Sierra Leone, known for its white sand beaches, lush rainforests and unique foundation as a colony for freed slaves, will hold general elections on June 24.
Here are five things to know about the mineral-rich West African nation, whose name derives from the Portuguese words for “Lion Mountains”.
– Freed slaves –
Sierra Leone was historically inhabited by the Temne, Mende and other Indigenous groups, who had contact with Portuguese, Dutch, English and French traders in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, British abolitionists established a settlement of freed slaves from the UK, North America and the Caribbean on Sierra Leone’s western peninsula.
They called it “Freetown”, which remains the name of the capital.
The descendants of the resettled former slaves are today considered to be their own ethnic group, the Creole or Krio people.
The Krio language — which draws from English, Portuguese, French, Akan, Yoruba and Igbo — continues to be the lingua franca across the country.
– Civil war, blood diamonds –
Sierra Leone was devastated by a brutal civil war from 1991 to 2002 that killed tens of thousands of people.
The conflict, which began when rebels invaded the country from Liberia, was largely financed by the sale of diamonds from the country’s mineral-rich southeast.
The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on the sale of diamonds from Sierra Leone between 2000 and 2003.
The war and diamond trade were dramatised in the 2006 Hollywood film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou.
– Ravaged by Ebola –
Between 2014 and 2016, an Ebola epidemic killed about 11,000 people across Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
The outbreak was the largest and most complex on record, according to the World Health Organization.
With children kept home from school and businesses closed, it had devastating socioeconomic impacts in Sierra Leone, which was still recovering from the civil war.
– Chimps and ecotourism –
Sierra Leone in 2019 made the chimpanzee its national animal as part of an effort to rebrand the country as a sustainable ecotourism destination.
The country boasts pristine beaches, verdant hillsides and ecologically-rich islands.
It is home to a chimpanzee sanctuary inside a rainforest reserve, which has been visited by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall and Britain’s Princess Anne.
Tourists also visit Freetown, the former capital of colonial British West Africa, for its museums and historic architecture.
– Idris Elba, Rudiger and other stars –
A number of famous artists and athletes make up Sierra Leone’s diaspora.
British actor Idris Elba, whose father is Sierra Leonean and mother is Ghanaian, received Sierra Leonean citizenship in 2019.
German-born Real Madrid centre-back Antonio Rudiger’s mother is Sierra Leonean, as is the mother of the British foreign secretary, James Cleverly.
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the British cellist who serenaded Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at their 2018 wedding, was also born to a Sierra Leonean mother.
Michaela DePrince, a second-soloist in the Boston Ballet, was born in Sierra Leone and adopted by Americans after becoming orphaned during the civil war.
Several US politicians including Senator Cory Booker have traced their ancestry to the country.
© Agence France-Presse