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5 things to know about Sierra Leone

5 things to know about Sierra Leone
View of Tokeh beach near Freetown, Sierra Leone, picture taken on April 29, 2012.   -  
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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, which is to elect its president on Saturday, is associated with white sandy beaches and lush tropical forests, but also with the history of slavery and a bloody civil war.

Here are five things you need to know about the former British colony whose name, meaning "lion mountain", derives from an old Portuguese phrase

1. Freed slaves

Sierra Leone was historically inhabited by the Mende, Temne and other indigenous groups who encountered the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French traders during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, the British, out of philanthropy or interest, settled former slaves freed from the United Kingdom, North America or the Caribbean.

Freetown, today the capital of Sierra Leone, was founded in 1792.

The descendants of former slaves are now considered forming their own human group, the creoles (or Krio).

Krio, which combines English, Portuguese, French and local languages such as Akan, Yoruba and Igbo, is the country's lingua franca.

2. Civil war, blood diamonds

Sierra Leone was ravaged between 1991 and 2002 by a civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives and left its mark in barbaric terms.

The conflict, an extension of the civil war in neighboring Liberia, was largely financed by the sale of diamonds mined in the south-east of the country.

The UN security council-imposed sanctions on the sale of diamonds from Sierra Leone between 2000 and 2003. This aspect of the war inspired the 2006 film "blood diamond", starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou. 

3. Ebola

The Ebola virus disease killed around 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016 in Sierra Leone, Liberia and guinea.

It has had devastating socio-economic effects on Sierra Leone, which was trying to recover from the war.

4. Chimpanzees and ecotourism

Sierra Leone has made the chimpanzee a national emblem for 2019. The country is trying to promote the image of an ecotourism destination offering pristine beaches, green hills and ecologically rich islands.

It is home to a chimpanzee sanctuary in a rainforest reserve that has been visited by British primatologist Jane Goodall and Princess Anne.

5. Idris Elba, Rüdiger and others

Several international personalities have Sierra Leonese roots.

British actor Idris Elba, whose father is Sierra Leonese and whose mother is Ghanaian, received Sierra Leonese nationality in 2019.

Real Madrid central defender Antonio Rüdiger, a German international, was born of a Sierra Leonese mother, as was British foreign secretary James cleverly.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the British cellist who played at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding in 2018, was also born to a Sierra Leonese mother.

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