History of Sierra Leone
The history of Sierra Leone began when the land became inhabited by indigenous African peoples at least 2,500 years ago. Sierra Leone was founded by a famous Portuguese sailor named Pedro de Sintra. Sierra Leone has played a significant part in modern African political liberty and nationalism, and became independent from the United Kingdom in 1961.
Queen Elizabeth II declared that Sierra Leone would be part of the commonwealth. The Afro-European colony was founded by a British organization for freed American slaves on March 11, 1792. There were about 1,192 African Americans who were relocated from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone following the American Revolutionary War. The residents, including women, voted that year for the first time in elections for their officers. The people named this city Freetown. Later other liberated slaves also settled at Freetown. The descendants of the various waves of black settlers were collectively referred to as the Creoles or Krios.
Archaeological finds show that Sierra Leone has been inhabited continuously for at least 2,500 years, populated by successive movements of peoples from other parts of Africa. The use of iron was introduced to Sierra Leone by the 9th century, and by AD 1000 agriculture was being practiced by coastal tribes. Sierra Leone's dense tropical rainforest partly isolated the land from other precolonial African cultures and from the spread of Islam.
European contacts with Sierra Leone were among the first in West Africa. In 1462 Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra mapped the hills surrounding what is now Freetown Harbor, naming the oddly shaped formation Serra Lyoa (Lioness Mountain).
At this time the country was inhabited by numerous politically independent native groups. Several different languages were spoken, but there was similarity of religion. In the coastal rainforest belt there were Bulom speakers between the Sherbro and Freetown estuaries, Loko speakers north of the Freetown estuary to the Little Scarcies River, Temne speakers found at the mouth of the Scarcies River, and Limba speakers farther up the Scarcies.
In the hilly savannah north of all of these lands were the Susu and Fula tribes. The Susu traded regularly with the coastal peoples along river valley routes, bringing salt, clothes woven by the Fula, quality iron work, and gold.
European contact and slavery (15th century)
Portuguese ships began visiting regularly in the late 15th century, and for a while they maintained a fort on the north shore of the Freetown estuary. The estuary is one of the few good harbors on West Africa's surf-battered "Windward Shore" (Liberia to Senegal), and also has access to clean drinking water. It soon became a favorite destination of European mariners. Some of the Portuguese sailors stayed permanently, trading and intermarrying with the local people.
When Europeans first arrived at Sierra Leone, slavery among the African peoples of the area was rare. According to historian Walter Rodney, the Portuguese mariners kept detailed reports, and so it is likely if slavery had been an important local institution that the reports would have described it. There was mention of a very particular kind of slavery in the region, which was:
- a person in trouble in one kingdom could go to another and place himself under the protection of its king, whereupon he became a "slave" of that king, obliged to provide free labour and liable for sale. (Such a person would likely have retained some rights and had some opportunity to rise in status as time passed.)
If the Africans were not much interested in acquiring slaves, the Portuguese—as well as the Dutch, French, and English who arrived later—certainly were. Initially their method was to cruise the coast, conducting quick kidnapping raids when opportunities presented themselves. Soon, however, they found locals willing to partner with them in these affairs: some chiefs were willing to part with a few of the less desirable members of their tribes for a price; others went into the war business—a bevy of battle captives could be sold for a fortune in European rum, cloth, beads, copper, or muskets.
This early slaving was essentially an export business. The use of slaves as laborers by the local Africans appears to have developed only later. It may first have occurred under coastal chiefs in the late 18th century:
For example, in the late 18th century, chief William Cleveland had a large "slave town" on the mainland opposite the Banana Islands, whose inhabitants "were employed in cultivating extensive rice fields, described as being some of the largest in Africa at the time...." The existence of an indigenous slave town was recorded by an English traveler in 1823. Known in the Fula language as a rounde, it was connected with the Sulima Susu's capital city, Falaba. Its inhabitants worked at farming.
Rodney has postulated two means by which slaving for export could have caused a local practice of using slaves for labour to develop:
- Not all war captives offered for sale would have been bought by the Portuguese; e.g., weak or sick individuals would not be bought. Their captors would therefore have had to find something else to do with them. Rodney believes that executing them was rare and that usually they would have been used for local labor.
- There is a time lag between the time a slave is captured and the time he or she is bought. Thus there would often have been a pool of slaves awaiting sale; and while they waited they would have been put to work.
There are possible additional reasons for the adoption of slavery by the locals to meet their labour requirements:
- The Europeans provided an example for imitation.
- Once slaving in any form is taken up it may smash a moral barrier to exploitation, and make its adoption in other forms seem a relatively minor matter.
- Export slaving entailed the construction of a coercive apparatus which could have been subsequently turned to other ends, such as policing a captive labor force.
- The sale of local produce, e.g. palm kernels, to Europeans opened up a new sphere of economic activity. In particular it created an increased demand for agricultural labour. Slavery was a way of mobilizing an agricultural work force.
This local African slavery was much less harsh and brutal than the slavery practiced by Europeans on, for example, the plantations of the United States, West Indies, and Brazil. The local slavery has been described by anthropologist M. McCulloch:
[S]laves were housed close to the fresh tracts of land they cleared for their masters. They were considered part of the household of their owner, and enjoyed limited rights. It was not customary to sell them except for a serious offense, such as adultery with the wife of a freeman. Small plots of land were given to them for their own use, and they might retain the proceeds of crops they grew on these plots; by this means it was possible for a slave to become the owner of another slave. Sometimes a slave married into the household of his master and rose to a position of trust; there is an instance of a slave taking charge of a chiefdom during the minority of the heir. Descendants of slaves were often practically indistinguishable from freemen.
Slaves were sometimes sent on errands outside the kingdoms of their masters and returned voluntarily. Speaking specifically of the era around 1700, Fyfe relates that, "Slaves not taken in war were usually criminals. In coastal areas, at least, it was rare for anyone to be sold without being charged with a crime."
Voluntary dependence reminiscent of that described in the early Portuguese documents mentioned at the beginning of this section was still present in the 19th century. It was called pawning; Abraham describes a typical variety:
A freeman heavily in debt, and facing the threat of the punishment of being sold, would approach a wealthier man or chief with a plea to pay of his debts ‘while I sit on your lap’. Or he could give a son or some other dependent of his ‘to be for you’, the wealthy man or chief. This in effect meant that the person so pawned was automatically reduced to a position of dependence, and if he was never redeemed, he or his children eventually became part of the master's extended family. By this time, the children were practically indistinguishable from the real children of the master, since they grew up regarding one another as brothers.
Some observers consider the term "slave" to be more misleading than informative when describing the local practice. Abraham says that in most cases, "subject, servant, client, serf, pawn, dependent, or retainer" would be more accurate. Domestic slavery was abolished in Sierra Leone in 1928. McCulloch reports that at that time, amongst Sierra Leone's largest present-day ethnolinguistic group, the Mende, who then had about 560,000 people, about 15 per cent of the population (i.e. 84,000) were domestic slaves. He also says that "singularly little change followed the 1928 decree; a fair number of slaves returned to their original homes, but the great majority remained in the villages in which their former masters had placed them or their parents."
Export slavery remained a major business in Sierra Leone from the late 15th century to the mid 19th century. According to Fyfe, "it was estimated in 1789 that 74,000 slaves were exported annually from West Africa, about 38,000 by British firms." In 1788 a European apologist for the slave trade estimated the annual total exported from between the Rio Nunez (110 km north of Sierra Leone) and the Sherbro as 3,000. The transatlantic slave trade was banned by the British in 1807, but illegal slave trading continued for several decades after that.
Mane invasions (16th century)
In the mid 16th century occurred events of profound importance in the modern history of Sierra Leone: these were the Mane invasions. The Mane (also called Mani), southern members of the Mande language group, were a warrior people, well-armed and well-organized, who lived east and possibly somewhat north of present-day Sierra Leone, occupying a belt north of the coastal peoples. Sometime in the early 16th century they began moving south. According to some Mane who spoke to a Portuguese (Dornelas) in the late 16th century, their travels had begun as a result of their Chief's, a woman named Macario, having been expelled from the imperial city in Mandimansa, their homeland. Their first arrival at the coast was east of Sierra Leone, at least as far away as the Cess River and likely farther. They advanced up the coast toward Sierra Leone, conquering as they went. They incorporated large numbers of the people they conquered into their army, with the result that by the time they reached Sierra Leone, the rank and file of their army consisted mostly of coastal peoples; the Mane were its commanding group.
