Sierra Leone Provinces

Provincial Differences in Sierra Leone

The Republic of Sierra Leone is composed of three provinces: the Northern Province, Southern Province and the Eastern Province and one other region called the Western Area. The western area is not a province but a territory. The provinces are further divided into districts, and the districts are further divided into chiefdoms. Districts are names as follows:

West: Western Area Urban (Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone) and Western Area Rural. (Area = 557 km² and Population = 947,122).
Kono, Kailahun and Kenema (contains the Kenama, capital of province) (Area = 15,553 km² and Population = 1,187,532)
Bombali, Tonkolili, Kambia, Koinadugu, (contains Makeni, capital of province) and Port Loko (Area = 35,936 km² and Population = 1,718,240).
Bonthe, Moyamba, Bo (district also contains Bo city, capital of province) and Pujehun. (Area = 19,694 km² and Population = 1,377,067)

The provinces have a great degree of ethnic diversity between them. In fact the Sierra Leone government officially recognizes sixteen ethnic groups across these provinces, and each ethnic group has its own language and custom. The two largest and most dominant are the Mende that predominate in the South-Eastern Provinces and Temne that likewise predominate in the Northern Province and the Western Area. Sierra Leone's national politics centers on the competition between the north, dominated by the Temne and the south-east dominated by the Mende.

Geographically, too these provinces are fairly distinct. The eastern region is mountainous. The Northern Province is mainly hilly wooded area with mountainous area farther inland while the south is rain-forested plains and farmland. In the West, Sierra Leone has a large Atlantic coastline, giving it both marine resources and attractive tourist potential. Unlike other provinces, Western province is mainly urban centers.

The Western Area is the wealthiest region in Sierra Leone, having the largest economy, financial and cultural center, as well as the seat of the country's national government. Those in Western province (which contains the more developed capital Freetown) are far more economically advantaged than their counterparts in the East, North and South and also more likely to have more than just a primary education (see chart 1 for SES- socio economic status, education and language differences).

Chart 1

  • Besides access to education and higher socio-economic standards, an additional language barrier also exists for respondents living outside the western province (chart C). Those in the west are most likely to grow up speaking Krio as their mother tongue; with greater access to higher education and better standards of living, they are most likely to also speak English as well. Mende is the principal vernacular of the South (of the Mende ethnic tribe) and Temne of the north (of the Temne ethnic tribe), and chart C reflects their high popularity in those regions.
  • In addition, the respondents in the East, South and North are more likely to be farmers and fishermen while their counterparts are more likely to have more urban occupations such petty traders, businessmen, etc.

Chart 2

  • As a result of these difference in ethnicities, languages, geography, socioeconomic status and education, there are marked differences in media and ICT use in each of these provinces which will be described as follows.

Radio Use and Access

  • Computer and internet access remains rare. Even television ownership and viewership is a luxury, and cannot be referred to as a source of information for anyone but the elites. In this scenario, radio is the most important and accessible medium for all Sierra Leoneans.

Chart 3

  • More than 90 percent of Western respondents have household access to radio. Access is only 60 percent for those in the South, and the other two regions have close to 80 percent household access.
  • In terms of frequencies, shortwave has a greater audience in the North, while those in the West would be most likely to be able to listen to FM or VHF radio.

Chart 4

  • In addition, the largest proportion of respondents chose radio as their most important source of information among other sources (chart 3) such as TV, newspapers, friends, billboards, mobile phones, etc. While those in the West rely almost exclusively on radio for getting most of their information, those in the three other less developed provinces also rely on town criers (4-9 percent) and their community leaders (4-13 percent). Respondents in the North are most likely to rely on religious leaders (six percent), while those in the east also get limited information from seminars and workshops (five percent).
  • For health information, the highest proportion of Westerners in Sierra Leone listed radio as their most important source. On the other hand, only 20% of Southerners said they rely on radio for health information. Close to 70 percent of them rely on health centers, doctors or clinics. The corresponding reliance of Westerners on these sources was only 14 percent of respondents. In the East and North, respondents said that health centers are only half as important as radio. Those in the north are also most likely to rely to some extent on their neighbors/ friends and traditional healers (nine percent and six percent respectively).

Chart 5 Sierra Leone: Other Listening Habits
Percent of those who said they listened to the radio at the following locations or in the following way

  • As mentioned earlier, a language barrier exists between Westerners and those in other provinces which in turn also affects their listening habits. Westerners are most likely to listen to listen in English and Krio (chart 4C). This might not be serious impediment, as some radio stations broadcast in a variety of languages (especially broadcasts in Mende in the south are common), but the inability to comprehend some languages probably limits their choice.
  • Respondents were also asked to name a language in which they would prefer to hear radio broadcasts, and it was here also that a divide was seen among the provinces. Seventy percent of those in the South chose Mende (the local language of the South) as their most preferred language. Those in the West chose Krio, and those in the north preferred Temne.

