Advertising sign at the border of Sierra Leone

Economic situation Weak infrastructure is slowing development

The government of Sierra Leone has been following a market-oriented reform policy since 2012. The formal economy continues to rely heavily on commodity exports, however – and all other goods need to be imported.

Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources (iron ore, diamonds, gold, bauxite, coffee, cocoa), but the government has thus far been unable to ensure that the wider population profits from these resources. Most people’s livelihoods depend on small and micro enterprises in the informal sector.

The Ebola crisis (2014/15) and a collapse in international commodity prices had a major impact on Sierra Leone’s economic situation – its economy shrank by 20 per cent in 2015. There was some recovery in the years that followed, but the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 2.2 per cent in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated growth of 5.9 per cent for 2022.

The government’s attempts to stimulate tourism proved initially successful, but were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Potential investors are deterred by the lack of legal certainty, in particular when it comes to land rights, and by the weak infrastructure. There are only a handful of paved highways, transport routes are deficient even in urban areas, and there is no centralised water supply, proper waste disposal or sewage system. Only about a quarter of the population of Sierra Leone currently has access to electricity. The majority of companies and governmental institutions rely on diesel generators. Private households primarily use local biomass (wood or charcoal) to meet their energy needs – resulting in deforestation and environmental degradation.

The government aims to supply all of the country’s cities and local districts with electricity by 2023, and intends to significantly expand its use of solar energy and hydropower in particular.

As at: 03/02/2022