Extremist Threat to Sierra Leone: A 12 Month Outlook


    Following the closure of a bloody civil war in 2002, Sierra Leone attempted to overcome its past and join the community of functioning nation-states in west Africa. In recent years, however, incidents of terrorism and extremism have spiked in regions bordering Sierra Leone. On top of this, protests against the government’s policies have resulted in festering levels of resentment among Sierra Leone’s youth. The state of Sierra Leone’s economy is also poor. The government’s response to these protests leaves much room for improvement. The overall situation in the country appears stable, with a limited risk of protracted terror campaigns. 

    KJ-1: There is a realistic probability that the poor state of Sierra Leone’s economy will fuel further public resentment in the next 12 months.

    • GDP growth projections for 2022 rest at 4%. This is due in part to the recovery of the mining, construction and agricultural sectors. As a result of increased government revenues, the fiscal deficit will decrease to 4.4% of GDP this year as well [source]. 
    • While these indicators are expected to move in the right direction, inflation remains high at 16.8% [source].
    • Youth unemployment stands at 70% and over half of the population is still beneath the poverty line [source].
    • Moreover, the country is particularly vulnerable to a hike in fuel and food prices. A drop in the price of iron ore could be economically damaging [source]. 
    • Sierra Leone’s iron mines were non-operational in 2020. This was due to the confiscation of foreign mining rights and the closure of Chinese-backed mines [source]. 
    • Sierra Leone is highly vulnerable to climate-related instability, an issue expected to worsen in the next 12 months [source].
    • Anti-government protests resulted in several fatalities in August as security forces cracked down on demonstrations in Freetown [source]. 

    KJ-2: It is unlikely that Sierra Leone will experience protracted terrorist attacks in the next 12 months. 

    • Sierra Leone harbored Hezbollah-linked militants since the late 1980s [source], [source]. 
    • Yasser Arafat signed a deal with then-President Joseph Momoh to station a PLO training camp in the country [source]. 
    • Al-Qaeda-linked militants were detained in 2004 after attempting to re-enter Sierra Leone from Pakistan [source].
    • It is believed that illicit blood diamonds from mines in Sierra Leone were purchased by members of al-Qaeda in the early 2000s. Al-Qaeda operatives in Liberia purchased the raw gems [source].
    • Despite the past links to terror groups, Sierra Leone has not experienced a terror-related incident as of September 2022 [source].
    • According to the US Department of State, criminal gangs pose a higher risk to foreign travellers than do foreign extremists [source]. 
    • Sierra Leone’s military received training from the United States through the Africa Contingency Operations Training & Assistance (ACOTA) program, mostly focusing on infantry tactics [source].
    • Insurgent groups, such as the RUF, are at a disadvantage in Sierra Leone due to the remote and inhospitable nature of the jungle wilderness [source].
    • Sierra Leone made great progress in counter-proliferation efforts of small arms. This includes registering over 95% of government-owned weapons, destroying old stockpiles and interagency collaboration on small arms sales reduction [source].
    • Attempts to involve Sierra Leone nationals with Islamic extremist groups are generally unsuccessful. To date, there are no known current links between Sierra Leone nationals and jihadist groups abroad [source]. 

    KJ-3: It is likely that the production and trade in diamonds and gold from Sierra Leone will decrease in the next 12 months. 

    • A new diamond mine in Tongo sold its first rough diamonds in Antwerp last May [source]. 
    • However, operations ceased that same month after a fall-of-ground incident resulted in a fatality. Operations only re-commenced in June [source].
    • Production levels in Kono and Kenema have gradually lowered this year due to the over-extraction from easy-to-mine surface layers [source]. 
    • Moreover, artisanal miners suffer from a lack of resources such as geological data and heavy equipment capable of reaching the undeleted geological layers [source]. 
    • Gold production has been steadily declining since at least 2019 [source], [source]. 
    • New legislation passed in Sierra Leone ensures that the affected communities approve all future mining projects. Those residents now hold veto power over any future agricultural and industrial development [source]. 
    • Garben Harringsman, a mining official with Socfin, indicated that the company will decline to seek future developments or investments in the country’s mining sector as a result. This in turn could potentially harm the wider economy [source]. 

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: September 19, 2022

    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith is a graduate of the MSC International Relations program of the University of Aberdeen and holds an LLB in Global Law from Tilburg University. He works in the private sector in field investigations and security.

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