Poverty levels in Sierra Leone are high, with health shocks like the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak and the current COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating economic hardship in the country. At least 57% of the population live below the poverty line, while 11% are in extreme poverty (Government of Sierra Leone, 2019a). The economy had been showing some turnaround, with gross domestic product growth in 2019 projected at 5.4%, its highest rate since 2016, but due to disruptions in global trade, travel restrictions, and domestic limitations on mobility as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank (2020) now estimates that the economy will contract by 2.3% to 4% this year.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the government’s 2019 Budget Speech had prioritized macroeconomic stability, fiscal discipline, and the creation of an enabling environment for sustainable growth, reforms that were commended by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Government of Sierra Leone, 2019b). The government's performance in handling the economy also received the highest approval ratings, compared to other sectors, in the 2019 Bio-Meter, a citizen-driven initiative assessing progress of the administration of President Julius Maada Bio in fulfilling its campaign promises (Institute for Governance Reform & Sensi Hub, 2019). But in the 2020 Budget Speech, the minister of finance acknowledged that the government's financial and economic interventions had not yet overcome what he described as a legacy of mismanagement to produce tangible changes in poverty rates (Government of Sierra Leone, 2019b).
Findings from the most recent Afrobarometer survey confirm that economic reforms have not translated materially for citizens. After some optimism with the change in government in 2018, the proportion of Sierra Leoneans who say the country is going in the right direction declined significantly in 2020, mirroring the precipitous drop in satisfaction with the direction of the country during the Ebola period in 2015. Very few citizens believe the government is doing a good job of handling the economy, and large majorities experience shortages of food, clean water, and other basic necessities. Citizens in the opposition-controlled Western and Northern regions are especially bleak in their outlook, but even in the East and South, for many, "di gron still dry."