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Sierra Leone

A nation of West Africa bounded by Guinea to the N and E, Liberia to the S and E, and the Atlantic Ocean on the W.

The coast of Sierra Leone was discovered by the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra in 1460. English colonists came to the coastline in the 17th century, but they quickly aband oned their settlement because of the unhealthy climate. Sierra Leone soon became known as the “white man’s grave.” The slave trade was very active until the 18th century and was controlled by small local chiefdoms. In 1787 a group of British abolitionists founded the colony of Freetown to resettle freed British-owned slaves. Freetown’s population was boosted in 1792 by the addition of 1,200 fugitive slaves from Canada and the Bahamas.

In 1808 it became a Crown colony. Great Britain declared a protectorate over the interior of the country in 1896.

Nationalist aspirations surfaced after World War I and slowly gathered momentum during the 20th century.

In 1951 a new constitution provided a blueprint for decolonization, and 10 years later Sierra Leone achieved independence as a member of the British Commonwealth. The new country’s stability was interrupted in 1967 when a military clique seized power from newly elected prime minister Siaka Stevens. In a second coup, in April 1968 led by noncommissioned officers, constitutional civilian rule was restored and Stevens reinstated. In 1971 the government was threatened by another army-inspired coup, but Stevens gained the upper hand , and Sierra Leone was declared a republic. Despite criticisms for autocratic methods, Stevens was repeatedly elected president. Joseph Saidu Momoh succeeded Stevens as president in 1986. In 1992, Momoh was overthrown in a military coup succeeded by Captain Valentine Strasser.

Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio took control in 1991 in a coup and returned the country to civilian rule. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, of the Sierra Leone People’s Party was elected, and then removed by a military junta headed by Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma. Rebels in the backcountry backed by Liberia and financed by diamond sales were finally controlled by forces from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) led by Nigeria in 1998. Kabbah returned to office as president and a peace accord was signed with Foday Sankoh of the Revolutionary United Front in 1999. In 2000, United Nations peacekeepers were attacked by rebel forces and local gangs. A British military force of 800 land ed in Freetown, captured Sankoh, and with the UN, reestablished order. It is estimated that 50,000 died in the civil war. In 2002, there were new elections, and Kabbah was reelected. In 2004, the UN turned over primary security in Freetown to local forces.


     

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