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What Should I Know About Sierra Leone?

Many chimps live in wildlife sanctuaries throughout Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is known for its lucrative diamond mines, which have helped to fund its civil war.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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Sierra Leone is a small country on the southwest coast of Africa. It borders both Liberia and Guinea, and at times has been heavily influenced by both countries. Sierra Leone has a population of just over six million, and is one of the poorest countries on earth, with an annual per capita income of just over 900 US Dollars (USD).

Sierra Leone, like most of Africa, has been populated to varying degrees for thousands of years. Small kingdoms existed throughout the present-day country, ruled by kings or chiefs. In the 15th century the Portuguese discovered Sierra Leone, and it became an important hub of trade for the west. During the American Revolutionary War, the British offered freedom to any American slaves who fought on the side of the British. Thousands of these slaves took the offer, and after the war were discharged and freed. They were then sent to Sierra Leone, to establish a colony — which they did, in the area of what is now the capital city of Freetown.

In 1961 Sierra Leone declared independence from Britain, stumbling from a democratically elected government to a military government rather quickly. For the next few decades the government of the country changed forms many times, from a parliamentary government to a republic to one-party state.

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In the early 1990s a horrific civil war broke out in Sierra Leone, which would rage for just over a decade. During this era, many thousands of people were killed, raped, and tortured. The country fell into a deep poverty, from which it has never truly recovered. Neighboring Liberia, under President Charles Taylor, supported the rebels in a bid to gain control of Sierra Leone’s lucrative diamond mines. The proceeds from diamond sales in turn helped support the ongoing civil war, creating a vicious cycle and giving rise to the now-popular term “blood diamond.”

Although Sierra Leone still ranks lowly on the UN Human Development Index (HDI), conditions are improving. Economic development from the west rises as the stability of the new government becomes more certain and the wide-spread corruption is addressed. Currently, Sierra Leone is not a particularly favorable tourist destination, although more adventurous travelers may find it offers unique opportunities for exploration.

For those who do decide to visit, Sierra Leone is home to many beautiful beaches, relatively-attractive surf, various island resorts, and historical fortresses and castles. Wildlife sanctuaries can also be found throughout the country, with a variety of animals, most notably different types of chimps, and rare pygmy hippopotamuses.

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