The Mane used small bows, which enabled Manes to reuse their enemies' arrows against them, while the enemy could make no use of the Manes' short arrows. Rodney describes the rest of their equipment thus:
The rest of their arms consisted of large shields made of reeds, long enough to give complete cover to the user, two knives, one of which was tied to the left arm, and two quivers for their arrows. Their clothes consisted of loose cotton shirts with wide necks and ample sleeves reaching down to their knees to become tights. One striking feature of their appearance was the abundance of feathers stuck in their shirts and their red caps.
By 1545 they had reached Cape Mount, not far from the south-eastern corner of present-day Sierra Leone. Their conquest of Sierra Leone occupied the ensuing 15 to 20 years, and resulted in the subjugation of all or nearly all of the indigenous coastal peoples—who were known collectively as the Sapes—as far north as the Scarcies. The present ethnogeography of Sierra Leone is largely a reflection of this momentous two decades. The degree to which the Mane supplanted the original inhabitants varied from place to place. Thus in the present-day Temne we have a people who partly withstood the Mane onslaught: they kept their language, but became ruled by a line of Mane kings. The present-day Loko and Mende are the result of a more complete submersion of the original culture: their languages are similar, and both essentially Mande. In their oral tradition the Mende still describe themselves as being a mixture of two peoples: they say that their original members were hunters and fishers who populated the area sparsely in small peaceful settlements; they say that their leaders came later, in a recent historical period, bringing with them the arts of war, and also building larger, more permanent villages. This history receives support from the facts that their population consists of two different racial types, and their language and culture show signs of a layering of two different forms: they have both matrilineal and patrilineal inheritance, for instance.
The Mane invasions militarised Sierra Leone. The Sapes had been un-warlike, but after the invasions, right until the late 19th century, bows, shields, and knives of the Mane type had become ubiquitous in Sierra Leone, as had the Mane battle technique of using squadrons of archers fighting in formation, carrying the large-style shields. Villages became fortified. The usual method of erecting two or three concentric palisades, each 12 to 20 feet (4 to 7 m) high, created a formidable obstacle to attackers—especially since, as some of the English observed in the 19th century, the thigh-thick logs planted into the earth to make the palisades often took root at the bottom and grew foliage at the top, so that the defenders occupied virtually a living wall of wood. A British officer who observed one of these fortifications around the time of the 1898 Hut Tax war ended his description of it thus:
No one who has not seen these fences can realize the immense strength of them. The outer fence at Hahu I measured in several places, and found it to be from 2 to 3 feet thick, and most of the logs, or rather trees, of which it was formed, had taken root and were throwing out leaves and shoots.
He also said that English artillery could not penetrate all three fences. At that time, at least among the Mende, "a typical settlement consisted of walled towns and open villages or towns surrounding it."
After the invasions, the Mane sub-chiefs among whom the country had been divided began fighting among themselves. This pattern of activity became permanent: even after the Mane had blended with the indigenous population—a process which was completed in the early 17th century—the various kingdoms in Sierra Leone remained in a fairly continual state of flux and conflict. Rodney believes that a desire to take prisoners to sell as slaves to the Europeans was a major motivation to this fighting, and may even have been a driving force behind the original Mane invasions. Little says that the principal objective in the local wars, at least among the Mende, was plunder, not the acquisition of territory. Abraham cautions that slave trading should not be exaggerated as a cause: the Africans were perfectly capable of finding reasons of their own to fight: territorial and political ambitions were present. It is well to remember that we are speaking of a period of some 350 years, and the motivations may have changed over time.
The wars themselves were not exceptionally deadly. Set-piece battles were rare, and the fortified towns so strong that their capture was seldom attempted. Often the fighting consisted of small ambushes.
In these years the political system was that each large village along with its satellite villages and settlements would be headed by a chief. The chief would have a private army of warriors. Sometimes several chiefs would group themselves into a confederacy, acknowledging one of themselves as king (or high chief). Each paid the king fealty. If one were attacked, the king would come to his aid. The king could adjudicate local disputes.
Despite their many political divisions, the people of the country were united by cultural similarity. One component of this was the Poro, an organisation common to many different kingdoms and even ethnolinguistic groups. The Mende claim to be its originators, and there is nothing to contradict this. Possibly they imported it. The Temne claim to have imported it from the Sherbro or Bulom. The Dutch geographer Olfert Dapper knew of it in the 17th century. It is often described as a "secret society", and this is partly true: its rites are closed to non-members, and what happens in the "Poro bush" is never disclosed. However, its membership is very broad: among the Mende, almost all men, and some women, are initiates. In recent years it has not (as far as we know) had a central organisation: autonomous chapters exist for each chiefdom or village. However, it is said that in pre-Protectorate days there was a "Grand Poro" with cross-chiefdom powers of making war and peace. It is widely agreed that it has a restraining influence on the powers of the chiefs. Headed by a fearsome principal spirit, the Gbeni, it plays a major role in the rite of passage of males from puberty to manhood. It imparts some education. In some areas, it had supervisory powers over trade, and the banking system, which used iron bars as a medium of exchange. It is not the only important society in Sierra Leone: the Sande is a female-only analogue of it; there is also the Humoi which regulates sex, and the Njayei and the Wunde. The Kpa is a healing arts collegium.
The impact of the Mane invasions on the Sapes was obviously considerable, in that they lost their political autonomy. There were other effects as well: Their trade with the interior was interrupted. Thousands were sold as slaves to the Europeans. In industry, a flourishing tradition in fine ivory carving was ended; however, improved ironworking techniques were introduced.
In the 17th century, Portuguese imperialism waned and, in Sierra Leone, the most significant European group became the British. By, at latest, 1628, they had a "factory" (their name for a trading post) in the vicinity of Sherbro Island, which is about 50 km south-east down the coast from present-day Freetown. One commodity they got was camwood, a hard timber, from which also could be obtained a red dye. It was at that time still easily accessible from the coast. Also, elephants still lived on Sherbro Island. The Portuguese missionary, Baltasar Barreira, left Sierra Leone in 1610. Jesuits, and later in the century, Capuchins, continued the mission. By 1700 it had closed, although priests occasionally still visited.
A company called the Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa received a charter from Charles II of England in 1663 and subsequently built a fort in the Sherbro and on Tasso Island in the Freetown estuary. They were plundered by the Dutch in 1664, the French in 1704, and pirates in 1719 and 1720. After the Dutch raid, the Tasso Island fort was moved to nearby Bunce Island which was more defensible.
The Europeans made payments, called Cole, for rent, tribute, and trading rights, to the king of an area. At this time the local military advantage was still on the side of the Africans, and there is a report, for instance, from 1714, of a king seizing Company goods in retaliation for a breach of protocol. Local Afro-Portuguese often acted as middlemen, the Europeans advancing them goods and they trading them to the local people, most often for ivory. In 1728 an overly aggressive Company governor united the Africans and Afro-Portuguese in hostility to him; they burnt down the Bunce Island fort and it was not rebuilt until about 1750. The French wrecked it again in 1779.
During the 17th century the Temne ethnolinguistic group was expanding. Around 1600 a Mani still ruled the Loko kingdom (the area north of Port Loko Creek) and another ruled the upper part of the south shore of the Freetown estuary. The north shore of the estuary was under a Bulom king, and the area just east of Freetown on the peninsula was held by a non-Mani with a European name, Dom Phillip de Leon (he may however have been a subordinate to his Mani neighbour). By the mid-17th century this situation had changed: Temne, not Bullom was spoken on the south shore, and ships stopping for water and firewood had to pay customs to the Temne king of Bureh who lived at Bagos town on the point between the Rokel River and Port Loko Creek. (The king may actually have still considered himself a Mani—in fact Temne chiefs to this day are called by Mani-derived titles—but his people were Temne. The Bureh king in place in 1690 was called Bai Tura—"Bai" is a Mani form.)
The Temne had thus expanded in a wedge toward the sea at Freetown, and now separated the Bulom to the north from the Mani and other Mande speakers to the south and east.
In this period there are several reports of women occupying high positions. The king of the south shore used to leave one of his wives to rule when he was absent, and in the Sherbro there were woman chiefs. In the early 18th century a Bulom named Seniora Maria had her own town near Cape Sierra Leone.
During the 17th century, Muslim Fula from the Upper Niger and Senegal rivers moved into an area called Futa Jalon in the mountainous region north of present-day Sierra Leone. They were to have an important impact on the peoples of Sierra Leone because they increased trade and also produced secondary population movements into Sierra Leone. The Muslim Fula at first cohabited peaceably with the Susu, Yalunka, and non-Muslim Fula already at Futa Jalon, but around 1725 embarked on a war of domination over them. As a result, many Susu and Yalunka migrated.
