Sierra Leone



The British established a colony at Freetown in 1787 for slaves returning to Africa from Great
Britain and the United States and for slaves rescued from shipwrecks. The land of original
settlement, where the city later developed, was purchased from local chiefs.
The Sierra Leone Company, formed in 1791, administered the settlement until 1808, when it
became a crown colony. Britain set up a protectorate over the hinterland of Freetown in 1896. The
British were relatively nice towards the people of Sierra Leone. While they provided what they
could for the colony, they also illegally smuggled the nation’s diamonds to other countries. The
first elections for the legislative council were held under the constitution of 1924. In 1950 the
National Council of Sierra Leone was formed by the Creole (Krio) elite with the purpose of
preserving and continuing the elevated status that the Krios enjoyed in the country. One year later
Milton Margai helped form the Sierra Leone People’s Party (Harris pg. 247). The ministerial
system was introduced in 1953, and Sir Milton Margai, a former physician and leader of the Sierra
Leone People’s Party (SLPP), was appointed chief minister in 1954 and prime minister in 1960
(Decalo pg. 452).
Sierra Leone gained independence on April 27, 1961. Their independence did not have to be
fought for, it was simply given to them by the British. Following the elections of 1962, Margai
remained Prime Minister. Margai died in 1964 and was succeeded by his half-brother, Albert
Margai (Cutter pg. 60). In 1967, as a result of fake elections, in which Siaka Stevens, leader of the
All People’s Congress (APC), was elected prime minister, the army staged a coup d’état and
organized a National Reformation Council (NRC). After another army revolt in 1968, civilian
government was restored, and Stevens returned to power. Sierra Leone was declared a republic on
April 19, 1971, and Stevens was sworn in as executive president. Opposition to the government
was gradually eliminated; in elections held in May 1973, the APC was unopposed. In 1975 Sierra
Leone signed a trade and aid agreement with the European Community (now the European Union)
and helped form the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
In 1978 a new constitution made the country a one-party state, and Stevens was sworn in for a
new seven year term in office. The APC was, thereafter, the only legal party. In the early 1980s
Sierra Leone suffered an economic slowdown, as sagging export revenues left the government
unable to pay for essential imports. In November 1985 Stevens retired, and Major General Joseph
Saidu Momoh was sworn in as president the following January. A coup attempt was suppressed in
March 1987, and in November the president declared a state of economic emergency. Early in
1991 guerrillas spilling over from the Liberian civil war captured several towns near the Liberian
border; Guinea and Nigeria supplied military aid to the Sierra Leone government to contain the
threat. As government forces fought back the Liberian guerrillas, a Sierra Leonean rebel group,
The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Sprang up to take territory of its own, and a brutal civil
war followed. A new constitution providing for a multiparty system was adopted in September. In
April 1992, however, Momoh was ousted in a military coup and replaced by Captain Valentine
Strasser. Strasser’s government reduced street crime and lowered inflation from 115 percent to 15
percent. This allowed the country to receive more than $300 million in global aid packages.
Strasser was accused of restricting free press practices, having his political enemies executed, and
for continuing the civil war. In 1994 he endorsed a two-year transition to multiparty democracy,
with elections scheduled for 1996. (Conteh-Morgan, Dixon-Fyle pp. 125-132)
Six weeks before the scheduled elections in late February, Strassers was removed from power
in a bloodless coup by his defense minister, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. Bio pledged to hold free
elections as planned, but insisted that an end to Sierra Leone’s devastating five-year-long civil war
was necessary for a successful transfer to civilian rule. The elections were held on February 26 and
27. In a runoff vote, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP was elected president. (Conteh-Morgan,
Dixon-Fyle, pg. 136)
Kabbah served as president until May 1997, when he was ousted in yet another military coup.
The military junta, an alliance of disillusioned junior army officers, escaped prisoners, and
members of the RUF, faced immediate international condemnation and economic sanctions.
Nigerian troops taking part in a peacekeeping force in neighboring Liberia quickly responded by
mounting an offensive against rebel forces. In February 1998