Like many other African states, Sierra Leone can trace archaeological remains back more than 2,500 years. However, modern history started with the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra in 1462.
The coastal region became a Portuguese trading area from the late 15th Century largely due to the protected deep-water harbour upon which the future Freetown would stand. Slavery became a major export for the region until the 19th Century and by the early 1600s the British had supplanted the Portuguese.
Freetown, the capital, was established in 1791 by a group of former African American freed slaves. By 1800 the Europeans had still only penetrated a few miles inland from the capital but increasingly kingdoms were brought under British control.
By 1895 a boundary of sorts had been drawn between French Guinea and Sierra Leone albeit without any regard for the boundaries of local kingdoms, and on 31st August 1896 Sierra Leone was proclaimed a British Protectorate which in turn led to a number of minor wars.
In 1924 Sierra Leone was divided into a colony and a protectorate but by 1951 Sir Milton Margai had overseen the drafting of a new constitution which united the country once more. With the clever negotiating of Sir Milton the country was granted local ministerial powers in 1953 and Sir Milton himself became the first Chief Minister.
Independence from the United Kingdom followed on 27th April 1961 and four years before, in 1957, the first parliamentary elections had been held. Fresh elections were held in May 1962 with the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) winning a majority and Sir Milton Margai confirmed as the country’s first prime minister.
Sir Milton remained prime minister until his death in 1964 when he was replaced by his brother Sir Arthur Margai. Sir Arthur took the country through to 1968 when he was replaced by Siaka Stevens following the defeat of the SLPP in the 1967 general election by the All People’s Congress (APC).
Siaka Stevens started off well but became increasingly authoritarian. In 1971 a new constitution was introduced which led to the creation of a republic with Siaka Stevens as its first president. Between 1978 and 1991 the APC became the sole legal party in the country. In 1985 Siaka Stevens was replaced by Joseph Saidu Momoh and in 1991 a referendum led to the re-introduction of multi-party politics.
A coup in 1992 led by Captain Valentine Strasser was successful and in 1993 Strasser announced a return to multi-party democracy by 1996. In 1995 a ban had been lifted on all political parties and as they prepared for elections the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had started a civil war which was to be brutal and violent and would last until 2001 when a small British military force intervened.
Meanwhile, in 1996 the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) had won back control of the House of Representatives and their candidate, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah won the presidential election with 59.5% of the vote in the second round.
Kabbah was deposed in a coup in May 1997 but was restored to office the following year. In 2002 Kabbah and the SLPP were re-elected with increased majorities but in 2007 the All People’s Congress (APC) were back in control with a new president, Ernest Bai Koroma.
The President is elected for a five year term by popular vote and may serve a second term.
The House of Representatives has 124 members; 12 are Paramount chiefs and 112 are elected for five years through proportional representation from 14 multi-seat constituencies.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Sierra Leone at joint 123rd out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 30 (where 100 is least corrupt).