Susu—some already converted to Islam—came south into Sierra Leone, in turn displacing Limba from north-west Sierra Leone and driving them into north-central Sierra Leone where they now are. Some Susu moved as far south as the Temne town of Port Loko, only 60 km upriver from the Atlantic. Eventually a Muslim Susu family called Senko supplanted the town's Temne rulers. Other Susu moved westward from Futa Jalon, eventually dominating the Baga, Bulom, and Temne north of the Scarcies River.
As for the Yalunka in Futa Jalon, they at first accepted Islam, then rejected it and were driven out. They went into north-central Sierra Leone and founded their capital at Falaba in the mountains near the source of the Rokel. It is still an important town, about 20 km south of the Guinea border. Other Yalunka went somewhat farther south and settled amongst the Koranko, Kissi, and Limba.
Besides these groups, who were more-or-less unwilling emigrants, a considerable variety of Muslim adventurers went forth from Futa Jalon. A Fula called Fula Mansa (Mansa = King) became ruler of the Yoni country 100 km east of present-day Freetown. Some of his Temne subjects there fled south to the Banta country between the middle reaches of the Bagu and Jong rivers, where they became known as the Mabanta Temne.
In 1652 the first slaves in North America were brought from Sierra Leone to the Sea Islands off the coast of the southern United States. During the 18th century there was a thriving trade bringing slaves from Sierra Leone to the plantations of South Carolina and Georgia where their rice-farming skills made them particularly valuable.
Britain and British seafarers – including Sir Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Frobisher and Captain Brown — played a major role in the transatlantic trade in captured Africans between 1530 and 1810. Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which ended the Spanish War of Succession (1701–1714), had an additional clause (the Asiento) that granted Britain (among other things) the exclusive rights over the shipment of captured Africans across the Atlantic. Over 10 million captured Africans were shipped to the Caribbean Islands and the Americas and many more died during the raids, the long marches to the coast and on the infamous middle passage due to the inhumane conditions in slave ships. Britain outlawed the slave trade on 29 March 1807 with the Slave Trade Act 1807 and the British Navy operating from Freetown took active measures to stop the Atlantic slave trade.
The Province of Freedom 1787–1789
In 1787, a plan was established to settle some of London's "Black Poor" in Sierra Leone in what was called the "Province of Freedom". A number of "Black Poor" arrived off the coast of Sierra Leone on 15 May 1787, accompanied by some English tradesmen. This was organized by the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, composed of British philanthropists who preferred it as a solution to continuing to financially support them in London. Many of the "Black Poor" were African Americans, who had been given their freedom after seeking refuge with the British Army during the American Revolution, but also included other West Indian, African and Asian inhabitants of London.
The area was first settled in 1787 by 400 formerly enslaved Black Britons sent from London, England, under the auspices of the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, an organisation set up by the British abolitionist, Granville Sharp. They established the 'Province of Freedom' or Granville Town on land purchased from local Koya Temne subchief King Tom and regent Naimbana, a purchase which the Europeans understood to cede the land to the new settlers "for ever." The established arrangement between Europeans and the Koya Temne did not include provisions for permanent settlement, and some historians question how well the Koya leaders understood the agreement. Disputes soon broke out, and King Tom's successor, King Jimmy, burnt the settlement to the ground in 1789. Alexander Falconbridge was sent to Sierra Leone in 1791 to collect the remaining Black Poor settlers, and they re-established Granville Town (later on renamed Cline Town) near Fourah Bay. Although these 1787 settlers did not establish Freetown, which was founded in 1792, the bicentennial of Freetown was celebrated in 1987.
After establishing Granville Town, disease and hostility from the indigenous people eliminated the first group of colonists and destroyed their settlement. A second Granville Town was established by 64 remaining black and white 'Old settlers' under the leadership of St. George Bay Company leader, Alexander Falconbridge and the St. George Bay Company. This settlement was different from the Freetown settlement and colony founded in 1792 by Lt. John Clarkson and the Nova Scotian Settlers under the auspices of the Sierra Leone Company
Freetown Colony 1792–1808
The basis for the Freetown Colony began in 1791 with Thomas Peters, an African American who had served in the Black Pioneers and settled in Nova Scotia as part of the Black Loyalist migration. Peters traveled to England in 1791 to report grievances of the Black Loyalists who had been given poor land and faced discrimination. Peters met with British abolitionists and the directors of the Sierra Leone Company. He learned of the Company's plan for a new settlement at Sierra Leone. The directors were eager to allow the Nova Scotians to build a settlement at Sierra Leone; the London-based and newly created Sierra Leone Company had decided to create a new colony but before Peter's arrival had no colonists. Lieutenant John Clarkson was sent to Nova Scotia to register immigrants to take to Sierra Leone for the purpose of starting a new settlement. Clarkson worked with Peters to recruit 1,196 former American slaves from free African communities around Nova Scotia such as Birchtown. Most had escaped Virginia and South Carolina plantations. Some had been born in African before being enslaved in America. The settlers sailed in 15 ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia and arrived in St. George Bay between February 26 and March 9, 1792. Sixty four settlers died en route to Sierra Leone, and even Lieutenant Clarkson was ill during the voyage. Upon reaching Sierra Leone, Clarkson and some of the Nova Scotian 'captains' "despatched on shore to clear or make roadway for their landing". The Nova Scotians were to build Freetown on the former site of the first Granville Town which had become a "jungle" since its destruction in 1789. Though they built Freetown on Granville Town's former site, their settlement was not a rebirth of Granville Town, which had been re-established at Fourah Bay in 1791 by the remaining Old Settlers. The women remained in the ships while the Settler men worked tirelessly to clear the land. Clarkson told the men to clear the land until they reached a large cotton tree. The Settler men toiled and many were scratched and hurt by the shrubbery and bush. After the work had been done and the land cleared all the Settlers, men and women, disembarked and marched towards the thick forest and to the cotton tree, and their preachers (all African Americans) began singing:
- Awake and Sing Of Moses and the Lamb
- Wake! every heart and every tongue'
- To praise the Saviour's name
- The day of Jubilee is come;
- Return ye ransomed sinners home
On March 11, 1792, Nathaniel Gilbert, a white preacher, prayed and preached a sermon under the large Cotton Tree, and Reverend David George preached the first recorded Baptist service in Africa. The land was dedicated and christened 'Free Town' according to the instructions of the Sierra Leone Company Directors. This was the first thanksgiving service in the newly christened Free Town and was the beginning of the political entity of Sierra Leone. Eventually John Clarkson would be sworn in as first governor of Sierra Leone. Small huts were erected before the rainy season. The Sierra Leone Company surveyors and the Settlers built Freetown on the American grid pattern, with parallel streets and wide roads, with the largest being Water Street.
On August 24, 1792, the Black Poor or Old Settlers of the second Granville Town were incorporated into the new Sierra Leone Colony but remained at Granville Town. It survived being pillaged by the French in 1794, and was rebuilt by the Nova Scotian settlers. By 1798, Freetown had between 300-400 houses with architecture resembling that of the American South with 3–4 feet stone foundations with wooden superstructures. Eventually this style of housing (brought by the Nova Scotians) would be the model for the 'bod oses' of their Creole descendants.
In 1800, the Nova Scotians rebelled and it was the arrival of the 500 Jamaican Maroons which caused the rebellion to be suppressed. Thirty-four Nova Scotians were banished and sent to either the Sherbro or a penal colony at Gore. Some of these of the Nova Scotians were eventually allowed back into Freetown. After the Maroons captured the rebels, they were granted the land of the Nova Scotian rebels. Eventually the Maroons had their own district at Maroon Town.
The Maroons were a free community of blacks from Trelawny Parish who had been resettled in Nova Scotia after surrendering to the British government. They petitioned the British government for settlement elsewhere due to the climate in Nova Scotia.
After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the British Naval Squadron was stationed in Freetown to intercept and seize slave ships participating in the illegal slave trade. The slaves that were held on these vessels were released into Freetown and were called 'Captured negroes', 'Recaptives' or 'Liberated Africans'.
Colonial era (1808–1961)
In the 1800s Sierra Leone was still only a small colony extending a few miles (a few kilometres) up the peninsula from Freetown. The bulk of the territory that makes up present-day Sierra Leone was still the sovereign territory of indigenous peoples such as the Mende and Temne, and was little affected by the tiny population of the Colony. Over the course of the 19th century that gradually changed: the British and Creoles in the Freetown area increased their involvement in—and their control over—the surrounding territory by engaging in trade, treaty making, and military expeditions. Trade was the driving force; the treaties and military expeditions were undertaken primarily to promote and increase it.
