Sierra Leone Government and Politics

State and politics

Sierra Leone Country Flag

Reference: Sierra Leone Flag Meaning

After being characterized by military coups and a prolonged and brutal civil war, Sierra Leone has stabilized during the 2000s with several organized shifts of power. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of SL and its meanings of Sierra Leone.


The 1991 Constitution states that the President is both the Head of State and the Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief. According to, the president is elected in general elections for five years and can be re-elected at one time. All heads of state since independence have been men.

Of the 144 members of the single-chamber parliament, 132 are elected in general elections for five years. Twelve places are added to traditional chieftains. In 2004, elected municipal councils were reinstated, after the municipalities had been governed since 1972 by traditional chiefs appointed by the government. The chiefdom is believed to have paved the way for nepotism and corruption and was a contributing cause of the discontent that triggered a civil war of more than ten years in 1991.


Two parties have dominated political life since independence in 1961: the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), which held government power during the first years of independence, and 1996-2007 and All People’s Congress (APC), which was the government party 1967–92 (1978–91 as the only allowed party) and who won the elections in 2007 and received 59 out of 112 directly elected seats.

Presidential elections with several candidates were held for the first time in 1996, when Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (SLPP) won. However, he was deposed in a military coup in 1997 and could only return the following year; he was re-elected in 2002 with 70 percent of the vote. In the 2007 presidential election, APC candidate Ernest Bai Koroma won, which received 55 percent of the vote in the second round. He was re-elected in 2012 with 59 percent of the vote against 37 percent for Julius Maada Bio (SLPP). In the 2012 parliamentary elections, APC received 67 of the 112 directly elected seats and the SLPP 42 seats. No other party succeeded in entering Parliament.

In the elections held in March 2018, APC again became the largest party with 68 out of 132 directly elected seats. The SLPP received 49 seats and three other smaller parties also joined Parliament. On the other hand, APC had to leave the post after Julius Maama Bio defeated former Finance and Foreign Minister Samura Kamara (born 1963) in a smooth second crucial election round. Bio, which for a few months in 1996 was the country’s highest leader after the election of President Valentine Strasser (born 1966) in a coup, received 52 percent of the vote.

In cooperation between the UN and the Sierra Leonean state, a special court was established in 2002 to investigate those responsible for the civil war’s gross human rights violations. The trial began in 2004, and the defendants represented three organizations: the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which started the war, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which illegally ruled Sierra Leone in 1997-98, and the so-called Civil Defense Forces(CDF), which stood on the side of the legal government. The Special Court could begin to be wound up in 2009 after members of all three organizations were sentenced to long prison terms. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up after the Civil War, in its final report in 2004, blamed the previous regimes, mismanagement and disregard for human rights on the part of former regimes, which blamed the social decay that enabled the war’s enormous atrocities. Of crucial importance for Sierra Leone’s return to democracy was the peacekeeping force, called the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), which the UN sent to the country in 1999. The force came to consist of more than 17,000 men.


The legal order in Sierra Leone is based on a combination of imported English law, domestic law, local custom and certain parts of Islamic law (especially in family and succession law). The most important courts are the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The death penalty can be punished for some serious crimes.

Human Rights

Between 1991 and 2002, one of the most violent conflicts in Africa’s modern history took place in Sierra Leone. The country’s infrastructure was leveled with the ground and, according to reports from Amnesty International, a predominant population of the population is still traumatized in the suites of the war.

Although progress has been made in the fight to democratize the country and reform the judiciary, widespread corruption still exists. Police violence is reported to be commonplace and the death penalty is practiced.

Respect for the right to freedom and personal security is low. Arbitrary arrests occur and the wait for a trial can take several years. Interns are frequently subjected to abuse, the sanitary conditions are substandard and access to food in the country’s prisons is very limited.

Although freedom of the press is guaranteed by law and generally complied with, there is an abuse of opposition journalists and both state and editorial self-censorship is practiced. In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for 2015, the country was ranked 79 out of 180.

Women’s trafficking was criminalized in 2007, but violence against women, including sexual violence, is still a major problem in the country. Rape is punishable by up to 15 years, but the number of cases of rape is severely underreported as patriarchal structures treat rape more as a social problem than as a crime. The perpetrators usually go free. Women’s general lack of income and financial independence is likely to play a major role in the unwillingness to report. During the civil war, it is estimated that one third of the country’s women are subjected to sexual abuse.

Genital mutilation is permitted from the age of five and UNICEF estimates that 80-90 percent of the country’s women have been subjected to the abuse. There are also reports of children killed by the procedure.

By ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child and instituting a national children’s law, Sierra Leone took steps in 2007 to improve the children’s situation. Child marriage and the recruitment and trafficking of children were prohibited. However, in some areas, children are still exposed to extremely dangerous and heavy tasks in diamond mining. Problems also remain with the presence of street children, child prostitution and the re-adjustment of former child soldiers.

Homosexuality is prohibited by law and the sentence scale goes up to ten years in prison. The hate crime “corrective rape”, which means that lesbian women are raped by men for “cure”, is common.

In 2011, a law was passed that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, but unemployment is high in the country and people with disabilities have little chance of getting a job. During the war, thousands of people were mutilated by the rebels through cruel methods, which resulted in a large group of people lacking the opportunity to support themselves and being banished for begging for their survival.

Heads of State


1971-85 Siaka Stevens
1985-92 Joseph Saidu Momoh
1992-96 Valentine Strasser
1996-97 Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
1997-98 the Military
1998-2007 Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
2007-18 Ernest Bai Koroma
2018- Julius Maada Bio

Sierra Leone Head of Government

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