A long Way Gone: Sierra Leone Background Sierra Leone Profile



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A Long Way Gone: Sierra Leone Background

Sierra Leone Profile

  • Full Name: Republic of Sierra Leone
  • Population: 5.7 million (2009)
  • Capital: Freetown
  • Major Languages: English, Krio, and various African languages.
  • Major Religions: Islam and Christianity
  • Monetary Unit: Leone
  • Major Exports: Diamonds, Rutile, Cocoa, Coffee, and Fish

History of Sierra Leone

  •  Sierra Leone: Name means “Lion Mountains”
  • 1462: Portuguese explorers arrive in Sierra Leone, which was also already occupied by several African tribes that had migrated to the area.
  • 1500s-1700s: Traders stopped in Sierra Leone to exchange cloth and metal goods for ivory, timber, and slaves.
  • *Abolitionists later help slaves return to Africa in what is now the “Province of Freedom” or Freetown in Sierra Leone. They came to be called Krio.

History of Sierra Leone

  •  1808: Sierra Leone became a British crown colony
  • 1839: Slaves aboard the Amistad revolt to secure their freedom. Their leader is Sengbe Pieh (Joseph Cinque), a young Mende from Sierra Leone.
  • 1951: A constitution is enacted by the British to begin the process of decolonization (or when a colony becomes self-governing)
  • April 27, 1961: Sierra Leone becomes independent with Sir Milton Margai as its first prime minister.
  • Sengbe Pieh (Joseph Cinque)
  • Sir Milton Margai

History of Sierra Leone

  • 1971: Sierra Leone was declared a republic, and Siaka Stevens became executive president.
  • 1978: Sierra Leone became a one-party state with the All People’s Congress as the sole legal party.
  • 1985: Stevens retired and appointed Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh the next president. Momoh’s APC rule was marked by increased abuse of power.
  • Siaka Stevens

Civil War in Sierra Leone

  • March 1991: The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began attacking villages in eastern Sierra Leone.
  • *Goal: To rid the country of the APC government
  • * Rebel leader: Foday Sankoh
  • April 1992: The National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) was established, but it proved to be as ineffective as the APC at repelling the RUF.
  • 1995: The RUF held much of the countryside in their control.

Civil War in Sierra Leone

  • 1996-2000: Sierra Leone tries various campaigns to stop the RUF, including signing a peace deal in 1996 that unraveled in 1997.
  • 1999: The United Nations finally became involved in the effort to disarm the rebels
  • 2001: A second peace agreement was signed that allowed disarmament to begin as the government regained authority in rebel-held areas.
  • January 2002: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (elected in 1996) declared the civil war officially over.

Recovery in Sierra Leone

  • 2002: British troops left Sierra Leone
  • and President Kabbah is reelected.
  •  Summer 2002: A Sierra Leone Special Court begins holding a series of war crimes trials that lasted until 2006.
  • 2003: Rebel leader Foday Sankoh died.
  • Many child soldiers, like Ishmael Beah, also had to begin a personal healing process to restore their sense of humanity and to forgive themselves.

Ishmael Beah

  • At 15, UNICEF removed Beah from fighting and helped him begin rehabilitating.
  • In 1998 he moved to the U.S. and finished high school. He graduated from Oberlin College in 2004.
  • He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and speaks on behalf of children affected by war.
  • He began the Ishmael Beah Foundation to help former child soldiers.

The Diamond Trade in Sierra Leone

  • During the civil war in Sierra Leone, people who purchased diamonds in the West unknowingly funded the mission of Foday Sankoh and the RUF
  • These diamonds came to be known as “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds”
  • These diamonds were specifically mined in war zones of Africa to fund the invading army’s efforts.
  • Liberia would trade weapons and training to Sierra Leone in exchange of their diamonds.

Kimberley Process Certification Scheme

  • Created in 2002 to control the flow blood diamonds.
  • A Kimberley Certification must be presented by a gems owner before it can leave the country.
  • This forces the government to keep track of the diamonds they are importing and exporting and their value.

Blood Diamonds in the U.S.

  • Executive Order 13194 ( Jan 2001) and 13213 (May 2001) specifically ban the importation of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone and Liberia.
  • Clean Diamond Trade Act (2003): U.S. recognizes that as a major consumer of diamonds, it has a responsibility to severe its ties to any diamond trade that funds war and conflict.
  • This was crucial to the success of the KPCS.


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