27 interesting facts about Sierra Leone

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The most interesting facts about Sierra Leone, from a history intertwined with slavery to a giant cotton tree in its capital city.

A beach in Sierra Leone
(Sierra Leone is located on the Atlantic coast Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Sierra Leone
Population: 6,807,277 
Area: 71,740 sq km
Capital city: Freetown
Major languages: English, Mende, Temne, Krio
Major religions: Muslim 78.6%, Christian 20.8%
Time zone: UTC 0 (Greenwich Mean Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

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Interesting facts about Sierra Leone

1. Sierra Leone is located in West Africa on the Atlantic coast and bordered by Guinea and Liberia.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

2. The country takes its name from the Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra who named the country “Serra Leoa” (Lion Mountains) due to the impressive mountains he saw while sailing along the West African coast in 1462.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

3. Sierra Leone is one of the least developed countries in the world according to the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI). In 2020, it was the eighth least-developed.
– Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Interesting facts about Sierra Leone include Its capital city Freetown
Interesting facts about Sierra Leone include Its capital city Freetown (Shutterstock)

4. Archaeological evidence suggests Sierra Leone has been inhabited for thousands of years with successive waves of invaders as well as immigration from inland peoples making up today’s diverse population.
– Source: Britannica

5. The North American slave trade was essentially launched from the site of modern-day Freetown in 1560. By the 18th century, Portuguese and British trading settlements lined the coast. 
– Source: Lonely Planet

6. Established in 1670, Bunce Island, an uninhabited island located around 20 miles up the Sierra Leone River from Freetown, was one of more than sixty slave-trading forts on the West African coast. Bunce Island remains an important African monument to the North American slave trade.
– Source: UNESCO

Fort ruins on Bunce Island
Fort ruins on Bunce Island (Shutterstock)

7. Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated and rescued former slaves in 1787.
– Source: BBC News

8. In 1808, the British increased efforts to halt the slave trade and set up a naval unit off the Sierra Leone coast along with a court in Freetown to prosecute the crew of seized slave ships. Between 1808 and 1864, around 84,000 slaves were freed this way and settled in the hills that today form the Western Area Peninsula National Park.
– Source: UNESCO

9. Within the Western Area Peninsula National Park is the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Founded in 1995 by a Sri Lankan man, the sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates endangered primates.
– Source: Lonely Planet

A Chimpanzee in Sierra Leone
A Chimpanzee in Sierra Leone (Shutterstock)

10. Sierra Leone remained a British colony until 1961 when it gained independence.
– Source: BBC News

11. During the decades following independence, Sierra Leone suffered from multiple coups (once there were three in a single year), as well as economic turmoil and state corruption.
– Source: Lonely Planet

12. Sierra Leone has a simple horizontally striped green, white and blue flag. Green stands for agriculture and the mountains, white for unity and justice, and blue for the aspiration to “contribute to world peace, especially through the use of its unique natural harbour at Freetown”. 
– Source: Britannica

The flag of Sierra Leone
The flag of Sierra Leone (Shutterstock)

13. In 1991, Sierra Leone slipped into a decade-long civil war that left more than 50,000 people dead and witnessed many atrocities such as murder, rape, mutilation and the recruitment of child soldiers. The war ended in 2002.
– Source: Reuters

14. The war also caused the displacement of more than 2 million people – around one-third of Sierra Leone’s population at the time.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

15. Sierra Leone’s “blood diamonds” helped fuel atrocities during the war. Blood diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds, were used to fund certain conflicts in Africa. In 2000, the Kimberley Process was set up to reduce the flow of conflict diamonds.
– Source: The Guardian, Time Magazine

16. The political thriller Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly was set in Sierra Leone. The film depicts events from the civil war as well as the historic meeting in Kimberley, South Africa, that led to the Kimberley Process.
– Source: IMDB, The Guardian

A still from Blood Diamond
Blood Diamond starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly (Public Domain)

17. Sierra Leone is one of 27 countries that doesn’t have any UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, it does have six properties on the Tentative List that are intended to be submitted for nomination.
– Source: UNESCOThe Telegraph

18. The Outamba-Kilimi National Park, a tract of savannah and jungle in Sierra Leone, is home to highly diverse wildlife including primates such as chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and sooty mangabeys as well as hippos, bongo antelopes, buffalo, forest elephants and over 150 species of bird.
– Source: Lonely Planet

19. Tiwai Island in Sierra Leone is one of the few remaining tracts of ancient rainforest in West Africa. The name means ‘Big Island’ and the entire island is a nature reserve known as Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary.
– Source: Lonely Planet

Sunset over Tiwai Island
Tiwai Island in Sierra Leone (Shutterstock)

20. The island is home to around 9,000 vascular plant species, 785 bird species, 320 mammal species, 425 herptiles and 510 freshwater fish.
– Source: UNESCO

21. From 2013 to 2016, there was a deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Around 11,300 people died, with 3,956 deaths in Sierra Leone.
– Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

22. Freetown’s most famous landmark is an enormous Cotton Tree located in the centre of the city. Believed to be hundreds of years old, it is said to have played a vital role in the city’s history, when impoverished black settlers rested in its shade after landing in Freetown in 1787.
– Source: Lonely Planet

Freetown's famous cotton tree
Freetown’s famous cotton tree (Christian Trede: CC 2.0)

23. Sierra Leone has one of the world’s lowest life expectancies. As of 2020, it had the fourth-lowest life expectancy at just 54.3 years.
– Source: World Bank

24. Sierra Leone is also among the world’s hungriest countries, considered to be suffering from serious levels of hunger.
– Source: Global Hunger Index

25. The 1987 Bounty chocolate bar “Taste of Paradise” commercial was shot in Sierra Leone.
– Source: The Independent

A screenshot from the Bounty commercial
A screenshot from the Bounty commercial (Public Domain)

26. Freetown was home to the first institution of higher learning in modern sub-Saharan Africa after the collapse of the university at Timbuktu.  Fourah Bay College opened in 1827 and at the time was the only alternative to Europe and America for British colony West Africans who wanted a university degree.
– Source: UNESCO

27. Sierra Leone’s highest mountain is Mount Bintumani which is known as the “king of the mountains”. The peak, at 1,948m high, is also the highest point in West Africa (west of Cameroon’s Mount Cameroon which is 4,095m high).
– Source: Bradt Guides


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