In their treaties with the native chiefs the British were largely concerned with securing local peace so that commerce would not be interrupted. Typically, the British government agreed to pay a chief a stipend in return for a commitment from him to keep the peace with his neighbours; other specific commitments extracted from a chief might include keeping roads open, allowing the British to collect customs duties, and submitting disputes with his neighbours to British adjudication. In the decades following Britain's prohibition of the slave trade in 1807, the treaties sometimes also required chiefs to desist from slave trading. Suppression of slave trading and suppression of inter-chiefdom war went hand-in-hand because the trade thrived on the wars (and caused them). Thus, to the commercial reasons for pacification could be added anti-slavery ones.
In 1808 the British Crown Colony of Sierra Leone was founded.
When friendly persuasion failed to secure their interests, the British were not above (to borrow Carl von Clausewitz's phrase) "continuing diplomacy by other means". At least by the mid-1820s, the army and navy were going out from the Colony to attack chiefs whose behaviour did not conform to British dictates. In 1826, Governor Turner led troops to the Bum-Kittam area, captured two stockaded towns, burnt others, and declared a blockade on the coast as far as Cape Mount. This was partly an anti-slaving exercise and partly to punish the chief for refusing territory to the British. Later that year acting-Governor Macaulay sent out an expedition which went up the Jong river and burned Commenda, a town belonging to a related chief. In 1829 the colonial authorities founded the Sierra Leone Police Corps. In 1890 this force was divided into the Civilian Police and the Frontier Police.
The British developed a modus operandi which characterised their interventions throughout the century: army or frontier police, with naval support if possible, would bombard a town and then usually torch it after the defenders had fled or been defeated. Where possible, local enemies of the party being attacked were invited by the British to accompany them as allies.
|Timeline of riot and resistance in the high colonial period|
1893. There is a strike of army barracks workers in Freetown. Other workers stage sympathy strike. Governor Fleming swears in 200 citizens as special constables and suppresses it.
1919. Strike and riot. Railway and Public Works department strikes, "inter alia, on account of the nonpayment of War Bonus gratuities to African workers, although these had been paid to other government employees, especially European personnel." Major riots occur in Freetown. The Creole intelligentsia remain neutral.
1920, September. Sierra Leone Railway Skilled Workmen Mutual Aid Union formed.
1926. Strike and riot. Railway Workers' Union strikes January 13 to February 26. Rioting erupts in Freetown. Creole intelligentsia supports the strikers. According to Wyse this is the first time workers and intelligentsia acted in harmony. The strike was viewed as a threat to stability by the government, and suppressed by troops and police.
1930-1931. Haidara Kontorfilli rebellion. Named after its charismatic Moslem leader. Wyse gives the causes as "heavy handedness af chiefly rule and the deteriorating social and economic conditions, as well as the erosive nature of colonial rule." Ended after Kontorfilli was killed by British forces.
1938-39. Series of strikes and civil disobedience. W.A.Y.L. blamed.
1950, October. African United Mine Workers' Union (Secretary-General was Siaka Stevens) strikes in Marampa and Pepel, Northern province. Strikers riot and burn the house of the African personnel officer.
1951. Pujehun, South Eastern Province.
In the 1880s, Britain's intervention in the hinterland received added impetus because of the "Scramble for Africa": an intense competition between the European powers for territory in Africa. In this case the rival was France. To forestall French incursion into what they had come to consider as their own sphere, the British government renewed efforts to finalise a boundary agreement with France and on 1 January 1890 instructed Governor Hay in Sierra Leone to get from chiefs in the boundary area friendship treaties containing a clause forbidding them to treat with another European power without British consent.
Consequently, in 1890 and 1891 Hay and two travelling Commissioners, Garrett and Alldridge, went on extensive tours of what is now Sierra Leone obtaining treaties from chiefs. Most of these were not, however, treaties of cession; they were in the form of cooperative agreements between two sovereign powers.
In January 1895 a boundary agreement was signed in Paris, roughly fixing the line between French Guinea and Sierra Leone. The exact line was to be determined by surveyors later. As Christopher Fyfe notes, "The delimitation was made almost entirely in geographical terms—rivers, watersheds, parallels—not political. Samu chiefdom, for instance, was divided; the people on the frontier had to opt for farms on one side or villages on the other."
More generally, the arbitrary lumping together of disparate native peoples into geographical units decided on by the colonial powers has been an ongoing source of trouble throughout Africa. These geographical units are now attempting to function as nations but are not naturally nations, being composed in many cases of peoples who are traditional enemies. In Sierra Leone, for example, the Mende, Temne, and Creoles remain as rival power blocs between whom lines of fission easily emerge.
In August 1895 an Order-in-Council was issued in Britain authorising the Colony to make laws for the territory around it, extending out to the agreed-upon boundary (which corresponds closely to that of present-day Sierra Leone). On 31 August 1896 a Proclamation was issued in the Colony declaring that territory to be a British "Protectorate". The Colony remained a distinct political entity; the Protectorate was governed from it.
Most of the Chiefs whose territories the "Protectorate" subsumed did not enter into it voluntarily. Many had signed treaties of friendship with Britain, but these were expressed as being between sovereign powers contracting with each other; there was no subordination. Only a handful of Chiefs had signed treaties of cession, and in some of those cases it is doubtful whether they had understood the terms. In remote areas no treaties had been obtained at all.
Strictly speaking, a Protectorate does not exist unless the people in it have agreed to be protected. The Sierra Leone Protectorate was more in the nature of a unilateral acquisition of territory by Britain.
Almost every chieftaincy in Sierra Leone responded to the British arrogation of power with armed resistance. The Protectorate Ordinances (passed in the Colony in 1896 and 1897) abolished the title of King and replaced it with "Paramount Chief"; chiefs and kings had formerly been selected by the leading members of their own communities, now all chiefs, even paramount ones, could be deposed or installed at the will of the Governor; most of the judicial powers of the chiefs were removed and given to courts presided over by British "District Commissioners"; the Governor decreed that a house tax of 5s to 10s was to be levied annually on every dwelling in the Protectorate. To the chiefs, these reductions in their power and prestige were unbearable. When, in 1898, attempts were made to actually collect the tax, they rose up, first in the north, led by a dominant Temne chief called Bai Bureh, and then in Mende country to the south. The two struggles took on quite different characteristics.
Bai Bureh's forces conducted a disciplined and skillfully executed guerrilla campaign which caused the British considerable difficulty. Hostilities began in February; Bureh's harassing tactics confounded the British at first but by May they were gaining ground. The rainy season interrupted hostilities until October, when the British resumed the slow process of eliminating the African's stockades. When most of these defences had been eliminated, Bureh was captured or surrendered (accounts differ) in November.
The Mende war was a mass uprising, planned somehow to commence everywhere on 27 and 28 April, in which almost all "outsiders"—whether European or Creole—were seized and summarily executed. Although more fearsome than Bai Bureh's rising, it was amorphous, lacked a definite strategy, and was suppressed in most areas in two months. Some Mende rebels in the centre of the country were not beaten until November, however; and Mende king Nyagua's son Maghi, in alliance with some Kissi, fought on in the extreme east of the Protectorate until August 1899.
The two risings together are referred to as the Hut Tax War of 1898. The principals, Bai Bureh, Nyagua and Be Sherbro (Gbana Lewis), were exiled to the Gold Coast on 30 July 1899; a large number of their subordinates were executed.
In the early 19th century Freetown served as the residence of the British governor who also ruled the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and the Gambia settlements. Sierra Leone also served as the educational centre of British West Africa. Fourah Bay College, established in 1827, rapidly became a magnet for English-speaking Africans on the west coast. For more than a century, it was the only European-style university in western Sub-Saharan Africa.
After the Hut Tax War there was no more large-scale military resistance to colonialism. Resistance and dissent continued, but took other forms. Vocal political dissent came mainly from the Creoles, who had a sizeable middle and upper class of business-people and European-educated professionals such as doctors and lawyers. In the mid 19th century they had enjoyed a period of considerable political influence, but in the late 19th century the government became much less open to them.
They continued to press for political rights, however, and operated a variety of newspapers which governors considered troublesome and demagogic. In 1924 a new constitution was put in place, introducing elected representation (3 out of 22 members) for the first time, with the first elections held on 28 October. Prominent among the Creoles demanding change were the bourgeois nationalist H.C. Bankole-Bright, General Secretary of the Sierra Leone Branch of the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA), and the socialist I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson, founder of the West African Youth League (WAYL).
