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Cotton blanket weaver, Sierra Leone.

West African Country Profiles

Sierra Leone

Country Overview

Statistical Information


Country Overview

Statistical Information

Sierra Leone And
Liberia Today

The people of Sierra Leone and Liberia face the immense challenge of rebuilding societies decimated by war and poverty. More than a decade of brutal conflict - rooted in poverty, corruption and a struggle for political and economic power - has citizens searching for new approaches to solving these chronic problems.

From 1990-2003 news coverage of regional conflicts was peppered with accounts of child soldiers committing atrocities in a forced march for control of diamonds and other resources. Governance collapsed in most parts of Sierra Leone and Liberia, and several million people were displaced. British and United Nations intervention in Sierra Leone helped to end the conflict in 2001 and created enough stability for national elections in 2002. UN peacekeeping withdrew in December, 2005. In 2007 Sierra Leoneans voted in their second post-war election. The mostly peaceful election was an historic achievement that Sierra Leoneans were proud of. This accomplishment was due in large measure to the Independent Radio Network, which broadcasted information about the the electoral process, voter rights, and real time polling results, while fostering peaceful conduct during tense times.

In Liberia, the presence of over 15,000 UN peacekeeping troops created enough stability for national elections in 2005. The elections were peaceful and historic: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the first democratically-elected female head of state in Africa’s history. The President has mobilized support both globally and within Liberia for rebuilding Liberia’s infrastructure, professionalizing its government and rooting out corruption. She is standing for re-election in the Fall of 2011.

An Urgent Need To Secure Peace

In both countries, conditions that sowed the seeds of conflict remain. The cost of living continues to rise, job opportunities are scarce, and rampant corruption, especially in government, diverts resources from the region’s most pressing needs. Lack of access to quality education perpetuates chronic illiteracy. Health care services are inadequate and unaffordable for most families, and child mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Violence, particularly against women and children, is endemic. A generation of young people has grown up experiencing war and faces an uncertain future.

New Opportunities For Progress

Fortunately, Sierra Leone is emerging from its conflict with new opportunities for progress. New laws have created a more decentralized system of government. Having lived under central, but ineffective and corrupt rule for decades, citizens are now better positioned to demand accountability of public officials at the local and regional level. This significant change has coincided with the re-emergence of “civil society” organizations – groups advocating for government accountability, women’s rights, youth empowerment – all dedicated to greater citizen involvement in determining how their society works.

Liberia is enjoying its first peaceful period in over 15 years. Johnson-Sirleaf’s election has created a sense of hope, optimism and determination to rebuild. It has also triggered substantial investment from governments and international agencies. The capture and imprisonment of former president Charles Taylor, indicted for crimes against humanity for his role in Sierra Leone’s conflict, has helped to ease tension and reduce fear.

One of the most significant developments in the last five years is the launch of independent stations in rural communities. Radio has created a potent and promising opportunity for citizens to achieve lasting solutions to the region’s most pressing issues: corruption, poverty, human rights and injustice. Innovative news coverage, community forums, drama, and children’s programs are fostering dynamic, solution-oriented dialogue at the local, national, and regional level.

Independent radio stations, governed by community representatives that produce local-language programming on priority issues, are beginning to flourish. Citizens feel a strong sense of ownership of their stations. There is a growing demand for accurate information. They value community radio as their primary source of reliable information and one of their most effective, trusted vehicles for change.

At the same time, community initiatives to rebuild education and health care services are also helping to rebuild social cohesion. A new kind of social entrepreneurship is emerging, and it needs to be supported.

This change is happening because peace-building citizens and organizations - most notably Search for Common Ground’s Talking Drum Studio program - want to do more than just end armed conflict. They are focused on transforming the way communities recognize and address their problems and strive to build healthy and prosperous societies.

The Foundation for West Africa was launched to support West African-led efforts to build peace and prosperity after years of conflict.