Rule of Law in Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone Army experienced a bloody civil war against the Revolutionary United Front from 1991 to 2002. At the time, the state of fragility and rule of law in Sierra Leone was abysmal. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) designed to end the civil war, almost collapsed in 2000 after the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) kidnapped hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers. To rescue UNAMSIL, the United Kingdom began a military intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, bringing the nation away from state failure. This military intervention defeated the RUF, ended Sierra Leone’s civil war and helped Sierra Leone develop a counterinsurgency doctrine. As the civil war ended, Sierra Leone has significantly democratized with three peaceful transfers of power since 2002.

Rule of Law

Today, Sierra Leone’s state of rule of law is magnitudes better than during the Sierra Leone civil war. While the country does have a basic judiciary system to enforce the law, corruption issues and unequal treatment of civilians still plague Sierra Leon’s court and policing system.

Sierra Leone’s police force suffers from a grave lack of accountability for extrajudicial killings and physical abuse. In December 2007, authorities did not hold any police officer to account for shooting and killing two demonstrators protesting a diamond mining company. Additionally, in 2012, authorities did not place blame on any police for the killing of two young men at Calaba Town without evidence that those young men had weapons. Sierra Leone police have also not received blame for shooting dead a motorcyclist they mistook for a bank robber in 2012. Sierra Leone has an endemic issue of police accountability and the Complaint Discipline and Internal Investigations Department (CDIID), a body designed to investigate police complaints is a body exclusively made up of police members. While this body has occasionally taken action for professional misconduct, the department has not investigated serious abuses or any of the abuses above.

Corruption in Sierra Leon’s Judiciary System

While Sierra Leone’s corruption in its judiciary system has improved, Sierra Leone’s court system still suffers from widespread corruption. The Sierra Leonean courts suffer from a lack of legitimacy as 32% of Sierra Leonean citizens say they trust the courts “somewhat” or “a lot” and 47% of Sierra Leone citizens say that “most” or “all” judges and magistrates are corrupt as of 2017. While defendants had the right to legal counsel, many defendants did not receive this right. The attorneys were often overworked and many defendants who could not pay for an outside attorney were not able to obtain pre-trial legal counsel or aid as of 2020. Luckily, Sierra Leone does not hold political prisoners and still maintains a relatively independent judicial system while the law, in theory, provides the right for every defendant in Sierra Leone to have a fair trial.


In terms of political institutions, Sierra Leone is relatively stable. Since the end of the civil war, Sierra Leone has had three peaceful transfers of power in democratic elections. While Sierra Leone’s democratic institutions are functioning relatively well for a newer and poorer democracy, the threat of political violence is pervasive as 80% of Sierra Leoneans believe that politics almost always leads to violence.

Sierra Leone has come a long way since 1991. Fragility and rule of law in Sierra Leone today are orders of magnitude better than in 1991. The country has a relatively stable political landscape while suffering from an undercurrent of political violence as of 2022. Corruption permeates Sierra Leone’s criminal justice system and while in theory, every defendant receives the right to legal counsel, the system still does not equally apply it to all defendants in practice. Sierra Leone is relatively democratic with relatively free and fair elections and they have not suffered from mass political violence since the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Alexander Richter
Photo: Flickr

Sierra Leone's Poverty RateFrom the 1991 through 2002 civil war – which resulted in over 50,000 deaths and two million displaced people – to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 which took the lives of 3,955 people, Sierra Leone’s poverty rate has continually reflected its tempestuous history.

The brutal civil war between the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Joseph Momoh’s government ravaged the country, specifically the economy. National output plummeted, internal debt skyrocketed and a national budget that should have been utilized to develop infrastructure and increase labor productivity was instead used to fund the conflict. All of this resulted in an increase in Sierra Leone’s poverty rate, increasing food insecurities and limiting access to education.

However, after the end of the war in 2002, Sierra Leone began making substantial social progress. As one report states, “The country has made tremendous strides since the cessation of conflict to establish good governance and consolidate peace and security, and is often cited as a success story in peacebuilding.”

Much of this has to do with the formation and implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as well as the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). These commissions have helped reconcile the violent realities of the civil war while rebuilding social trust through war crime accountability.

In addition, economic growth also followed the end of the civil war. In 2002, the country’s GDP was $1.239 billion, and by 2014 it had risen to $5.05 billion. Sierra Leone’s poverty rate fell alongside the growing economy from 66.4 percent of the population in 2003 to 52.9 percent in 2011.

Come 2014, the country took another grueling blow as Ebola swept across the nation, infecting 14,122 people and bringing the country to a virtual standstill. Travel bans were implemented, workers began staying home in fear of the virus and the economy began to suffer. The GDP fell from its previous high of $5.05 billion in 2014 to $3.669 billion in 2016.

Because of the devastating effect of Ebola, as another World Bank study reports, “many households lack capital to reopen their business and non-farm household enterprises—nearly 1/3 of the country’s workforce—report lower revenues than before the Ebola crisis.” Over 66 percent of families across the country reported being food insecure, and total working hours have still not returned to pre-Ebola rates.

Although the nation has continually battled high poverty rates, political corruption and foreign interventions, Sierra Leone’s potential is astronomical. The civil war has ended, Ebola has been eradicated and the country sits on vast deposits of mineral resources including diamonds, gold and iron ore.

Despite the adversity that Sierra Leone has faced, there is hope that the country will continue to stand determined in the face of controversy and hardship, taking one step at a time as it tries to overcome the scars of its past.

Joseph Dover

Photo: Flickr

Rebuilding Education in Sierra Leone
Before the Revolutionary United Front crossed from Liberia into Sierra Leone and started the 12-year war, Sierra Leone had one of the best education systems in Africa. Rebuilding education in Sierra Leone since has been a challenge and Ebola has made it even more difficult.

Only 48.09 percent of the population above the age of 15 in Sierra Leone are literate. Primary school enrollment is over 130 percent due to the amount of non primary school aged Sierra Leoneans who are attending classes because they missed out on educational services during the war. The UN estimates that 64 percent of primary aged children are enrolled in school.

During the 12 years of the war, there was no education unless the families fled to Guinea or Liberia. Out of the crisis of the civil war came an opportunity to ensure education would grow and enhance the livelihoods of Sierra Leoneans.

The Netherlands provided funding to the Cross Border Schools Project in Sierra Leone and has trained over 3,000 educators. After completing the training programs, teachers plan their own lessons and find their teaching methods are making a bigger impact.

Education in Sierra Leone is taken seriously by the government. Sierra Leone spends 14 percent of its national budget on education, which is much higher than most other countries in the region.

Other improvements have been made as well. 76 percent of Sierra Leonean children complete primary school and many go on to junior secondary education. However, 50 percent of primary school teachers still have no qualifications.

It cost $20 to send a Sierra Leonean to school and 70 percent of Sierra Leone families are living on less than a dollar a day. Poverty, child marriage, pregnancy and sexual abuse are the most significant barriers to education for girls in Sierra Leone.

UNICEF works on ensuring girls are attending school through building classrooms, providing sanitation facilities, training teachers and providing learning materials. The rights of girls in the classroom are protected through rights-based and gender-sensitive environments that helps girls succeed in the classroom.

Sierra Leone is still healing from the wounds left by the Revolutionary United Front during the civil war, but education is gradually improving and the youth are benefiting from the revival of education.

Donald Gering

Sources: Al Jazeera, Global Partnership, Social Progress Imperative, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2, UNICEF 3
Photo: Just Giving