African resistance was not limited to political discussion. For instance, Sierra Leone developed an active trade union movement whose strikes were often accompanied by sympathetic rioting among the general population.
Besides the colonial employers, one of the main targets of popular hostility was the tribal chiefs who the British had transformed into functionaries in the colonial system of indirect rule. Their role was to provide policing, collect taxes, and obtain corvee labour for the colonialists; in return the colonialists maintained them in a privileged position over the other Africans. Chiefs not willing to play this role were replaced by more compliant ones. According to Kilson the attitude of the Africans toward their chiefs became ambivalent: frequently they respected the office but resented the exactions made by the individual occupying it. Of course, from the chiefs' point of view, the dilemma of an honourable ruler faced with British ultimatums can not have been easy.
Throughout the 20th century, there were numerous riots directed against tribal chiefs. These culminated in the Protectorate-wide riots of 1955-1956, which were suppressed only by a considerable slaughter of peasants by the army. After those riots reforms were introduced: the forced labour system was completely abolished and reductions were made in the powers of the chiefs.
In 1924, Sierra Leone was divided into a Colony and a Protectorate, with separate and different political systems constitutionally defined for each. Antagonism between the two entities escalated to a heated debate in 1947, when proposals were introduced to provide for a single political system for both the Colony and the Protectorate. Most of the proposals came from the Protectorate. The Krio, led by Isaac Wallace-Johnson, opposed the proposals, the main effect of which would have been to diminish their political power. It was due to the astute politics of Sir Milton Margai that the educated Protectorate elite was won over to join forces with the paramount chiefs in the face of Krio intransigence. Later, Sir Milton used the same skills to win over opposition leaders and moderate Krio elements for the achievement of independence.
In November 1951, Sir Milton Margai oversaw the drafting of a new constitution, which united the separate Colonial and Protectorate legislatures and—-most importantly—-provided a framework for decolonization. In 1953, Sierra Leone was granted local ministerial powers, and Sir Milton Margai, was elected Chief Minister of Sierra Leone. The new constitution ensured Sierra Leone a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations. In May 1957, Sierra Leone held its first parliamentary election. The SLPP, which was then the most popular political party in the colony of Sierra Leone, won the most seats in Parliament. Margai was also re-elected as Chief Minister by a landslide.
1960 Independence Conference
On April 20, 1960, Sir Milton Margai led the twenty four members of the Sierra Leonean delegation at the constitutional conferences that were held with Queen Elizabeth II and British Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod in the negotiations for independence held at the Lancaster House in London. . All of the twenty four members of the Sierra Leonean delegation were prominent and well-respected politicians including Sir Milton's younger brother lawyer Sir Albert Margai, the outspoken trade unionist Siaka Stevens, SLPP strongman Lamina Sankoh, outspoken Creole activist Isaac Wallace-Johnson, Paramount chief Ella Koblo Gulama, educationist Mohamed Sanusi Mustapha, Dr John Karefa-Smart, professor Kande Bureh, lawyer Sir Banja Tejan-Sie, former Freetown's Mayor Eustace Henry Taylor Cummings educationist Amadu Wurie, and Creole diplomat Hector Reginald Sylvanus Boltman.
On the conclusion of talks in London, Britain agreed to grant Sierra Leone Independence on the 27 of April 1961. However, the outspoken trade unionist Siaka Stevens was the only delegate who refused to sign Sierra Leone's declaration of Independendence on the grounds that there had been a secret defence pact between Sierra Leone and Britain; another point of contention by Stevens was the Sierra Leonean government's position that there would be no elections held before independence which would effectively shut Stevens out of Sierra Leone's political process . Upon their return to Freetown on May 4, 1960, Stevens was promptly expelled from the People's National Party (PNP).
Opposition of the SLPP government
In 1961, Outspoken critic of the SLPP government, Siaka Stevens, formed an alliance with several prominent northern politicians like Sorie Ibrahim Koroma, Christian Alusine-Kamara Taylor, Mohamed.O.Bash-Taqi, Ibrahim Bash-Taqi, S.A.T. Koroma and C.A. Fofana to form their own political party called the All People's Congress (APC) in opposition of the SLPP government. Stevens took advantage of the dissatisfaction with the ruling SLPP among some prominent politicians from the Northern part of Sierra Leone to form the APC; and Stevens used the Northern part of Sierra Leone as his political base.
Early independence (1961–1968)
An Independent nation and Sir Milton Margai Administration (1961–64)
On 27 April 1961, Sir Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to Independence from Britain and became the country's first Prime Minister. It retained a parliamentary system of government and was a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. In May 1962 Sierra Leone held its first general election as an Independent nation. The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) won plurality of seats in parliament and Sir Milton Margai was re-elected as prime minister. The years just after independence were prosperous with money from mineral resources being used for development and the founding of Njala University.
Sir Milton was very popular among Sierra Leoneans during his time in power. An important aspect of Sir Milton's character was his self-effacement. He was neither corrupt nor did he make a lavish display of his power or status. Sir Milton's government was based on the rule of law and the notion of separation of powers, with multiparty political institutions and fairly viable representative structures. Margai used his conservative ideology to lead Sierra Leone without much strife. He appointed government officials with a clear eye to satisfy various ethnic groups. Margai employed a brokerage style of politics by sharing political power between political groups and the paramount chiefs in the provinces.
Sir Albert Administration (1964–67)
Upon Sir Milton's death in 1964, his half-brother, Sir Albert Margai, was appointed as Prime Minister by parliament. Sir Albert's leadership was briefly challenged by Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister John Karefa-Smart, who questioned Sir Albert's succession to the SLPP leadership position. Kareefa-Smart received little support in Parliament in his attempt to have Margai stripped of the SLPP leadership. Soon after Margai was sworn in as Prime Minister, he immediately dismissed several senior government officials who had served under his elder brother Sir Milton's government, as he viewed them as traitors and a threat to his administration.
Unlike his late brother, Sir Milton, Sir Albert proved unpopular and resorted to increasingly authoritarian actions in response to protests, including enacted several laws against the opposition All People's Congress (APC) and he unsuccessfully try to establish a one-party state. Unlike his late brother Milton, Sir Albert was opposed to the colonial legacy of allowing the country's Paramount Chiefs executive powers and he was seen as a threat to the existence of the ruling houses across the country, almost all of whom were strong supporters and key allies of his brother Sir Milton's administration. 1967, Riots broke out in Freetown against Sir Albert's policies. In response Margai declared a state of emergency across the country. Sir Albert was accused of corruption and of a policy of affirmative action in favor of his own Mende ethnic group
Sir Albert had the opportunity to perpetuate himself in power, but he elected not to do so even when the opportunities presented themselves. He had the police and the army on his side and nothing could have prevented him from achieving his ambition to hold on to power, but he chose not to and called for free and fair elections.
Three Military Coups (1967–1968)
The APC, with its leader Siaka Stevens, narrowly won a small majority seats in Parliament over the SLPP in a closely contested 1967 Sierra Leone general election and Stevens was sworn in as Prime Minister on March 21, 1967 in Freetown. Within hours after taking office, Stevens was ousted in a bloodless military coup led by the commander of the army Brigadier General David Lansana, a close ally of Sir Albert Margai who had appointed him to the position in 1964. Brigadier Lansana placed Stevens under house arrest in Freetown and insisted the determination of office of the Prime Minister should await the election of the tribal representatives to the house. On March 23, 1967, A group of senior military officers in the Sierra Leone Army led by Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith overrode this action by seizing control of the government, arresting Brigadier Lansana, and suspending the constitution. The group constituted itself as the National Reformation Council (NRC) with Brigadier Anrew Juxon-Smith as its chairman and Governor-General . In April 1968, a group of senior military officers who called themselves the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement led by Brigadier General John Amadu Bangura overthrew the NRC junta. The ACRM juntas arrested many senior NRC members. The democratic constitution was restored, and power was handed back to Stevens, who at last assumed the office of Prime Minister. .
Stevens' government and one party state (1968–85)
Stevens assumed power again in 1968 with a great deal of hope and ambition. Much trust was placed upon him as he championed multi-party politics. Stevens had campaigned on a platform of bringing the tribes together under socialist principles. During his first decade or so in power, Stevens renegotiated some of what he called "useless prefinanced schemes" contracted by his predecessors, both Albert Margai of the SLPP and Juxon-Smith of the NRC. Some of these policies by the SLPP and the NRC were said to have left the country in an economically deprived state. Stevens reorganized the country's refinery, the government-owned Cape Sierra Hotel, and a Cement factory. He cancelled Juxon-Smith's construction of a Church and Mosque on the grounds of Victoria Park. Stevens began efforts that would later bridge the distance between the provinces and the city. Roads and hospitals were constructed in the provinces, and Paramount Chiefs and provincial peoples became a prominent force in Freetown.
