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Geography of Sierra Leone

Learn about the West African Nation of Sierra Leone


Sierra Leone Flag

The Sierra Leone flag has three equal horizontal bands of light green (top), white, and light blue.

Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007
Updated June 27, 2010

Population: 5,245,695 (July 2010 estimate)
Capital: Freetown
Area: 27,699 square miles (71,740 sq km)
Bordering Countries: Liberia and Guinea
Coastline: 250 miles (402 km)
Highest Point: Loma Mansa at 6,391 feet (1,948 m)

Sierra Leone is a country located in western Africa. It is officially called the Republic of Sierra Leone and is bordered by Liberia to the southeast, Guinea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. The country has a population of just over 5.2 million, is rich in mineral resources and has one of the world's largest harbors. Its people however, live in extreme poverty due to a lack of jobs, government corruption and various crimes against humanity as defined by the United Nations. Sierra Leone is also the third lowest ranked country on the Human Development Index.

History of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has been inhabited by people for around 2,500 years. The region of present-day Sierra Leone was also one of the first in western Africa to have any contact with Europeans. This occurred in the mid-1400s when various explorers began entering the region. In 1652 the slave trade began in North America and the first slaves were brought to that continent from Sierra Leone. Throughout the 1700s the slave trade continued and people from Sierra Leone were continuously taken to places like Georgia and South Carolina to work on various plantations.

In 1787, the Province of Freedom was formed in Sierra Leone after the British helped free a number of North American slaves. Other freed slaves later travelled to the province and formed what became known as Freetown, which became a British colony in 1792.

In the 19th century, Freetown was the educational center of British West Africa and in 1827, the Fourah Bay College was established. Despite these relative successes however, native peoples close to Freetown attempted several revolts- all of which were unsuccessful. In the 20th century, Sierra Leone was able to achieve independence when in 1951, a constitution was drafted to provide a framework for independence. In April 1961, Sierra Leone became independent under a parliamentary system in the British Commonwealth.

Following its independence though, government corruption and revolts against the government of Sierra Leone began. Throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s and 1990s, violence and civil war were common throughout the country. In the late 1990s, several elections were held to return power to the civilians and end the wars, but the problems continued.

In 1999, the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone was established by the UN Security Council. In 2002, the civil wars ended but thousands of people were killed and millions were displaced from 1991 to 2002. Following the end of the wars, the military took over responsibility for security. In 2005, the U.N. established UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone with goals of peacemaking.

Today, the new government of Sierra Leone has goals of development, job creation, ending corruption.

Government of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's government is considered a constitutional democracy with a legal system based on English laws as well as laws enacted by local tribes. Sierra Leone has an executive branch of government with a chief of state and head of state filled by the same person as well as a legislative branch with a unicameral Parliament. Sierra Leone's judicial branch has a Supreme Court, Appeals Court and Court of Appeals. Sierra Leone is divided into three provinces and one area for local administration.

Economics and Land Use in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is one of the world's poorest nations and there is a large inequality in income distribution there. The country has a plethora of natural and mineral resources but the infrastructure is not well developed enough to make it a large part of the economy. About half of the people in Sierra Leone work in subsistence agriculture. Diamond mining, raw material processing and light manufacturing make up the rest of Sierra Leone's economy. In addition, the country receives a significant amount of foreign aid.

Geography and Climate of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is located in west Africa and has an area comparable to that of the U.S. state of South Carolina. The country also has a varied topography with a coastal belt of mangrove swamps, upland plateaus, hilly lands and mountains in the eastern regions. Sierra Leone has a climate tropical with a hot and humid summer rainy season that lasts from May to December and a winter dry season which lasts from December to April. Freetown, the capital and largest city of Sierra Leone, has an average January high of 84°F (29°C) and a July average low of 73°F (23°C).

More Facts about Sierra Leone

• Sierra Leone has a life expectancy of 41.2 years
• There are 20 different African ethnic groups in Sierra Leone as well as a small amount of Europeans, Indians, Pakistanis and Lebanese
• People from Sierra Leone are known as Sierra Leoneans

To learn more about Sierra Leone, visit the BBC News Country Profile on Sierra Leone and the Sierra Leone Geography and Maps section of this website.


Central Intelligence Agency. (27 May 2010). CIA - The World Factbook - Sierra Leone. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sl.html

Infoplease.com. (n.d.). Sierra Leone: History, Geography, Government, and Culture- Infoplease.com. Retrieved from: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107959.html

United States Department of State. (1 April 2010). Sierra Leone. Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5475.htm

Wikipedia. (22 June 2010). Sierra Leone - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Leone

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