Sierra Leone ( /siːˈɛrə liːˈoʊn/) (Krio: Sa Lone), officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the north and east, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. Sierra Leone covers a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi) and has a population estimated at 6.5 million. It is a former British Colony and now a constitutional republic comprising three provinces and the Western Area; which are further divided into fourteen districts.
The country has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savannah to rainforests. Freetown is the capital, largest city and economic center. The other major cities are Bo, Kenema, Koidu Town and Makeni.
English is the official language, spoken at schools, government administration and by the media. Krio language (a language derived from English and several African languages and native to the Sierra Leone Krio people) is the most widely spoken language in virtually all parts of the country, namely by 97% of the country’s population, uniting all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other. Despite its common use throughout the country, the Krio language has no official status.
Sierra Leone is officially home to fourteen ethnic groups, each with its own language and costume. However, the two largest and most dominant are the Mende and Temne, each comprising 30% of the population. The Mende are predominantly found in the South-Eastern region of Sierra Leone and the Temne likewise predominate in Northern Sierra Leone. The Mende have had a long history of political dominance of Sierra Leone. The country is a predominantly muslim nation, though with a large Christian minority at 35%. Unlike most African nations, Sierra Leone has no serious ethnic and religious divisions. People often marry across tribal and religious boundaries.
Sierra Leone is very rich in mineral resources, possessing most of the known mineral types of the world, many of which are found in significant quantities. The country has relied on mining, especially diamonds, for its economic base; it is among the top 10 diamond producing nations in the world, and mineral exports remain the main foreign currency earner. Sierra Leone is also among the largest producers of titanium and bauxite, and a major producer of gold. The country has one of the world’s largest deposits of rutile. Despite this natural wealth, the vast majority of its people live in poverty.
Early inhabitants of Sierra Leone included the Sherbro, Temne and Limba, and Tyra[disambiguation needed] peoples, and later the Mende, who knew the country as Romarong, and the Kono who settled in the east of the country. In 1462, it was visited by the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra, who dubbed it Serra de Leão, meaning “Lion Mountains”. Sierra Leone later became an important centre of the transatlantic trade in slaves until 1792 when Freetown was founded by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for formerly enslaved African Americans. In 1808, Freetown became a British Crown Colony, and in 1896, the interior of the country became a British Protectorate; in 1961, the two combined and gained independence. The country had a Sierra Leone Civil War, which began in 1991 and was resolved in 2000 after the struggling Nigerian-led United Nations troops were heavily reinforced by a British force spearheaded by 42 Commando of the Royal Marines as well as several British Army units. The arrival of this force in what was codenamed Operation Palliser resulted in the defeat of rebel forces and restored the civilian government elected in 1998 to Freetown. Since then, almost 72,500 former combatants have been disarmed and the country has reestablished a functioning democracy. The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up in 2002 to deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since 1996. Sierra Leone is the third-lowest-ranked country on the Human Development Index and eighth-lowest on the Human Poverty Index, suffering from endemic corruption and suppression of the press.