Under pressure of several coup attempts, real and perceived, Stevens' rule grew more and more authoritarian, and his relationship with some of his ardent supporters deteriorated. He removed the SLPP party from competitive politics in general elections, some believed, through the use of violence and intimidation. To maintain the support of the military, Stevens retained the popular John Amadu Bangura as the head of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
After the return to civilian rule, by-elections were held (beginning in autumn 1968) and an all-APC cabinet was appointed. Calm was not completely restored. In November 1968, unrest in the provinces led Stevens to declare a state of emergency.
Many senior officers in the Sierra Leone military were greatly disappointed with Stevens' policies, but non could openly confront Stevens. Brigadier General Bangura, who had reinstated Stevens as Prime Minister, was widely considered the only person who could put the brakes on Stevens. The army was devoted to Brigadier General Bangura, and it was believed, in some quarters, that this made him potentially dangerous to Steven's. In January 1970, Brigadier General Bangura was arrested and charged with conspiracy and plotting to commit a coup against the Stevens government. After a trial that lasted a few months, Brigadier General Bangura was convicted and sententenced to death. Brigadier General Bangura was hanged On 29 March 1970 in Freetown. Stevens named a junior officer Joseph Saudu Momoh as the head of Sierra Leone Military. Major General Momoh was a close ally and a very loyal soldier to Stevens.
On March 23, 1971, soldiers loyal to the executed Brigadier John Amadu Bangura held a Mutiny in Freetown and other parts of the country in opposition of Stevens' government. Several soldiers were arrested for their involvement in the mutiny, including Corporal Foday Sankoh who was jail for seven years at the Pademba Road Prison, after he was convicted of treason. Guinean soldiers were in Sierra Leone from 1971 to 1973 to help protect the Stevens' government, as was requested by Stevens himself to his close ally, Guinean president Sekou Toure.
In April 1971, a new republican constitution was adopted under which Stevens became President. In the 1972 by-elections the opposition SLPP complained of intimidation and procedural obstruction by the APC and militia. These problems became so severe that the SLPP boycotted the 1973 general election; as a result the APC won 84 of the 85 elected seats.
In The early 1970s, Siaka Stevens formed his own personal special force known as the State Security Division (SSD), in order to protect him and to maintain his hold on power. Many of the SSD officers were from the Provinces, and were very loyal to Stevens. The SSD force was very powerful and operated independently under Stevens' direct command. The SSD officers guided Stevens and were deployed across Sierra Leone to put down any rebellion or demonstration against the Stevens' government.
An alleged plot to overthrow president Stevens failed in 1974 and its leaders were executed. On 19 July 1975, 14 senior army and government officials including Brigadier David Lansana, former cabinet minister Dr. Mohamed Sorie Forna, former cabinet minister and journalist Ibrahim Bash-Taqi and Lieutenant Habib Lansana Kamara were executed after they were convicted for attempting a coup to topple president Stevens' government. In March 1976, Stevens was reelected as president, without opposition.
In 1977, a nationwide student demonstration against the government disrupted Sierra Leone politics. However, the demonstration was quickly put down by the army and Stevens' own personal SSD officers, which he had created to maintain his hold on power. A general election was called later that year in which corruption was again endemic; the APC won 74 seats and the SLPP 15.
In May 1978, the Sierr Leone parliament, dominated by close allies of President Steven's APC administration, approved a new constitution making the country a one-party state. On July 12, 1978, official figures released by the government showed 97 percent of Sierra Leoneans voted in favor of one party states. The main opposition the SLPP, other opposition parties and civil right groups said the referendum votes were massively rigged in favor of Steven"s party, the APC, and that voters were intimidated by security forces loyal to Stevens. The 1978 constitution referendum made the APC the only legal political party in Sierra Leone. All other political parties, including the main opposition the SLPP were banned in Sierra Leone This move led to another major demonstration against the government in many parts of the country but again it was put down by the army and the SSD officers.
The first elections under the new one-party constitution took place on 1 May 1982. Elections in about two-thirds of the constituencies were contested. Because of irregularities, the government cancelled elections in 13 constituencies. By-elections took place on 4 June 1982. The new cabinet appointed by Stevens after the election included several prominent members of the disbanded SLPP who had defected to the APC including the new Finance Minister Salia Jusu-Sheriff, a former leader of the SLPP. Jusu_Sheriff's accession to the cabinet was viewed by many as a step toward making the APC a true national party.
Siaka P. Stevens, who had been head of state of Sierra Leone for 18 years, retired from that position in November 1985 at the end of his term, although he continued his role as chairman of the ruling APC party. Many in the country were expecting Stevens to name his Vice President and his loyal ally, Sorie Ibrahim Koroma as his successor. However, In August 1985, at the APC convention, the APC named the Head of the Sierra Leone Military, Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, Stevens' own choice to succeed him as president. As head of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces, Major General Momoh was very loyal to Stevens who had appointed him to the position. Like Stevens, Momoh was also a member of the minority Limba ethnic group. Momoh retired from the Sierra Leone Military and was elected President without opposition on 1 October 1985. A formal inauguration was held in January 1986, and new parliamentary elections were held in May 1986.
Siaka Stevens is generally criticised for dictatorial methods and government corruption, but on a positive notes, he reduced the ethnic polarization in government by incorporating members of various ethnic groups into his all-dominat APC government.
Another legacy of Stevens was that for eighteen years when he was in power, he kept the country safe from civil war and armed rebellion.
Despite his dictatorial governing style, as president, Stevens regularly interacted with the general Sierra Leonean people by making surprise visits to local crowd. Stevens also regularly made surprise visits to the poor traders, where he was often seen buying his own food at a local market with his security team at a far distance. Stevens often stood up waving to the Sierra Leonean people in an open car when on a trip with his convoy.
Momoh government and RUF Rebelion (1985–91)
President Momoh's strong links with the army and his verbal attacks on corruption earned him much needed initial support among Sierra Leoneans. With the lack of new faces in the new APC cabinet under president Momoh and the return of many of the old faces from Stevens government, criticisms soon arose that Momoh was simply perpetuating the rule of Stevens. Momoh differed himself from Stevens by integrating the powerful and independent State Security Force (SSD) into the Sierra Leone Police force. Previously The SSD operated for years as an independent force loyal to Stevens and operated directly under Stevens command.
The next couple of years under the Momoh administration were characterised by corruption, which Momoh defused by sacking several senior cabinet ministers. To formalise his war against corruption, President Momoh announced a "Code of Conduct for Political Leaders and Public Servants." After an alleged attempt to overthrow President Momoh in March 1987, more than 60 senior government officials were arrested, including Vice-President Francis Minah, who was removed from office, convicted for plotting the coup, and executed by hanging in 1989 along with 5 others.
In October 1990, due to mounting pressure from both within and outside the country for political and economic reform, president Momoh set up a constitutional review commission to review the 1978 one-party constitution. Based on the commission's recommendations a constitution re-establishing a multi-party system was approved by the exclusive APC Parliament by a 60% majority vote, becoming effective on 1 October 1991. There was great suspicion that president Momoh was not serious about his promise of political reform, as APC rule continued to be increasingly marked by abuses of power.
Several senior government officials in the APC administration of Momoh including Salia Jusu Sheriff, Abass Bundu, J.B. Dauda and Sama Banya resigned from the APC government respectively to resuscitate the previously disbanded SLPP. While other senior government officials in the Momoh government including Thaimu Bangura, Edward Kargbo and Desmond Luke resigned from the APC and formed their own respective political parties to challenge the ruling APC. However, the vast majority of government officials including Victor Bockarie Foh, Edward Turay, Hassan Gbassay Kanu and Osman Foday Yansaneh were very loyal to President Momoh"s government and to the APC party of President Momoh.
Civil War (1991–2001)
The brutal civil war that was going on in neighbouring Liberia played an undeniable role in the outbreak of fighting in Sierra Leone. Charles Taylor—then leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia—reportedly helped form the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under the command of former Sierra Leonean army corporal Foday Sankoh a critic of both the Stevens' and Momoh"s presidencies. Sankoh was an ally of the executed Brigadier General John Amadu Bangura and he was among the soldiers loyal to the executed Brigadier General Bangura, who participated in the mutiny against the Stevens" government. Sankoh was a British trained former army corporal who had also undergone guerrilla training in Libya. Taylor’s aim was for the RUF to attack the bases of Nigerian dominated peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone who were opposed to his rebel movement in Liberia. The government of Sierra Leone, overwhelmed by a crumbling economy and corruption, was unable to put up significant resistance. Within a month of entering Sierra Leone Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front rebels controlled much of Eastern Sierra Leone, including the diamond mining area in Kono District.
