Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the north and east, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. Sierra Leone covers a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi) and has a population of 6.4 million. It was a colony under the auspices of the Sierra Leone Company from March 11, 1792 until it became a British colony in 1808. Sierra Leone has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savannah to rainforests. Sierra Leone is divided into four geographical regions: the Northern Province, Eastern Province, Southern Province and the Western Area; which are further divided into fourteen districts. Freetown is the capital, largest city and economic and financial center.
Sierra Leone is now a constitutional republic, with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature, known as the House of Parliament. The president is the head of state and the Head of government. The Judiciary of Sierra Leone is independent of the executive and the legislature and consist of the High Court, an Appeals Court, and a Supreme Court. Though, the judiciary is independent, its judges are appointed by the president. Each one of the country's fourteen district has its own directly elected local government called district council, headed by a Council Chairman. The country's six minicipalities of Freetown, Bo, Kenema, Koidu Town, Makeni and the island of Bonthe in turn have directly elected city councils, headed by mayors.
The country has relied on mining, especially diamonds, for its economic base; it is among the top 10 diamond producing nations in the world, and mineral exports remain the main foreign currency earner. Sierra Leone is also among the largest producers of titanium and bauxite, and a major producer of gold. The country has one of the world's largest deposits of rutile. Sierra Leone is also home to the third largest natural harbour in the world; where shipping from all over the globe berth at Freetown's famous Queen Elizabeth II Quay. Despite this natural wealth, over 70% of its people live in poverty.
Sierra Leone is home to sixteen ethnic groups, each with its own language and customs. The two largest and most influential are the Mende, and Temne. Although English is the official language of Sierra Leone, the Krio language (derived from English and several indigenous African languages) is the most widely spoken language in virtually all parts of Sierra Leone. The Krio language is spoken by 97% of the country's population and unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other. Sierra Leone is a predominantly Muslim nation, though with a large Christian minority. Sierra Leone is ranked as one of the most religiously tolerant nations in the world. People are often married across tribal and religious boundaries. Muslims and Christians collaborate and interact with each other peacefully. Religious violence is extremely rare in the country.
Early inhabitants of Sierra Leone included the Sherbro, Temne and Limba peoples, and later the Mende, who knew the country as Romarong, and the Kono who settled in the east of the country. In 1462, it was visited by the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra, who dubbed it Serra de Leão, meaning "Lion Mountains". Sierra Leone later became an important centre of the transatlantic trade in slaves until March 11, 1792 when Freetown was founded by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for formerly enslaved African Americans. In 1808, Freetown became a British Crown Colony, and in 1896, and the interior of the country became a British Protectorate; in 1961, the two regions combined and gained independence. The Sierra Leone Civil War began in 1991 and was resolved in 2000 after the struggling Nigerian-led United Nations troops were heavily reinforced by a British force spearheaded by 1st Bn The Parachute Regiment, supported by other elements of the Parachute Regt, SAS, and Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Operation Palliser. The arrival of this force, code-named Operation Palliser, resulted in the defeat of rebel forces and restored the civilian government elected in 1998 to Freetown. Since then, almost 72,500 former combatants have been disarmed and the country has reestablished a functioning democracy. The current president of Sierra Leone is Ernest Bai Koroma, who was sworn in on 17 September 2007.
Sierra Leone is the twelfth-lowest-ranked country on the Human Development Index and eighth-lowest on the Human Poverty Index, suffering from endemic corruption and suppression of the press.
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