Until a few days ago, if you had asked me to tell you about Sierra Leone, I would have had to think long and hard to tell you much about this West African country. I could probably have explained roughly where the country is located. I may have mentioned something about the slave trade being connected to Sierra Leone. I could certainly have told you that they had experienced a brutal civil war. I might even have admitted that I wasn't entirely sure whether the war was 100% over. And that's about it.
Slavery and war. A pretty negative view of what is in fact an exceptionally positive country. Today, I see Sierra Leone from an entirely different perspective.
It is difficult to ignore Sierra Leone's history and focus purely on the present. Once a fertile area inhabited by dozens of tribes, it was settled by the Portuguese in the 1400's who built a fort as a trading post for gold, spices, ivory and slaves. A British protectorate in later years, Sierra Leone had the dubious honor of becoming home to more than 40,000 freed slaves who gave Freetown its name. As a protectorate, Sierra Leone was exploited for its mineral and diamond wealth in the 1900's and Sierra Leonean's fought against the Germans in Cameroon in the First World War, and alongside the British in the Second World War. In 1961, Sierra Leone achieved independence from Britain and governed itself peacefully for 30 years. The peace was not to last and was followed by a decade of brutal civil war that destroyed the economy, brutalized the people and left a country that is rich in resources as one of the poorest in the world.