The present-day Republic of Sierra Leone was first colonized by the British in 1808 and, until it achieved its independence in 1961, had been both a colony and a protectorate of the United Kingdom and was occasionally administered as part of a separate colony or larger entity. For most of that period, it has retained roughly the same boundaries which currently shares borders with Guinea to the north-east, Liberia to the south-east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south-west. Sierra Leone has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savanna to rainforests. The country has a total area of 27,699 square miles (71,740 km²) and a population of 7,075,641 (based on the 2015 national census).
Sierra Leone is officially made up of four administrative regions: the Northern Province, Eastern Province, Southern Province and the Western Area, which are subdivided into fourteen districts. Each district has its own directly elected local government. Freetown (population 1,050,301), located in the Western Area, is the capital, largest city and its economic and political center. Bo (population 306,000), is the second largest city, and is located in the Southern Province, about 160 miles (260 km) from Freetown. Other major cities include Kenema, Koidu Town and Makeni.
Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature, having become an independent Nation on April 27, 1961, from Great Britain. The current constitution was adopted in 1991 during the presidency of Joseph Saidu Momoh, though it has been amended several times. Since independence to present, Sierra Leone’s politics have been dominated by two major political parties; the Sierra Leone People’s party (SLPP) and the All People’s Congress (APC).
About sixteen ethnic groups inhabit Sierra Leone, each with its own language and customs. The two largest and most influential are the Temne and the Mende people. The Temne are predominantly found in the north of the country, while the Mende are predominant in the south-east. Sierra Leone has a significant minority of the Krio people, who are descendants of freed African American and West Indian slaves.
Although English is the official language spoken at schools and government administration, the Krio language is the most widely spoken language across Sierra Leone and is spoken by 97% of the country’s population, uniting all the different ethnic groups in the country especially in their trade and social interaction with each other.
Sierra Leone is predominantly Muslim with the overall Muslim population at 78% of the population, with an influential Christian minority at about 21%. The nation is regarded as one of the most religiously tolerant nations in the world. Muslims and Christians collaborate and interact with each other very peacefully. Religious violence is very rare in the country. The major Christian and Muslim holidays are official public holidays in the country, including Christmas, Easter, Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. In politics, the overwhelming majority of Sierra Leoneans vote for a candidate without regard to whether the candidate is a Muslim or a Christian.
Sierra Leone has relied on mining, especially diamonds, for its economic base. It is also among the largest producers of titanium and bauxite, a major producer of gold, and has one of the world’s largest deposits of rutile. Sierra Leone is home to the third-largest natural harbor in the world. Despite exploitation of this natural wealth, 70% of its people live in poverty.
Archaeological finds show that Sierra Leone has been inhabited continuously for at least 2,500 years, populated successively by societies who migrated from other parts of Africa. The people adopted the use of iron by the 9th century and by 1000 AD agriculture was being practiced along the coast. The climate changed considerably and boundaries among different ecological zones changed as well, affecting migration and conquest.
Sierra Leone’s dense tropical rainforest and swampy environment was considered impenetrable; it was also host to the tsetse fly, which carried a disease fatal to horses and the zebu cattle used by the Mande people. This environmental factor protected its people from conquests by the Mande and other African empires. This also reduced the Islamic influence of the Mali Empire but Islam, introduced by Susu traders, merchants and migrants from the north and east, became widely adopted in the 18th century.
European contacts within Sierra Leone were among the first in West Africa. In 1462, Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra mapped the hills surrounding what is now Freetown Harbour, naming the shaped formation Serra da Leoa (Portuguese for Lioness Mountains). The Spanish rendering of this geographic formation is Sierra Leona, which later was adapted and, misspelled, became the country’s current name. Although according to the professor C. Magbaily Fyle this could have been a misinterpretation of historians: according to him, there has been evidence of travelers calling the region Serra Lyoa well before 1462, the year when de Sintra first arrived. This would imply that the identity of the person who named Sierra Leone still remains unclear.
Soon after Sintra’s expedition, Portuguese traders arrived at the harbor. By 1495, they had built a fortified trading post. The Dutch and French also set up trade here, and each nation used Sierra Leone as a trading point for slaves brought by African traders from interior areas. In 1562, the English initiated the Triangle Trade when Sir John Hawkins transported 300 enslaved Africans — acquired “by the sword and partly by other means” — to the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean, where he sold them.
Following the American Revolutionary War, the British evacuated thousands of freed African-American slaves and resettled them in Canadian and Caribbean colonies and London which gave them new lives. In 1787 the British Crown founded a settlement in Sierra Leone in what was called the “Province of Freedom”. It intended to resettle some of the “Black Poor of London,” mostly African Americans freed by the British during the war. About 400 blacks and 60 whites reached Sierra Leone on May 15, 1787. The group also included some West Indians of African descent from London. After they established Granville Town, most of the first group of colonists died, owing to disease and warfare with the indigenous African peoples (Temne and Mende), who resisted their encroachment. The 64 remaining colonists established a second Granville Town.
Following the Revolution, more than 3,000 Black Loyalists had also been settled in Nova Scotia, where they were finally granted land. They founded Birchtown, Nova Scotia, but faced harsh winters and racial discrimination from nearby Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Thomas Peters pressed British authorities for relief and more aid; together with British abolitionist John Clarkson, the Sierra Leone Company was established to relocate Black Loyalists who wanted to take their chances in West Africa. In 1792, nearly 1200 persons from Nova Scotia crossed the Atlantic to build the second (and only permanent) Colony of Sierra Leone and the settlement of Freetown on 11 March 1792. In Sierra Leone they were called the Nova Scotian Settlers, the Nova Scotians, or the Settlers.
