April 19, 2012 - Republic Day in Sierra Leone

It's one of the top spots for diamonds in the world! There are diamonds in several regions, just lying about in alluvial sands—accessible to anyone with a shovel and sieve!

It's also a major producer of gold. Other minerals important to modern technology are mined in Sierra Leone, too, including titanium and bauxite (Sierra Leone is a leader in production of both!).

Yet Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world!

A major reason for Sierra Leone's economic woes is that it suffered from more than a decade of civil war. In the early 1960s, Sierra Leone declared its independence from the United Kingdom (a.k.a. Britain), and on this date in 1971, this West African nation became a republic. But in 1991, the Revolutionary United Front tried to oust the government, and shortly after there was a military coup d'etat; armies fought over diamond-rich land, and so-called “blood diamonds” were used to pay for more violence. Much of the nation's infrastructure was destroyed, more than two million people were displaced—mostly fleeing to other countries—and more than fifty thousand people were killed!

Those of us who live in countries that are ruled by law, that replace governments through elections, and that enjoy internal peace should not take these things for granted. Sierra Leone called itself a republic, had democratic institutions with elected officials such as a president and lawmakers, had a constitution that outlined the powers and responsibilities of the three branches of government—legislative, executive, and judiciary—but still, it did not have a longstanding history of rule by law and free elections. And despite the lip-service to democracy, it was ruled by small groups of military leaders that fought each other and dragged the whole country into battle. Since the civil war ended in 2002, things have been getting better and better. Thank goodness!

People who work in the tourist business in Sierra Leone are trying hard to change the war-torn image in people's minds and to encourage travel in their nation. Here is a video about this effort. Warning: there are some brutal images of violence and war in the middle section of the video, most from a movie called Blood Diamonds.

And here is an official tourism video with some great shots of beaches, chimpanzees, and jungle-covered mountains. 

Also on this date:

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