Popular Radio Stations

While the UN radio network and the SLBS lead in radio listenership on a national level and sometimes on a provincial level, there are several regionally-based radio stations that challenge them in popularity. If we narrow the scope further to the district level, we have found that many community or municipal-based radio stations have a considerable following. These local stations often broadcast local programming and/or broadcast in multiple languages. Many of these local community radio stations are a part of Sierra Leone’s Independent Radio Network (IRN). The mission of the IRN is to create a national information network that drives positive social change in Sierra Leone through enhancing media pluralism, as well as expand and professionalize the media sector by supporting the capacity development of media stakeholders. The IRN and its collaboration with the Search for Common Ground is further explored in the Country Overview Radio section.

Chart 6

One of these popular local stations is Radio Freetown with 21 percent of respondents residing in Freetown listening to the station at least weekly. Another key player in the radio scene is Cotton Tree News (CTN), supported by the Fondation Hirondelle. CTN is a daily radio news package recorded out of the studios of Mount Aureol at Fourah Bay College located at the Univeristy of Sierra Leone. Each news package is fed by satellite to leading community radio stations throughout the country. News in English, Krio, Limba, Mende and Temne can also be heard on short wave for listeners out of range of FM transmitters. About 20 percent of respondents who live in the Western province said they listen to CTN radio news at least weekly.

Chart 7

On the district-level local stations have obtained high levels of success, within the Kailahun district Eastern Radio and Radio Moa have weekly listenerships of 65 percent and 63 percent respectively. In the Kenema Eastern Radio is also relatively successful with a weekly listenership of about 31 percent. Other stations with strong listenership are Kiss FM and Radio Nongowa with weekly listenerships of 34 percent and 28 percent respectively.

Chart 8

Similar to the previously discussed provinces, there are a number of popular local radio stations. Radio Wanjei, the Pujehan district’s only community radio station, has a daily listenership of 45 percent among local respondents. Radio Wanjei is a crucial news and entertainment outlet for a district that is considered to be one of the country’s most underdeveloped and was a flash point for violence when the country’s civil war began in 1991. The radio market in the Bonthe district, which consists of several islands and is Sierra Leone’s least populated district, has a number of popular local stations despite its size. Both Kiss FM and Radio Mattru Jong, the name of the district capital, have weekly listenerships of 82 percent among local respondents. Radio Bontico 96.4 is another success community radio station in the Bonthe district with a weekly listenership of 50 percent. All three radio stations are members of the IRN.

Chart 9

A number of other IRN-affiliated radio stations are popular within the Northern Province. Radio Kolenten, initially supported by the international NGO Action Aid, brought in a weekly listenership of 55 percent of respondents residing in the Kambia district. Similarly, in the Koinadugu district Radio Bintumani has a strong weekly listenership of 40 percent of district respondents. Radio Bintumani established in 2003 is a critically important outlet as it is the area’s main form of communication on issues such as health, agriculture and women’s rights.

Another popular local radio station is Radio Maria 101, a station owned by the Catholic Mission in Makeni and part of a larger international Catholic radio network. The station’s weekly listenership is substantial in both the Tonkolili and Bombali districts, 58 percent and 40 percent respectively.

Other Media use and access

  • Besides radio, very few media technologies and ICTs reach most of Sierra Leone. The only other medium that comes a distant second are mobile phones. Household access is highest in West and South Provinces where more than half or respondents said they have a phone. It is lowest in East Province, where only around one in four said they have one. The availability of mobile phones in the most underdeveloped regions in the South reflects less of an urban bias than one might expect. The mobile phone has spread to all parts of the country and although the distribution is not perfectly equitable, the regional differences are not large.
  • Other media technologies such as televisions are equally rare for people in the East, North and South; but those in the West have remarkably higher access to televisions, antennas and VCR/DVD players in their households. Computers are practically unavailable to all Sierra Leoneans.

Chart 10

  • In this scenario, rather than identifying which respondents were regular media users, it was more useful to see whether the respondents had ever used the following technologies (Chart 6). The results were indeed quite dismal, as only close to 10 percent of those in the East, North and South had ever read a newspaper. Those in the West, (with higher education levels too) were far more likely to have read one (chart 6).

Chart 11

  • With television too, half of all respondents in the West had watched television, whereas in the East and South, only a handful of respondents had done the same. The reason that there are a higher proportion of viewers in the North than expected is probably because they can view Guinean TV. In the West, our respondents were somewhat equally likely to have watched television at home and at neighbors.