In October 1990 President Momoh set up a constitutional review commission to review the 1978 one-party constitution with a view to broadening the existing political process, guaranteeing fundamental human rights and the rule of law, and strengthening and consolidating the democratic foundation and structure of the nation. The commission, in its report presented January 1991, recommended re-establishment of a multi-party system of government. Based on that recommendation, a constitution was approved by Parliament in July 1991 and ratified by referendum in September; it became effective on 1 October 1991. The rebel war in the eastern part of the country, led by Capt. Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF), posed an increasing burden on the country.
There was great suspicion that president Momoh was not serious about his promise of political reform, as APC rule continued to be increasingly marked by abuses of power. The APC was also alleged to have been hoarding arms and planning a violent campaign against the opposition parties ahead of multi-party general elections scheduled for late 1992. Several senior government officials in the APC administration of Momoh like Salia Jusu Sheriff, Abass Bundu, J.B. Dauda and Sama Banya resigned from the APC government respectively to resuscitate the previously disbanded SLPP. While other senior government officials like Thaimu Bangura, Edward Kargbo and Desmond Luke resigned from the APC and formed their own respective political parties to challenge the ruling APC.
NPRC Junta (1992-96)
On 29 April 1992, a twenty-five-year-old Captain Valentine Strasser led a group of young junior officers in the Sierra Leone army that included Lieutenant Sahr Sandy, Seargent Solomon Musa, Lieutenant Tom Nyuma, Captain Komba Mondeh, Captain Julius Maada Bio, and Captain Komba Kambo , that came all the way from their military baracks in Kailahun District and launched a military coup in Freetown, which sent president Momoh into exile in Guinea and the young soldiers established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) with Strasser as its chairman and Head of State of the country. Captain Solomon Musa, a close friend of Strasser and one of the leaders of the coup became the deputy leader of the NPRC junta. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans across the country took to the streets in support of the NPRC Junta government.The NPRC Junta immediately suspended the constitution, banned all political parties, limited freedom of speech and freedom of the press and enacted a rule-by-decree policy, in which soldiers were granted unlimited powers of administrative detention without charge or trial, and challenges against such detentions in court were precluded. The NPRC military government established the Supreme Council, which was made up of the highest ranking soldiers of the Junta government.
On the same day the NPRC Junta took over power on April 29, 1992, one of the coup leaders, Lieutenant Sahr Sandy, a high ranking soldier in the NPRC Junta government, and a very close ally of Strasser, was assassinated, reportedly by Major Sim Turay, the head of the Sierra Leone Military Intelligence under president Momoh, and a close ally of the deposed president Lieutenant Sandy"s funeral service at the cathedral church in Freetown, was attended by several high ranking soldiers of the NPRC military government, including Strasser himself and his deputy Sergent Musa . A heavily armed military manhunt took place across Sierra Leone to find Lieutenant Sim Turay and other soldiers suspected to have participated in the assassination of Lieutenant Sandy. Major Sim Turay went into hiding in fearing for his life, and fled to Guinea.
The NPRC Junta fought the RUF rebels and re-took most of Sierra Leone's territories previously held by the RUF rebels. The NPRC soldiers pushed the rebels all the way to the borders with Liberia. The NPRC junta maintained relations with the ECOWAS and strengthened support for Sierra Leone-based ECOMOG troops fighting in Liberia.
In December 1992, an alleged coup attempt against the NPRC administration of Strasser, aimed at freeing the detained Colonel Yahya Kanu, Colonel Kahota M.S. Dumbuya and former inspector general of police Bambay Kamara was foiled. Seargent Mohamed Lamin Bangura, and some junior army officers were identified as being behind the coup plot. The coup plot led to the execution of seventeen soldiers in the Sierra Leone Army, including Seargent Mohamed Lamin Bangura, Colonel Yahya Kanu and Lieutenant Colonel Kahota M.S. Dumbuya. Several prominent members of the Momoh government who had been in detention at the Pa Demba Road prison, including former insepctor general of police Bambay Kamara were also executed .
On July 5, 1994, the deputy NPRC leader Sergent Solomon Musa, who held tremendous power and influence, was arrested by his fellow soldiers and sent into exite in Guinea. Seargent Musa was accused by Strasser, on the advice of some other high ranking soldiers of the NPRC junta, that he had become too powerful and was a threat to Strasser. Sergent Musa, who was a close ally and childhood friend of Strasser, denied the allegation that he was a treat to Strasser, and Musa accused the other high ranking soldiers who advised Strasser to arrest him, that they were in fact the soldiers who were treat to Strasser and that they convinced Strasser to topple him because he wanted to punish them. Strasser replaced Musa as deputy NPRC chairman with Captain Julius Maada Bio, who was instantly promoted by Strasser to Brigadier. An internal non violence conflict and division took place between soldiers loyal to the deposed Seargent Musa and soldiers who supported Strasser"s decision to topple Seargent Musa.
Due to the internal conflict within the NPRC high ranking soldiers, the NPRC proved to be nearly as ineffectual as the Momoh-led APC government in repelling the RUF. More and more of the country fell to RUF fighters, and by 1994 they held much of the diamond-rich Eastern Province and were at the edge of Freetown. In response, the NPRC hired several hundred mercenaries from the private firm Executive Outcomes. Within a month they had driven RUF fighters back to enclaves along Sierra Leone’s borders, and cleared the RUF from the Kono diamond producing areas of Sierra Leone.
On January 16, 1996 after about four years in power, Strasser was arrested and handcuffs by his own military bodyguards in a coup by his fellow NPRC soldiers, led by his deputy Brigadier Julis Maada Bio and backed by many high ranking soldiers of the NPRC junta. Strasser was immediately flown into exile in a military helicopter to Conakry, Guinea. In his first public broadcast to the nation following the 1996 coup, Brigadier Bio stated that his support for returning Sierra Leone to a democratically elected civilian government and his commitment to ending the Sierra Leone civil war were his motivations for the coup..
Return to civilian rule and first Kabbah Presidency (1996–97)
Promises of a return to civilian rule were fulfilled by Bio, who handed power over to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), after the conclusion of elections in early 1996. President Kabbah took power with a great promise of ending the civil war. President Kabbah open dialogue with the RUF and invited RUF leader Foday Sankoh for peace negotiation.
AFRC junta (1997–1998)
On May 25, 1997, a group of seventeen soldiers in the Sierra Leone army led by Corporal Tamba Gborie and loyal to the detained Major General Johnny Paul Koroma launched a military coup which sent President Kabbah into exile in Guinea and they established the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Corporal Gborie quickly went to the SLBS FM 99.9 headquarters in Freetown to announce the coup to a shock nation and to alert all soldiers across the country to report for guard duty. The soldiers immediately released Koroma from prison and installed him as their chairman and Head of State of the country, with Corporal Tamba Gborie as deputy in command of the AFRC. Major General Koroma suspended the constitution, banned demonstrations, shut down all private radio stations in the country and soldiers were granted unlimited powers.
The AFRC Junta Government, was not recognized by any country; and the exile government of president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in Conakry, Guinea, was internationally recognized by the United Nations, the African Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and ECOWAS as the legitimate government of Sierra Leone.
Major General Johnny Paul Koroma invited the RUF rebels to join his Junta Government. The RUF accepted the offer by the AFRC, and a coalition government was formed between the AFRC and the RUF, with Major General Johnny Paul Koroma as the chairman and Head of State of Sierra Leone; and RUF leader Foday Sankoh as the leader of the RUF and deputy Head of State of Sierra Leone. Soldiers and rebels were granted unlimited powers. Within days, Freetown was overwhelmed by the presence of the RUF rebels, who called themselves the People's Army; and they came to the capital city in their thousands from their strongholds in the East of the country. Human rights violations were regularly committed by the rebels and many of the soldiers of the AFRC. The coalition government was not recognized by any country.
