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Sierra Leone

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SIERRA LEONE, a republic on the Atlantic coast of West Africa, is bounded by Guinea to the north and east and Liberia to the southwest. The country possesses a fine natural harbor where the capital and major port of Freetown is situated.

A range of mountains, the Sierra Lyon, rise above the capital on the Freetown Peninsula. However, elsewhere, the coastal plain is up to 110 kilometers or 70 miles wide, rising to a plateau and then mountains that are part of the Guinea Highlands Massif. The highest peaks are just under 2,000 meters or 6,562 feet. Eight rivers and many streams descend from the higher ground.

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Natural vegetation varies from mangrove swamp near the coast to savannah in the north and jungle, containing commercially valuable trees such as palm, teak, and mahogany, in the southeast.

Wildlife includes varieties of monkeys, chimpanzees, hippopotamus, tropical birds, porcupine, bushpig, and reptiles. The climate is tropical, with heavy rain during a rainy season lasting from May to November. During the dry season, an arid, dust-laden wind called the harmattan blows in from the Sahara Desert.

Most people are engaged in either agriculture or mining. The country’s main food is rice, and this is grown in the swamplands at the coast by the subsistence farmers. Other crops grown include sorghum, cassava, millet, sugar, and peanuts. In the tropical forest areas, small plantations produce coffee, cocoa beans, and palm oil. In the plateau region, much of the forest cleared to grow groundnuts.

Most of the country’s revenue comes from agriculture and mining, principally rutile, although bauxite is produced in significant quantities. Diamonds are also mined but in much-reduced amounts, and there are deposits of iron ore with some gold and platinum.

The country gained independence in 1961 and was troubled by political unrest and civil strife during the early 1990s.

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Sierra Leone’s varied terrain includes the striking, mountainous Sierra Leone Peninsula; a zone of low-lying coastal marshland along the Atlantic Ocean; and a wide plains area extending inland to about the middle of the country. East of the plains, the land rises to a broad, moderately elevated plateau interspersed with occasional hills and mountains.

Sierra Leone is bounded on the southwest and west by the Atlantic Ocean; the country is located northwest of that part of the Atlantic Coast known as the Grain Coast, which borders Liberia.

The coast is very irregular, forming many bays, inlets, and peninsulas. The most significant features are the Sierra Leone Peninsula, where Freetown is located, and Yawri Bay, located in the center of the coast just south of the peninsula. The coastal plain has numerous estuaries whose river channels, like that of the Sierra Leone River, continue to flow under the sea. Mangrove swamps line much of the coast, and marine and freshwater swamps occupy large areas behind the trees.

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