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The Republic of Sierra Leone is a West African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest, and between Guinea and Liberia.

Separated from the mainland by the Sherbro River and the Sherbro Strait is Sherbro Island, a 230-square mile island that currently a developing tourist destination, due to its sixty-five miles of tropical beaches. Part of Sierra Leone, the island is populated primarily by the Sherbro people, once the largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone, but who now are found mostly on Sherbro Island. About 90% of the Sherbro people are Christians, the remainder Muslim. As recently as the 1920s, the Sherbro people were ruled by their own chiefs.

As a whole, Sierra Leone is made up of about sixteen ethnic groups, each speaking their own language. The largest ethnic groups are the Temne and the Mende, which together make up about 65% of the population. Lesser groups include the Limba, who have been in Sierra Leone since before the Europeans arrived, although they now make up only about 8% of the population. The Fula are about 7% of the population, and others include the Mandingo, Kono, Krio, Kuranko, Loko, Kissi, and the Sherbro, already mentioned above. Although a small minority, the Krio are descendants of freed African American slaves who reside in Freetown and the surrounding region. As they were among the first to be educated, they are particularly influential in the government's civil services, and about 95% of them are Christian.

Approximately two-thirds of the adult population of Sierra Leone are illiterate, although the primary level of education is required of all children. During the Sierra Leone Civil War, many of the country's schools were destroyed and most of its school-aged children were not enrolled. Today, a continued shortage of schools and teachers has slowed the country's educational recovery. Sierra Leone does have three universities, however.

The two main religions in Sierra Leone are Islam and Christianity. Its constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion, and its government generally protects freedom of religion. Nearly 80% of its population are Muslims, while just over 20% are Christians, Sunni and Protestantism being the most common.

The Sierra Leone region was one of the first in West Africa to be visited by Europeans. The first slaves from Sierra Leon were taken to the Sea Islands, off the coast of North America, in 1652 and, by the 1700s there was a thriving slave trade in Sierra Leone. In 1787, the British helped a few hundred freed slaves from the United States to settle in Sierra Leone; they were joined by others and the place they lived became known as Freetown, one of the first British colonies in West Africa.

There were several revolts against British rule and the domination of the Krio, but the early 1900s was relatively peaceful and Sierra Leone was granted some autonomy in 1951, and independent in 1961, without bloodshed.

Independence proved not to be without violence, however. Power changed hands rapidly in 1967, with three coups. In 1968, all opposition parties were banned. After a couple of decades of peace, but through a corrupt government, more than sixty senior officials were arrested and hanged in 1989.

The Sierra Leone Civil War began in 1991, sparked by a civil war in nearby Liberia. The president was forced into exile in a military coup in 1992, and the government of Sierra Leone took over for a few years, but it was not a peaceful rule. In 1996, the military ruler was himself toppled in a military coup, arrested by his fellow soldiers and forced into exile.

Expressing a desire to end the war, Brigadier General Bio handed the government over to civilian rule, but the new president was forced from office in another coup within a few months. Within nine months, the new government was overthrown by Nigerian forces, and the previously elected president was reinstated in 1998. United Nations peacekeepers came and were met with attacks, and hundreds of peacekeepers were taken hostage.

Finally, the war was ended when British troops exceeded their mandate to evacuate foreign nationals and took the full action to defeat the rebels and restore order. British military troops remain in Sierra Leone today, assisting the country's military. It is estimated that 50,000 people were killed during the 10-year war.

In 2014, Sierra Leone suffered from an Ebola epidemic that killed about 3,000 and affected more than 10,000.

Today, Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic. Presidential elections are held every five years, with a maximum of two terms. Legislative powers are vested in its Parliament, which is unicameral.

Administratively, the country is divided into four regions: Northern, Eastern, Southern, and Western. The country's capital city is Freetown, a northern coastal city.



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