Population: 6.02 million (estimate at July 2016, CIA Factbook); 4.98 million at last census (2004). Around 39.9% of the population live in urban areas (2015, CIA Factbook).

Geography: Situated in West Africa. Bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the north and northeast by Guinea and to the south and southeast by Liberia.

Area: 71,740 km2.

GDP: US$4.5 billion in 2015 (World Bank). Sierra Leone has been hit by twin shocks since mid-2014: the Ebola epidemic and sharply declining iron ore prices. As a result, economic indicators have deteriorated sharply over the past two years. Growth declined dramatically from 20.7% in 2013, to 4.6% in 2014, and further to -21.1% in 2015. The medium-term outlook is somewhat positive, with growth projected to recover to 4.3% in 2016, increasing gradually to around 6.5% by 2020.

Currency: Leone (Le)

Official language: English

Core industries: Agriculture (key crops, such as rice, sugar, oil palm and cocoa, as well as agribusiness functions relating to trading and/or processing); diamonds (over 500,039 carats exported in 2015), iron ore (one of the world’s largest iron ore deposits at African Minerals’ Tonkolili mine contains an estimated 12.8 billion tonnes), rutile (the world’s largest reserves, producing an estimated 126,021 tonnes of contained titanium dioxide in 2015), gold (producing approximately 96 kg of gold in 2012 and 33 kg in 2014) and bauxite mining (including the country’s Port Loko deposit, which contains 100 million tonnes of bauxite reserves). Tourism is another key sector in the country, with potential to tap into Sub-Saharan Africa’s US$66 billion tourism industry.

Key exports and imports: Sierra Leone’s main exports are in the mining and agriculture sectors. In 2014 iron ore accounted for approximately 60% of Sierra Leone’s annual export revenues. This fell to 15% in 2015 as the iron ore price crashed and diamonds re-established its historical position as Sierra Leone’s largest export. Major non-mining exports include cocoa, coffee and fish. Sierra Leone main export partners are Belgium, Netherlands, China and US (see KEY SECTORS for more detailed information).

Sierra Leone’s main imports are machinery and transport equipment (largely relating to mining and oil investment projects and accounting for approximately 50% of total imports) and fuel (10%). Sierra Leone’s main import partners are Guinea, Ivory Coast, China and South Africa.

History & politics: Sierra Leone gained independence from Britain in 1961. From 1961-1998 the political system shifted between multi-party democracy, military rule and one-party rule. Sierra Leone has remained a multi-party democracy since 1998. The country emerged from a decade-long civil war in 2002.

The Constitution recognises three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. Parliamentary terms last for five years and the President may not serve for more than two terms, whether or not those terms are consecutive.

The current President, Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress Party, is serving his second term, having been re-elected in 2012 (winning 58.7% of votes). His party also holds 67 of the 112 nationally-elected seats. 12 additional seats are filled in separate elections by paramount chiefs. A total of ten parties took part in the 2012 elections, which were peaceful and transparent. The next elections are due to be held in November 2018. The current Constitution does not allow an incumbent to stand for a third term. A peaceful, credible and stable transition of power would increase investor confidence by providing a reduced risk of shock and greater predictability.

Foreign aid: The country remains largely dependent on foreign aid. The account deficit was US$1.1 billion in 2015, representing 33% of Sierra Leone’s 2015 GDP.

The country benefits from the support of various international agencies, including the UNDP, the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development (DFID ) and the US Agency for International Development.