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State structure

With the transfer of power to a democratically elected administration in 1996, the 1991 constitution (which had been suspended in 1992 after a coup d'état) was revived. The constitution provides for a multi-party system and places executive power in the hands of the president, who is elected for a five-year term, with the possibility of one renewal. The legislature consists of a single chamber with 124 members elected for five years, 112 of whom are directly elected. The remaining 12 seats are reserved for so-called paramount chiefs (traditional leaders of certain regions). The president is the head of a cabinet that he appoints himself.


Stability in Sierra Leone has increased rapidly in recent years. The massive international presence and the de facto elimination of a large part of the RUF force after RUF leader Sankoh was captured and died in custody in July 2003 are responsible for this. The demobilisation of the former combatants went beyond expectations. Tens of thousands of fighters, mostly young people, handed in their weapons. In January 2002 peace was officially declared in Sierra Leone. Work on the peace process continued in an atmosphere of confidence and optimism. In February 2004, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) was officially disbanded. During its five-year lifespan, more than 70,000 combatants were disarmed and demobilised through the DDR programme.

Presidential and parliamentary elections took place in May 2002. President Kabbah, then 70 years old, was re-elected president for a five-year term and his party, the Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP), became the major winner in parliament. The main opposition party, the former ruling All People's Congress (APC), was not strong enough to make a real fist. The RUF also participated in the 2002 elections, but was completely wiped out.

Regional divisions play an important role in Sierra Leonean politics. The SLPP dominates in the east and south of Sierra Leone, while the APC sees its (growing) supporters concentrated in the north. In May 2004, local elections took place and were successful.

Due to a lack of capacity, little reliable statistical material is available. As a result, estimates of, for instance, economic growth or the percentage of HIV/AIDS infected people can vary widely. Although the capacity of the army and police is increasing, these two institutions cannot yet guarantee peace and order on their own. Nor have all the militias yet been completely disbanded. The many young people, for whom the future seems to hold little promise, pose a danger to the stability of the country. Another potentially destabilising factor in Sierra Leone is large-scale corruption.

At the moment, public dissatisfaction with the government, corruption, unemployment, poverty and the lack of (medical) facilities and education is expressed in the formation of many small political movements.

The current political situation is described in the history section.

Criminal Court and Truth Commission

In March 2004, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) formally came into operation. It is not a military tribunal, and it differs from the tribunals for Rwanda and ex-Yugoslavia in that it is adopted through cooperation with Sierra Leone. The Court - which is not under the control of the Security Council, but has a 'hybrid' mandate - is to try the 20-30 individuals most held responsible for gross human rights violations. The Court will try the leaders of the three main parties to the war in three separate chambers. The first seven people were indicted in March 2003. Two of them, RUF leader Foday Sankoh and RUF commander Sam Bockarie, died in 2003. Other defendants include Johnny Paul Koroma (coup planner in 1997, then leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Command (ARFC)), Issa Sesay (RUF), Alex Brima and Morris Kallon (RUF), as well as Sam Hinga Norman.

Norman was the leader of the militia, Civil Defence Forces (CDF) or Kamajors, which fought the RUF and army deserters from 1993 onwards. When peace returned to Sierra Leone, Norman joined President Kabbah's cabinet as Minister of Interior. Norman's arrest, along with the arrests of two other prominent members of the CDF, caused intense unrest in Sierra Leone and within the President's party. Norman is seen as one of the resistance heroes in the civil war. Norman's conviction could lead to discontent within the security forces and the CDF veterans. Norman is accused of (among other things) recruiting and using child soldiers, unlawful killings, plundering and instilling fear in the population. Norman rejects the accusation that he was primarily responsible for these crimes. He argues that President Kabbah, as a leading member of the Kamajors at the time, bears at least as much responsibility for the crimes committed as he does. Moreover, Norman argues, the group was supported by senior diplomats from the US, UK, Nigeria and the UN.

The best known defendant is former Liberian President Charles Taylor. The charge against Taylor is that during his presidency he supported RUF members financially and materially in exchange for the notorious 'blood diamonds'. In 2003, President Obasanjo offered Taylor asylum in Nigeria, hoping to bring a permanent end to tensions in the strife-torn country. The exile arrangement continued until the end of March 2006. After Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, asked for Taylor's extradition on 5 March, it was granted by President Obasanjo of Nigeria on 29 March. The Special Court for Sierra Leone immediately asked for Taylor's trial to be moved to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for security reasons. After the UK agreed to take Taylor over for detention in the event of a conviction, the Netherlands agreed. In total, 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been brought against the former Liberian president by the Court for Sierra Leone.

Alongside the Special Court, until recently a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) operated, where perpetrators of violent crimes who did not qualify for the Court could confess their crimes. The objectives of the TRC were to provide an impartial historical record of the years of civil war and to promote reconciliation. The TRC, even more than the Court, had a problematic financing. In October 2004, the TRC published its report. In it, Libya and Liberia were held largely responsible for the war in Sierra Leone. It also asked for attention for the traumatised youth.

In January 2008, the court in The Hague resumed the trial against Charles Taylor, after a six-month postponement. In April 2012, Charles Taylor was found guilty of all charges against him and sentenced to 50 years in prison. In September 2013, this sentence was confirmed on appeal. Taylor is serving his sentence in a UK prison.


The violence has completely disrupted Sierra Leone's economy and social structure. Nothing worked and the lives of many were in danger. Sierra Leone has dropped to the bottom of the Human Development Index, the UNDP list that ranks countries on topics such as literacy and availability of health care. The average life expectancy in Sierra Leone is one of the lowest in the world.

Rebuilding the society and the economy, with extensive help from the international community, will be the focus in the coming years. In Sierra Leone, a large part of the population worked in agriculture before and during the civil war. Because of the war, more than 500,000 farming families were forced to flee from the violence. This situation has not recovered yet. Partly because of this, Sierra Leone is for the time being (partially) dependent on humanitarian aid.

A second problem is that most former soldiers and militiamen have little or no education. UN research has shown that this is due to the fact that school fees were far too high for many of them. The hopeless situation for these (young) men could destabilise Sierra Leone. Sanitary facilities are hardly there and health care is also a problem. Social welfare institutions are not in order, about 90% of medicines do not reach their destination and only a quarter of the children born are registered. The percentage of HIV/AIDS infected people is estimated to be relatively low (1.5%). Precise data is lacking, however. Sierra Leone also has problems fighting malaria and tuberculosis.

The most important export product of Sierra Leone is diamonds. During the war, control over the diamond mines was an important source of income for the militia. Although the Kimberley Process has helped reduce the trade in 'blood diamonds', the illegal trade, in which politicians also take part, and the corruption associated with it, remain a major problem.

The current government is trying to regain control of the diamond mines. These attempts have not been very successful so far. It is estimated that Sierra Leone loses 300 million dollars in income annually because of this state of affairs. Another problem is the ever-high inflation rate, which averages between 12 and 13 percent. Inflation is caused by fiscal laziness, food shortages and so-called imported inflation.

Nevertheless, the economic situation in Sierra Leone has also picked up. Growth has mainly taken place in agricultural production and the services sector. The relative flourishing of the services sector is due to donor-related efforts related to the reconstruction of infrastructure (roads, power plants) in Sierra Leone.

In 2017, Sierra Leone achieved an economic growth of 3.7%, which increased its GDP per capita to the otherwise still very low amount of $1,600 per year.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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