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FACTBOX-Sierra Leone, a rising African star?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 16 Nov 2012 23:06 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Nov 17 (Reuters) - Here is a look at Sierra Leone as it heads to presidential polls on Saturday:

* EXPLOSIVE GROWTH: The West African country is poised to be one of the world's fastest growing nations this year thanks to the start-up of the first iron ore exports since a 1991-2002 civil war. The IMF sees gross domestic product increasing by 21.3 percent in 2012 - revised down from more than 50 percent after some delays to iron ore shipments. Growth will ease back to 7.5 percent in 2013, the IMF said.

* OIL FRONTIER: Aside from its rich iron ore, gold and diamond deposits, Sierra Leone is also in one of the most promising regions for offshore oil exploration. Anadarko Petroleum Corp said in February it struck oil, but is still studying whether the deposit is commercially viable. Oil exploration off West Africa has surged since Ghana found its giant Jubilee field in 2007.

* BLESSING OR CURSE?: Both President Ernest Bai Koroma and his challenger, former junta leader Julius Maada Bio, are considering big changes to the way the country manages its resource wealth, amid allegations of graft and unfair contracts. Concerns are high among the population that the cash generated by mining, agriculture and oil will not benefit them, and instead be squandered by government corruption and mismanagement.

* TROUBLED PAST: Sierra Leone's potentially bright resource-driven future contrasts with its dark past. It won independence from Britain in 1961 and suffered years of dictatorship, coup attempts and corrupt rule. President Siaka Stevens made it a one-party state in 1978, quit in 1985 aged 80 and chose former army chief Joseph Momoh as his successor, leading to a civil war. Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebelled against Momoh in 1991, starting a decade of fighting that killed some 50,000 people.

Sources Reuters/Transparency International/World Bank/UNICEF (Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)

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