The name Sierra Leone was adapted from the Portuguese name for the country: Serra Leoa, who landed there in 1462. During the 1700s, Sierra Leone was an important centre of the transatlantic slave trade. Freed slaves founded the capital Freetown in 1791.
Sierra Leone became a British Crown Colony, which it remained until 1961. From 1991 to 2002 the country suffered greatly under a devastating rebel war.
Before the outbreak of war, corruption and mismanagement in the diamond sector was one of the main reasons why Sierra Leone became, according to UN figures, the poorest country in the world. With the breakdown of state structures and the effective suppression of civilian opposition through the one-party government, wide corridors were opened for trafficking of arms, ammunition and drugs, all of which eroded national/regional security and facilitated crime within the country and between Sierra Leone and Liberia and even Guinea.
Besides these internal tensions, the brutal civil war going on in neighbouring Liberia played an important role for the actual outbreak of fighting. Charles Taylor, a former president of Liberia sponsored the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) as a means of destabilising Sierra Leone. The RUF terrorised the entire country in order to overthrow the democratically elected president in 1997, ultimately they gained control of the diamond mines around Kono.
After 10 months, the junta was driven away by ECOMOG-troops and the president was reintroduced. In July 1999, a peace accord was signed by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the RUF-leader Foday Sankoh, followed by the biggest ever peacekeeping mission of UN-forces in the 1990s.
However, until 2002, when the war was officially declared to be over, the RUF continued to terrorise the people, and to destroy the economic and social infrastructure. The war left tens of thousands of people dead or, mutilated and over 2 million displaced. In the same year Ahmad Tejan Kabbah won a landslide victory in elections. His Sierra Leone People’s Party secured a majority in parliament. The last UN peacekeepers withdrew in December 2005, leaving full responsibility of security with domestic forces.
In March 2006 Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor was arrested in Nigeria and handed over to the war crimes court in Sierra Leone which indicted him. In June 2007 the war crimes trial against Taylor start in The Hague, where he stands accused of instigating atrocities in Sierra Leone.
In August 2007 Ernest Bai Koroma won the presidency and his All People’s Congress, formerly in opposition, won a majority in parliament.