The Kamajors, a group of traditional fighters mostly from the Mende ethnic group under the command of deputy Defence Minister Samuel Hinga Norman, remained loyal to President Kabbah and defended the Southern part Sierra Leone from the rebels. The Kamajors and rebels, including the RUF soldiers, regularly fought each other, and human rights violations were committed by both sides.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) led by Nigerian Head of State Sani Abacha, set up a military force to defeat the AFRC Junta soldiers and the RUF rebels in Freetown and to reinstate president Kabbah's government. Many West African country's sent troops to reinstate the Kabbah Government by military force, including soldiers made up mainly from Nigeria but also including, soldiers from Guinea, Ghana, Togo, Gambia, Mali, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
After 10 months in office, the junta government was ousted and driven out of Freetown by military force by the Nigeria-led ECOMOG forces; and the democratically elected government of president Kabbah was reinstated in March 1998. AFRC leader Major General Johnny Paul Koroma fled to the rebels strongholds in the east of the country.
President Kabbah's government and the end of civil war (1998–2001)
Kabba took power once again with Albert Joe Demby as vice president. President Kabbah named veteran attorney Solomon Berewa as Attorney general and Sama Banya as foreign minister. On July 31, 1998 president Kabbah disbanded the Sierra Leone military and introduced a proposal for a new military. On October 12, 1998 twenty-five soldiers in the Sierra Leone army, including Corporal Tamba Gborie, Brigadier Hassan Karim Conteh, Colonel Samuel Francis Koroma, Major Kula Samba and Colonel Abdul Karim Sesay, were executed by firing squad after they were convicted to death sentence at a court martial in Freetown for orchestrating the 1997 coup that ousted president Kabbah from power. AFRC leader Major General Johnny Paul Koroma, who had fled the capital to the rebel strongholds in the east of the country, was also sentenced to death in absentia by the court martial.
In October 1999, the United Nations agreed to send peacekeepers to help restore order and disarm the rebels. The first of the 6,000-member force began arriving in December, and the UN Security Council voted in February 2000 to increase the force to 11,000, and later to 13,000. But in May, when nearly all Nigerian forces had left and UN forces were trying to disarm the RUF in eastern Sierra Leone, Sankoh's forces clashed with the UN troops, and some 500 peacekeepers were taken hostage as the peace accord effectively collapsed. The hostage crisis resulted in more fighting between the RUF and the government as UN troops launched Operation Khukri to end the siege. The Operation was successful with Indian and British Special Forces being the main contingents.
The situation in the country deteriorated to such an extent that British troops were deployed in Operation Palliser, originally simply to evacuate foreign nationals. However, the British exceeded their original mandate, and took full military action to finally defeat the rebels and restore order. The British were the catalyst for the ceasefire that ended the civil war. Elements of the British Army, together with administrators and politicians, remain in Sierra Leone to this day, helping train the armed forces, improve the infrastructure of the country and administer financial and material aid. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain at the time of the British intervention, is regarded as a hero by the people of Sierra Leone, many of whom are keen for more British involvement. Sierra Leoneans have been described as "The World's Most Resilient People". In 2004, parliament passed a Local Government Act of 2004 which re-introduced local government councils back to Sierra Leone after thirty years. On 4 August 2006 in a broadcast to the nation, president Kabbah announced that 2007 presidential and parliamentary election would be held on July 28, 2007.
Between 1991 and 2001, about 50,000 people were killed in Sierra Leone's civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes and many became refugees in Guinea and Liberia. In 2001, UN forces moved into rebel-held areas and began to disarm rebel soldiers. By January 2002, president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah declared the civil war officially over. In May 2002, Kabbah was re-elected president in a landslide. By 2004, the disarmament process was complete. Also in 2004, a UN-backed war crimes court began holding trials of senior leaders from both sides of the war. In December 2005, UN peacekeeping forces pulled out of Sierra Leone.
2002 to present
Kabbah reelected (2002–2007)
Elections were held in May 2002. President Kabbah was reelected, and his Sierra Leone People's Party won a majority of the parliamentary seats. In June 2003 the UN ban on the sale of Sierra Leone diamonds expired and was not renewed. The UN disarmament and rehabilitation program for Sierra Leone's fighters was completed in February 2004, by which time more 70,000 former combatants had been helped. UN forces returned primary responsibility for security in the area around the capital to Sierra Leone's police and armed forces in September 2004; it was the last part of the country to be turned over. Some UN peacekeepers remained to assist the Sierra Leone government until the end of 2005.
The 1999 Lomé Accord called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to provide a forum for both victims and perpetrators of human rights violations during the conflict to tell their stories and facilitate genuine reconciliation. Subsequently, the Sierra Leonean Government and the UN agreed to set up the Special Court for Sierra Leone to try those who "bear the greatest responsibility for the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as crimes under relevant Sierra Leonean law within the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996." Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court began operating in the summer of 2002. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its Final Report to the government in October 2004. In June 2005, the Government of Sierra Leone issued a White Paper on the Commission’s final report which accepted some but not all of the Commission's recommendations. Members of civil society groups dismissed the government’s response as too vague and continued to criticize the government for its failure to follow up on the report’s recommendations.
In March 2003 the Special Court for Sierra Leone issued its first indictments. Foday Sankoh, already in custody, was indicted, along with notorious RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, Johnny Paul Koroma, and Hinga Norman, the Minister of Interior and former head of the Civil Defense Force, among several others. Norman was arrested when the indictments were announced, while Bockarie and Koroma remained in hiding. On 5 May 2003 Bockarie was killed in Liberia, allegedly on orders from President Charles Taylor, who feared Bockarie’s testimony before the Special Court. Johnny Paul Koroma was also rumoured to have been killed, though his death remains unconfirmed. Two of the accused, Foday Sankoh and Hinga Norman, have died while incarcerated. On 25 March 2006, with the election of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo permitted transfer of Charles Taylor, who had been living in exile in the Nigerian coastal town of Calobar, to Sierra Leone for prosecution. Two days later, Taylor attempted to flee Nigeria, but he was apprehended by Nigerian authorities and transferred to Freetown under UN guard.
Koroma's government (2007–present)
In August 2007, Sierra Leone held presidential and parliamentary elections. They had a good turnout and were initially judged by official observers to be "free, fair and credible". However, no presidential candidate won the 50% plus one vote majority stipulated in the constitution on the first round of voting. A runoff election was held in September 2007, and Ernest Bai Koroma, the candidate of the APC, was elected president and sworn in the same day. In his inauguration address in front of thousands of cheering supporters at the national stadium in Freetown, president Koroma promise to fight corruption and against the mismanagement of the country's resources.
By 2007, there had been an increase in the number of drug cartels, many from Colombia, using Sierra Leone as a base to ship drugs on to Europe. It was feared that this might lead to increased corruption and violence and turn the country, like neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, into a narco state. However, the new government of president Ernest Bai Koroma quickly amended the laws against drug trafficking in the country, updating the existing legislation from those inherited at independence in 1961, to address the international concerns, increasing punishment for offenders both in terms of higher, if not prohibitive, fines, lengthier prison terms and provision for possible extradition of offenders wanted elsewhere, including to the United States.
In 2014 the country was impacted by the 2014 Ebola virus epidemic in Sierra Leone.
- History of Africa
- History of West Africa
- List of colonial heads of Sierra Leone
- List of Governors-General of Sierra Leone
- List of heads of government of Sierra Leone
- President of Sierra Leone
- Politics of Sierra Leone
- Timeline of Freetown
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- On the fourth point: Abraham, Mende Government, pp 24, 29, 30, and especially 20.
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- Fyfe, pp 11, 12. The apologist is Matthews, A Voyage to the River Sierra Leone, London, 1788.
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- Rodney, "Mane", p 222. Based on account of the Portuguese chronicler De Almada.
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- Abraham, Mende Government, p 30. He cites British Colonial Office 267/344/60 report by Lalonde, 1881.
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- Fyfe, p 11.
- The 1714 incident, and most of the material in this and the preceding two paragraphs are from Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone, Introduction.
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- Wyse, p 22 ; Kilson, p 105 gives the date as 1895.
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- Wyse, p 70 ; also Kilson, p 106.
- Kilson 111.
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- Mimeograph, Sierra Leone Government Archives: "Report of the Board of Inquiry . . . into Stoppages of Work . . . at Marampa and Pepel." In Kilson, p 186, footnote.
- Childs, "Protectorate Report for 1949-50", pp 4-5, and " . . . Report for 1951", in Kilson, pp 186, 7.
- Wyse, p 174.
- Kilson, pp 60, 188 ; Wyse, p 174.
- Fyfe, p 486.
- P 524.
- Fyfe, p 541.
- Fyfe, p 541; Abraham, Mende Government, Chapter III.
- Abraham, Mende Government, p 153.
- Wyse, pp 18, 21, 26 ; Encyclopedia of African History, p 1354 ; but Fyfe, p 261, mentions Gubernatorial unfriendliness as early as 1850.
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