Land area: 27,653 sq mi (71,621 sq km); total area: 27,699 sq mi (71,740 sq km)
Population (2012 est.): 5,485,998 (growth rate: 2.277%); birth rate: 38.12/1000; infant mortality rate: 76.64/1000; life expectancy: 56.55; density per sq mi: 205.6
Monetary unit: Leone
Sierra Leone, on the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa, is half the size of Illinois. Guinea, in the north and east, and Liberia, in the south, are its neighbors. Mangrove swamps lie along the coast, with wooded hills and a plateau in the interior. The eastern region is mountainous.
The Bulom people were thought to have been the earliest inhabitants of Sierra Leone, followed by the Mende and Temne peoples in the 15th century and thereafter the Fulani. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore the land and gave Sierra Leone its name, which means “lion mountains.” Freetown, on the coast, was ceded to English settlers in 1787 as a home for blacks discharged from the British armed forces and also for runaway slaves who had found asylum in London. In 1808 the coastal area became a British colony, and in 1896 a British protectorate was proclaimed over the hinterland.
Sierra Leone became an independent nation on April 27, 1961. A military coup overthrew the civilian government in 1967, which was in turn replaced by civilian rule a year later. The country declared itself a republic on April 19, 1971.
A coup attempt early in 1971 led to then prime minister Siaka Stevens calling in troops from neighboring Guinea’s army, which remained for two years. Stevens turned the government into a one-party state under the aegis of the All People’s Congress Party in April 1978. In 1992 rebel soldiers overthrew Stevens’s successor, Joseph Momoh, calling for a return to a multiparty system. In 1996, another military coup ousted the country’s military leader and president. Nevertheless, a multiparty presidential election proceeded in 1996, and People’s Party candidate Ahmad Tejan Kabbah won with 59.4% of the vote, becoming Sierra Leone’s first democratically elected president.