Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa that is bordered by Guinea to the northeast, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. Sierra Leone is a Constitutional Republic with a directly elected president and a Unimerical Legislature. The country has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savannah to rainforests. The country covers a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi) and has an estimated population of 6 million.
Sierra Leone is divided into four administrative regions: the Northern Province, Eastern Province, Southern Province and the Western Area; which are subdivided into 14 districts. The districts have their own directly elected local government known as district council, headed by a council chairman. Freetown is the capital, largest city as well as its economic, commercial and political centre. Since the independence, Sierra Leone’s politics has been dominated by two major political parties, the Sierra Leone People’s Party and the All People’s Congress.
Sierra Leone has relied on mining, especially diamonds, for its economic base. The country is among the largest producers of titanium and bauxite, and a major producer of gold. The country has one of the world’s largest deposits of rutile. Sierra Leone is also home to the third largest natural harbour in the world, where shipping from all over the globe berth at Freetown’s famous Queen Elizabeth II Quay. Despite this natural wealth, 70% of its people live in poverty.
Sierra Leone is predominantly a Muslim country, though with an influential Christian minority. The country is highly rated of its interreligious tolerance and cooperation, primarily among the country’s two major religions, Islam and Christianity, which together make up about 98% of the country’s population. People are often married across ethnic and religious boundaries. Muslims and Christians collaborate and interact with each other peacefully. Religious violence is very rare in the country.
The population of Sierra Leone comprises about sixteen ethnic groups, each with its own language and custom. The two largest and most influential are the Temne and the Mende. The Temne are predominantly found in the north of the country; while the Mende are predominantly found in the south-east of the country. The Temne and Mende have historically been chief political rivals, though the Mende have had a long history of political dominance of Sierra Leone far more than the Temne.
Although English is the language of instruction in schools and the official language in government administration, the Krio Language (derived from English and several indigenous African languages) is the primary language of communication among Sierra Leone’s different ethnic groups, and is spoken by 90% of the country’s population. The Krio Language unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other.
In 1462, the area that is now Sierra Leone was visited by the Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra, who named it Serra Leoa, meaning “Lioness Mountains”. Sierra Leone later became an important centre of the transatlantic trade in slaves until 11 March 1792 when Freetown was founded by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for former slaves freed by the British Empire. In 1808, Freetown became a British Crown Colony, and in 1896, the interior of the country became a British Protectorate. Between 1991 and 2002 the Sierra Leone Civil War devastated the country leaving more than 50,000 people dead, much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed, and over two million people displaced in neighbouring countries as refugees.
Tonkolili District is in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone although geographically in the centre of the country. Its capital and largest city is Magburaka. The other major towns include Mabonto, Bumbuna, Makali, Masingbi, Yele, Bendugu, Mile 91, Yonibana and Matotoka. The District is divided into 11 Chiefdoms. Tonkolili is the location of a huge iron ore mine being developed by the UK listed African Minerals who have built a 200 km cape gauge railway to Port Pepel and on to the deeper waters of Tagrin Bay. Output from the mine has reached 20m tonnes per annum.
Down the dirt road half an hour’s drive from Magburaka in the midst of the jungle, the tiny village of Masanga is situated. Masanga means over the river, since the village is situated right next to a river. Somewhere between 800 and 1200 people reside here and the population is rising. The centre of Masanga village is at the hospital gates and the village stretches along up the main road and all the way Down to the river behind the hospital compound.
Masanga Hospital was formerly run by the Adventist church and consequently there is a large adventist population here much unlike the rest of the country. Further, since Masanga hospital used to be a leprosy hospital the village houses many former leprosy patients who have settled in the tolerant community. As a consequence the Lepra Society has a strong influence on the village. Many of the residents are employed directly or indirectly within the rehabilitation project but most also do traditional farming on the side.