Sierra Leone

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Republic of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone takes its name from the Portuguese Serra de Leão or "Lion Mountains," an early reference to the hills surrounding the present site of Freetown Harbor. Portugal was the first European nation to establish a trading post (at Freetown in 1495), joined later by the Dutch, French and British, all of whom utilized the region as a trading point for slaves throughout the 16th century. After the abolishment of slavery by most of Europe, Britain devised a plan to resettle many of its "black poor" in the nation, which prompted an influx of black and Asian immigrants from London, the West Indies and North America. Although initially resisted by the indigenous population, the colony of Freetown was eventually established and settled by these emigres, who intermarried and developed the Krio (or Creole) culture and language that predominates today.

Several unsuccessful revolts were mounted by indigenous people against British rule and the Krio population, the most notable of which was the Hut Tax War of 1898. Although defeat of the natives in the Hut Tax war ended large scale organised military resistance, intermittent rioting and chaotic labour disturbances would continue throughout much of the early 20th century.

Sierra Leone's progress towards independence was a gradual one, beginning in 1924 with its division into a Colony and a Protectorate, and followed in 1951 by drafting of a new constitution and a framework for decolonization. The nation would finally achieve its independence from the UK on 27 April 1961, with Milton Margai being elected Prime Minister. He was succeeded after his death in 1964 by his brother Sir Albert Margai.

Between 1967 and 1968, a succession of three military coups d'etat ended with Siaka Stevens assuming the position of Prime Minister, and creating a one-party state of Sierra Leone. Stevens gradually eliminated his political opponents, often by brutal means, and in 1971 declared the nation a republic with himself as president. Several attempts to remove Stevens from office during the 1970s failed, and most of the parties involved were executed. When he retired in 1985, Stevens named Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, commander of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces, as his successor. In 1989, six men were hanged for taking part in an unsuccessful coup to remove Momoh from office.

In October 1990, a constitution re-establishing a multi-party system was approved by Parliament, but lack of faith in the integrity of the Momoh government and concern over plans to impose violence on political opponents of the current regime prompted many to desert the dominating party and form the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). In the years that followed, the RUF (supported by Libera's National Patriotic Front of Liberia) waged a civil war against the government of Sierra Leone. Over the course of eleven years, the war would engage the services of the mercenary group Executive Outcomes in support of the Sierra Leone Army, involve Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces and a United Nations mission to stablize the country, and necessitate a military intervention by British paratroopers, marines, and special forces to evacuate foreign nationals in May 2000. In January 2002, the war was brought to an end by an official declaration by president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, marking the defeat of the RUF and a restoration of democratic government in Sierra Leone.

The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces consist of ground, naval and air elements. The Army was historically called the SLA (Sierra Leone Army), but is now generally referred to as the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) and is the largest branch of service with around 8,5000 personnel.

Camouflage Patterns of Sierra Leone

  • During the mid-1990s, many members of the SLA were outfitted in lizard pattern camouflage uniforms made in China, and probably sourced by Executive Outcomes. The same camouflage design has been worn by a large number of West African nations over the years.

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  • Various styles of woodland camouflage were worn by both the SLA and the RUF during the civil war, coming from a variety of sources. Woodland camouflage continues to be worn by the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) as well. Many variants have been documented, as seen clearly in the accompanying photo.

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  • Another camouflage design commonly encountered during the civil war and thereafter are variations of the tiger stripe design. Most were probably sourced commercially, and it is not known whether any contracts existed to supply official uniforms to the SLA, although members of the Army have certainly been documented wearing the pattern.

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  • Another pattern to emerge during the civil war period with the SLA was a leaf type camouflage having black, dark brown & dark olive green shapes on a light olive green base. This pattern is also worn by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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  • Most recently, the RSLAF has been outfitted by military training teams with British DPM pattern camouflage uniforms of a uniform style and design.

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  • A contingent of RSLAF troops deployed to Somalia as part of UNOSOM wearing tricolor desert camouflage. Information suggests these uniforms were supplied by the US Government.

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  • Conventional units of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) generally wear plain-colored uniforms, but the paramilitary Operational Support Division frequently deploys wearing various types of blue-colorway "urban" camouflage patterns. Most of these patterns appear to be based on m81 woodland drawings, but recent variants are based instead on DPM designs. A few examples are seen below.

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