are still living in poverty.
Sierra Leone Facts
1. It was home for freed African slaves in the 18th century
A fun fact about Sierra Leone is that philanthropists and abolitionists in Britain during the 18th century sent rescued slaves to Sierra Leone. Freetown, the country’s capital, became the “Province of Freedom”. The freed slaves either settled there for good or treated it as their departure point to go back to their African homeland. The first settlers were a little less than 500 people and mostly died due to disease and tribal wars. The second settlers were around 1,200 people from Nova Scotia. They were more successful in building a new home. As more slaves were emancipated in other parts of the world, more people arrived and settled in Sierra Leone.
2. Sierra Leone was a British Crown Colony
At first, the British ruled only Freetown and its surrounding areas. When they established a British protectorate in 1896, they included the whole of Sierra Leone. To ensure better governance and receive more support from Britain, it became a Crown Colony.
3. A brutal civil war erupted in the country in 1991 and ended in 2002
A weak state system, lack of education, and grievances from past colonial rule led to a civil war on March of 1991. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) with its leader, former army corporal Foday Saybana Sankoh, attacked and captured several cities in Sierra Leone. It was one of the most violent and troubled times in their history. Indiscriminate killing and rape were prevalent. Thousands of innocent civilians suffered. It only ended in 2002, when the United Nations peacekeeping forces stepped in. Some historians and political analysts believed that the conflict lasted that long because the rebel forces were able to seize control of the diamond mines. They were able to trade huge amount of diamonds for military supplies.
4. The Commonwealth suspended Sierra Leone in 1997
The government was able to secure a peace agreement with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in 1996 after a new President was elected, an interesting Sierra Leone fact. Everyone thought all was well. However, after a year, a military junta took over the country and ousted the president. Due to the military takeover, the Constitution was suspended. The political party system was abolished and all forms of protests were banned. Sierra Leone was immediately suspended from the 53-member nations of the commonwealth. The United Nations Security Council supported the decision of the regional association. They issued their own sanctions such as barring the country to receive petroleum products and supply of arms. The suspension and the sanctions issued were not lifted until the legitimate government was back in power.
5. The movie, Blood Diamond, is loosely based from its diamond mining industry
The political thriller, Blood Diamond, is a fascinating fiction but it depicted some real scenarios from the Sierra Leone’s diamond mining business. During the civil war, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) gained control of the mines and used them to fund the war. Some people blamed the precious gems for the longevity of the conflict. While many Sierra Leone families rely heavily on its production as their source of income up to this day, it also reminded them of their sufferings during the war. Hence, they are infamously known as the “Blood Diamonds.”
6. The largest alluvial diamond was found in Sierra Leone
In February of 1972, the largest alluvial diamond, “Star of Sierra Leone,” was discovered in the Diminco mines in the Koidu area. It is also considered the fourth largest gem-quality diamond in the world and was purchased by popular jeweler, Harry Winston. President Siaka Stevens announced that it was sold for little under $2.5 million dollars eight months after it was discovered, an interesting fact about Sierra Leone.
7. Sierra Leone means Lioness Mountains
This West African country is located along the Atlantic Ocean with Liberia to the south and Guinea to the north. The name Sierra Leone was given by a Portuguese explorer, Pedro de Sintra, way back in 1462. He was one of the first few Europeans who explored the West African region. Sierra Leone means “Lioness Mountains” referring to its rugged terrains.
8. It is one of Africa’s smallest republics
Among the many countries in the continent of Africa, Sierra Leone is one of the smallest republics with a land area of 71,740 sq. km. The 7.4 million residents are predominantly Muslims with only 21% Christians.
9. Inheritance favors the male in Sierra Leone families
When there is paternal death, the eldest living brother inherits everything including the land, business, and other personal assets. If willing, the deceased’s wives and children are included in the inheritance. If there are no brothers, it will be passed on to the eldest son. Mohammedan marriages and the dowry payment in Sierra Leone added to the traditional belief that the husband has the absolute right over the wife. All the decisions even her well-being are decided by the husband. The practice of inheriting the wife had already been banned by law but lacked implementation. However, there are few ethnic groups there that allow women tribal leaders to inherit.
10. It is home to Queen Elizabeth II Quay, the largest natural harbor in Africa
An interesting fact about Sierra Leone is that it has the largest natural harbor in the African region. All passing ships dock in Queen Elizabeth II Quay located in Freetown. It can accommodate all kinds of sea vessels, even the biggest ones, traveling to this part of the world.
11. Ebola outbreak in 2014 killed more than 3,000 in Sierra Leone
The outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone started slowly in 2014. It dramatically burst into national awareness by the end of the year. From the investigations made by health officials from the World Health Organization (WHO), the alarming increase in the number of cases happened when a popular faith healer who lived near the Guinea border died. It was found out that an infected patient from Guinea crossed the border and asked to be healed. The funeral services were attended by many people who were mostly infected and 365 people died from it. Disbelief and conspiracy theories helped in spreading the disease. Disseminating information was a huge problem in the country during that time. Not everyone had access to televisions, and so UNESCO radios played a significant role in preventing panic. In 2016, with the help of international health groups and concerned world leaders, Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free. The death toll was more than 3,000 and the infected cases were around 9,000.
12. The Cotton Tree is Sierra Leone’s national symbol of freedom
The citizens of Sierra Leone revered the oldest Cotton tree located in Freetown near the Supreme Court and National Museum. It is believed that when the first rescued or repatriated African slaves from Nova Scotia arrived in Freetown, they prayed around the tree and celebrated with a Thanksgiving service. Today, it is a reminder of the freedom that their ancestors acquired during the 18th century.
The journey of Sierra Leone from being a Crown Colony to an Independent nation, and finally, to becoming a Republic was an extremely long and difficult process. It is quite ironic that while it is one of the largest producers of rare minerals in the world, it is also one of the poorest. Rampant corruption, lack of education, and deforestation contributed largely to the slow economic progression.
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