Sierra Leone ([sieɪrə liˈoːn]), officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea in the north, Liberia in the southeast, and theAtlantic Ocean in the southwest. Sierra Leone covers a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi) and has a population estimated at 6.4 million. The country is aconstitutional 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. However, theKrio 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. The Krio language is spoken by 97% of the country’s population and unites 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. In December 2002, Sierra Leone’s President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah named Bengali as an “official language” in recognition of the work of 5,300 troops from Bangladesh in the peace-keeping force.
Sierra Leone is very rich in minerals and has relied on mining, especially diamonds, for its economic base. The country is among the top 10 diamond producing nations in the world, and mineral exports remain the main foreign currency earner. Sierra Leone also claims to be home to the third largest natural harbour in the world, the Queen Elizabeth II Quay (also known as the QE II Quay and locally as the Deep Water Quay or Government Wharf).
Early inhabitants of Sierra Leone included the Sherbro, Temne and Limba, and Tyra 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 gave it its name 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 theSierra 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.