The British set up a trading post near present-day Freetown in the 17th century. Originally the trade involved timber and ivory, but later it expanded into slaves. Following the American Revolution, a colony was established in 1787 and Sierra Leone became a destination for resettling black loyalists who had originally been resettled in Nova Scotia. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, British crews delivered thousands of Africans liberated from illegal slave ships to Sierra Leone, particularly Freetown. The colony gradually expanded inland during the course of the 19th century; independence was attained in 1961. Democracy is slowly being reestablished after the civil war (1991-2002) that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (about one third of the population). The military, which took over full responsibility for security following the departure of UN peacekeepers at the end of 2005, has developed as a guarantor of the country's stability; the armed forces remained on the sideline during the 2007 and 2012 national elections. In March 2014, the closure of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone marked the end of more than 15 years of peacekeeping and political operations in Sierra Leone. The government's stated priorities include furthering development - including recovering from the Ebola epidemic - creating jobs, and stamping out endemic corruption.
Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea and Liberia
diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold, chromite
Population - distribution
population clusters are found in the lower elevations of the south and west; the northern third of the country is less populated
English (official, regular use limited to literate minority), Mende (principal vernacular in the south), Temne (principal vernacular in the north), Krio (English-based Creole, spoken by the descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area, a lingua franca and a first language for 10% of the population but understood by 95%)
FREETOWN (capital) 1.007 million (2015)
- Conventional long form
- Republic of Sierra Leone
- Conventional short form
- Sierra Leone
- Local long form
- Republic of Sierra Leone
- Local short form
- Sierra Leone
- Geographic coordinates
- 8 29 N, 13 14 W
- Time difference
- UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction
Sierra Leone is extremely poor and nearly half of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. The country possesses substantial mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources, but it is still recovering from a civil war that destroyed most institutions before ending in the early 2000s.
- External debt stocks
- US$ 1,378,145,000
- Total tax rate (% of commercial profits)
- Real Interest Rate
- Manufacturing, value added (% of GDP)
- Current Account Balance
- US$ -910,410,846
- Labor Force, Total
- Employment in Agriculture
- Employment in Industry
- Employment in Services
- Unemployment Rate
- Imports of goods and services
- US$ 1,978,032,550
- Exports of goods and services
- US$ 863,800,566
- Total Merchandise Trade
- FDI, net inflows
- US$ 518,680,000
- Commercial Service Exports
- US$ 202,491,458
rice, coffee, cocoa, palm kernels, palm oil, peanuts, cashews; poultry, cattle, sheep, pigs; fish
diamond mining; iron ore, rutile and bauxite mining; small-scale manufacturing (beverages, textiles, footwear)
- iron ore, diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee, fish
- China 31.4%, Belgium 27.9%, Romania 11.4%, US 7.3% (2015)
- foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels and lubricants, chemicals
- China 23.1%, India 8%, US 6.5%, Netherlands 5.1% (2015)
- Country Risk Rating
- A high-risk political and economic situation and an often very difficult business environment can have a very significant impact on corporate payment behavior. Corporate default probability is very high.
- Business Climate Rating
- The business environment is very difficult. Corporate financial information is rarely available and when available usually unreliable. The legal system makes debt collection very unpredictable. The institutional framework has very serious weaknesses. Intercompany transactions can thus be very difficult to manage in the highly risky environments rated D.
- Significant mineral resources (iron, diamonds, rutile and gold)
- Production of coffee, rice and cocoa
- Potential for tourism
- International financial support
- Significant port activity, set to increase
- Vulnerability to meteorological conditions
- High level of dependency on commodities prices
- Corruption, insufficiently protected ownership rights
- Insufficient infrastructure, failing healthcare system
- Difficulty accessing credit for small and medium-sized companies
- Extreme poverty, high levels of unemployment
- Risk of resurgence of Ebola virus epidemic
Having to deal with the Ebola virus epidemic (3,600 deaths and a revenue loss estimated at 29% of GDP in 2015) and the slump in iron ore prices (50% of exports) in 2014/2015, growth in Sierra Leone took off again in 2016. The economy will continue to gain pace step by step in 2017 as iron ore production and investment, especially in infrastructure, gradually recover. Stimulated in 2016 by the resumption of operations at the Tonkolili mine, the iron sector is projected to benefit in 2017 from the start of production by the Chinese company,China Kingho Energy Group,which signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government for USD 6 billion of investment in infrastructure and mining projects. The increase in iron ore output will remain limited in 2017, however, with iron ore prices rising only slowly and the global business environment putting a brake on investment. Apart from the mining sector, infrastructure projects will drive growth in 2017. New investment in agriculture should also provide a shot in the arm for a sector badly hit during the epidemic. Tourism, which was expanding strongly until the outbreak of the Ebola virus, hampered by political risk, the stigma of the epidemic and the withdrawal of international aid organisations, is not expected to rebound to any great extent. Furthermore, the risk of a resurgence of the Ebola epidemic, the political situation as well as unemployment levels are dissuading some investors. Finally, austerity measures, poverty and high unemployment will not help stimulate internal demand.
Inflation rose slightly in 2016, fuelled by higher food prices following a depreciation in the Leone against the major currencies (-26% against the dollar between January and November 2016). The gradual recovery of the economy should, however, help ease the downward pressure on the Leone. In contrast, the removal of fuel subsidies is expected to push prices up leading ultimately to a limited fall in inflation.
The budget deficit is expected to decline in 2017 thanks to the austerity measures. The president has announced ambitious budget cuts amounting to USD 69 million between October 2016 and April 2017. Efforts to collect taxes, especially the 15% tax on goods and services, should be reflected in a moderate rise in revenues in 2017. Efforts on spending began in November 2016 with the removal of fuel subsidies, which guaranteed the Sierra Leoneans the lowest prices in the sub-region. The government is expected to continue these efforts in the coming months by cutting the cost of government operations: a ban on purchases of office supplies and official cars, and even the abolition of paid overtime. While these measures certainly please investors and the Bretton Woods institutions like the IMF, they will place a burden on the most deprived of the population. After rising rapidly in recent years, the public debt burden is expected to decline slightly but will remain high.
The current account deficit will still be sizeable in 2017, as the recovery of exports will be hit by iron ore prices. On the other hand, the country is still reliant on imports of foodstuffs and energy. The trade balance will remain broadly in deficit and weigh on the current account deficit, which is, however, expected to stabilise.
In the run up to the 2018 presidential elections, President Ernest Bai Konoma, of the All People’s Congress Party (APC), could be tempted to stand for a third term despite the constitutional ban on serving more than two. The APC rhetoric and support for the president suggest that, actually, this possibility cannot be ruled out. As in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa which have seen similar attempts, violent opposition could break out if President Konoma were to try to keep his grip on power. After the Ebola epidemic, the government is, moreover, having to contend with growing social tensions due to rising poverty levels and the lack of infrastructure which limits its ability to respond properly and to halt the spread of the virus. Recurring allegations of corruption involving the government, against a backdrop of fiscal austerity likely to affect the poorest households, could fuel tensions. The risk of social and political instability in the short term is affecting the already difficult business climate (148th out of 190 economies according to the World Bank'sEase ofDoing BusinessIndex 2017). The inflow of donations in a country largely reliant on international aid is expected to remain significant in 2017. China, in particular, will continue to increase its influence thanks to its investment in transport infrastructure, such as the Mamamah International Airport project, and in the natural resources sector.