Aminatta Forna, who was raised in Sierra Leone and the UK, won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize with her novel The Memory of Love. Sierra Leone has the lowest per capita income in the Commonwealth, but its economy has grown at 5.2% a year over 2007–11.
The Republic of Sierra Leone (Portuguese for ‘Lion Mountain’) in West Africa is bordered by Guinea to the north, Liberia to the south-east, and the Atlantic to the south and west.
Freetown (capital, Western Province; pop. 836,600 in 2010), Bo (Southern, 215,400), Kenema (Eastern, 169,900), Makeni (Northern, 102,600), Koidu (Eastern, 91,600), Lunsar (Northern, 23,900), Port Loko (Northern, 22,700), Pandebu-Tokpombu (Eastern, 19,700), Kabala (Northern, 18,800), Waterloo (Western, 17,800), Kailahun (Eastern, 17,500), Magburaka (Northern, 16,000), Segbwema (Eastern, 16,000), Koindu (Eastern, 15,900) and Bonthe (Southern, 10,200).
There are 11,300 km of roads, eight per cent paved, but in poor repair; secondary roads may be impassable in the rainy season. The railway system (nearly 600 km in length) closed in 1974.
Freetown is the main port with a deep-water quay. There are smaller ports at Pepel, Bonthe, Niti and Sulima. Several rivers are navigable by small craft.
Sierra Leone is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
Sierra Leone has some 402km of coast along the Atlantic Ocean, with magnificent beaches. Apart from the hilly Freetown peninsula (officially known as the Western Area), the coastal belt is flat, with a width of up to 110km. The land rises to the Guinea highlands in the east, with mountain peaks up to 1,917m. There are eight main rivers; the estuaries of two of them can be navigated by ocean-going vessels.
Tropical and humid all year, but cooler on the coast. The dry season is November to May, when the dusty harmattan wind blows from the Sahara; the rainy season lasts the rest of the year.
The most significant environmental issues are depletion of natural resources during the civil war; deforestation and soil exhaustion due to over-harvesting of timber, expansion of cattle grazing, and slash-and-burn agriculture; and overfishing.
Mangrove swamps occur along the coast, with thickly wooded hills on the Freetown peninsula, and grasslands, woods and savannah on the interior plains. The central inland area, formerly forested, has been cleared for agriculture. Forest – including mahogany and teak – covers 37 per cent of the land area, having declined at 0.7 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises 24 per cent and permanent cropland two per cent of the total land area.
Large game animals are now rare, but the Kilimi National Park in the north of the country has the largest concentration of chimpanzees in West Africa. The park is also home to 12 other primate species, including colobus monkeys, as well as rare large bongo antelopes and, in the river margins, pygmy hippopotami. After the civil war a chimpanzee sanctuary was established at Leicester in the Western Area. Some 17 mammal species and 14 bird species are thought to be endangered (2014).