In 1462, the area that is now Sierra Leone was visited by the Portuguese explorer, Pedro de Sintra, who named it Sierra Leoa – “Lioness Mountain.” It became an important hub of the transatlantic slave trade by the Dutch, Portuguese, French and English. In 1792, the country was founded by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for former slaves freed by the British Empire. Many of were former American slaves who had sought refuge with the British Army during the American Revolution. They had been given land in Novia Scotia but had found both the winters and the racism too harsh to endure. They arrived in what is now Freetown, number around 1200 settlers. In 1799 they were joined by 500 freed slaves from Jamaica. Finally, in 1961, Sierra Leone gained it’s independence from Great Britain.
Sierra Leone fought a brutal civil war from 1991 until complete disarmament in 2004. It was largely influenced by the notorious leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, Charles Taylor, who eventually became the Liberia’s President. His original intention was to disrupt Nigerian peacekeeping troops that were in Sierra Leone and were in opposition of his guerilla movement in Liberia. The civil war then escalated to include controlling the country’s diamond mines to finance the rebel effort in both countries. Before the war ended, the people of Sierra Leone lived in utter anarchy. All power lines in the country were destroyed as well as the railroad lines. Over 50,000 people lost their lives, 20,000 more suffered “re-education” amputations by the Revolutionary United Front rebels and over 600,000 people fled to Guinea as refugees.
Today, Sierra Leone relies heavily on the mining industry for it’s economic base. The country is among the world’s largest producers of titanium and boxite as well as a major producer of gold and rutile. It is the world’s 10th largest producer of diamonds. It is home to the world’s 3rd largest natural harbor where shipping from all over the globe berth at Freetown, the capitol. Despite all of this natural wealth, over 70% of it’s population live in abject poverty. In 2009, Sierra Leone was officially the world’s 2nd poorest country.