The ethnically diverse population consisted of 18 ethnic groups of African origin, and many spoke distinct languages and were concentrated outside urban areas. In addition there were significant ethnic Lebanese and Indian minorities, and small groups of European and Pakistani origin. Little ethnic segregation
was apparent in urban areas, where interethnic marriage was common. The two largest ethnic groups are the Temne in the North and the Mende in the South. These groups each constituted an estimated 30 percent of the population; however, the Krio, 7 percent of the population, have historically
dominated the civil service and judiciary. Strong ethnic loyalties, bias, and stereotypes existed among all ethnic groups. The Temne and Mende have vied historically for political power, and the violence during the 11-year civil war had some ethnic undertones. Ethnic loyalty remains an important factor in the government, the armed forces, and business. Complaints of ethnic discrimination in government appointments, contract assignment, and military promotions were common under the former SLPP and current APC governments.
Residents of non-African descent faced some institutionalized discrimination, particularly in the areas of citizenship and nationality. The 1973 Citizenship Act, as amended in 2006, restricts citizenship by birth only to persons of "Negro-African descent," effectively denying citizenship to many locally born residents, most notably the six to seven thousand-strong Lebanese community. Non-"Negro-African" persons may apply for naturalization, but all applications must be approved personally by the president. No president has done so since the end of the civil war in 2002. In May the government announced new procedures whereby "non-Africans" who have lived in Sierra Leone for at least eight years (two for foreigners married to Sierra Leonean citizens) may apply for naturalization. The president must still approve all applications personally.
A small percentage of the Lebanese population was naturalized during a previous period of government leniency, and they enjoy the full rights of
citizenship, such as suffrage, access to health care and education, and the right to purchase freehold land. However, naturalized citizens not of "Negro- African" descent cannot transmit citizenship to their children born in the country; these children must apply for naturalization if they want to become citizens. While not entitled to the rights of citizens, nonnaturalized persons born in the country are entitled to a Sierra Leonean passport, and many Lebanese Sierra Leoneans travel on one without difficulty.
The Lebanese community reported no cases of overt discrimination based on race or nationality, although community leaders stressed that, even though many Lebanese families have resided in the country since the 1880s, they still feel alienated from the indigenous population.