The Settlers built Freetown in the styles they knew from their lives in the American South; they also continued American fashion and American manners. In addition, many continued to practice Methodism in Freetown. The initial process of society-building in Freetown, however, was a harsh struggle. The Crown did not supply enough basic supplies and provisions, and the Settlers were continually threatened by illegal slave trading and the risk of re-enslavement. In the 1790s, the Settlers, including adult women, voted for the first time in elections. The Sierra Leone Company, controlled by London investors, refused to allow the settlers to take freehold of the land. In 1799, some of the Settlers revolted. The Crown subdued the revolt by bringing in forces of more than 500 Jamaican Maroon people, whom they transported from Trelawny Town via Nova Scotia in 1800.
On January 1, 1808, Thomas Ludlam, the Governor of the Sierra Leone Company and a leading abolitionist, surrendered the Company’s charter. This ended its 16 years of running the Colony. The British Crown reorganized the Sierra Leone Company as the African Institution; it was directed to improve the local economy. Its members represented both British who hoped to inspire local entrepreneurs and those with interest in the Macauley & Babington Company, which held the (British) monopoly on Sierra Leone trade.
At about the same time (following the abolition of the slave trade in 1807), British crews delivered thousands of formerly enslaved Africans to Freetown, after liberating them from illegal slave ships. These Liberated Africans or recaptives were sold for $20 a head as apprentices to the white settlers, Nova Scotian Settlers, and the Jamaican Maroons. Some of the recaptives who were not sold as apprentices were forced to join the Navy. Though this apprentice system was not slavery, many recaptives were treated poorly and even abused because some of the original settlers considered them their property. Cut off from their various homelands and traditions, the Liberated Africans were forced to assimilate to the Western styles of Settlers and Maroons. For example, some of the recaptives were forced to change their name to a more Western sounding names. Though some people happily embraced these changes because they considered it as being part of the community, some were not happy with these changes and wanted to keep their own identity. Many recaptives were so unhappy that they risked the possibility of being sold back into slavery by leaving Sierra Leone and going back to their original villages. They built a flourishing trade in flowers and beads on the West African coast.
These returned Africans were from many areas of Africa, but principally the west coast. During the 19th century, freed black Americans, some Americo Liberian ‘refugees’, and particularly West Indians, also immigrated and settled in Freetown. Together these peoples created a new creole ethnicity called the Krio people (initially called Creoles) and a trading language, Krio, which became commonly used among many of the ethnicities in the country.
The settlement of Sierra Leone in the 1800s was unique in that the population was composed of displaced Africans who were brought to the colony after the British abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Upon arrival in Sierra Leone, each recaptive was given a registration number, and information on their physical qualities would be entered into the Register of Liberated Africans. However, oftentimes the documentations of the recaptives would be overwhelmingly subjective and would result in inaccurate entries on the recaptives and would make them difficult to track. In addition, differences between the Register of Liberated Africans of 1808 and the List of Captured Negroes of 1812 (which emulated the 1808 document) revealed some disparities in the entries of the recaptives, specifically in the names; many recaptives decided to change their given names to a more anglicised version which contributed to the difficulty in tracking the recaptives after they arrived in Sierra Leone.
According to the British Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, the recaptives could be subject to apprenticeships led by British colonists in Sierra Leone and the males enlisted into the Army or Navy. In many instances, the recaptives who were assigned to apprenticeships were sold for $20, giving the apprenticeship system qualities similar to slavery. It is documented that the recaptive apprentices were unpaid and the settlers who they were appointed to had devices which could be used to discipline them, namely sticks. According to Suzanne Schwartz, a historian on colonial Sierra Leone, in June 1808 a group of 21 men and women ran away to the nearby native settlement of Robiss and upon recapture were imprisoned by the settlers in Sierra Leone, thus contributing to the slavery-like qualities of the apprenticeship system.
In the early 19th century, Freetown served as the residence of the British colonial governor of the region, who also administered the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and the Gambia settlements. Sierra Leone developed as the educational center of British West Africa. The British established Fourah Bay College here in 1827, which 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.
The British interacted mostly with the Krios in Freetown, who did most of the trading with the indigenous peoples of the interior. In addition, educated Krios held numerous positions in the colonial government, giving them status and good-paying positions.
Following the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, the UK decided that it needed to establish more dominion over the inland areas, to satisfy what was described by the European powers as “effective occupation” of territories. In 1896 it annexed these areas, declaring them the Sierra Leone Protectorate. With this change, the British began to expand their administration in the region, recruiting British citizens to posts, and pushing Krios out of positions in government and even the desirable residential areas in Freetown.
In addition, the British annexation of the Protectorate interfered with the sovereignty of indigenous chiefs. They designated chiefs as units of local government, rather than dealing with them individually as had been previous practice. They did not maintain relationships even with longtime allies, such as Bai Bureh, chief of Kasseh, a community on the Small Scarcies River. He was later unfairly portrayed as a prime instigator of the Hut Tax war in 1898.
Colonel Frederic Cardew, military governor of the Protectorate, in 1898 established a new tax on dwellings and demanded that the chiefs use their peoples to maintain roads. The taxes were often higher than the value of the dwellings, and 24 chiefs signed a petition to Cardew, telling how destructive this was; their people could not afford to take time off from their subsistence agriculture. They resisted payment of taxes. Tensions over the new colonial requirements, and administration suspicions about the chiefs, led to the Hut Tax war of 1898, also called the Temne-Mende War. The British fired first. The Northern front of majority Temne people was led by Bai Bureh. The Southern front, consisting mostly of Mende people, entered conflict somewhat later and for different reasons.
For several months, Bureh’s fighters had the advantage over the vastly more powerful British forces. Both the British troops and Bureh’s warriors suffered hundreds of fatalities each. Bai Bureh finally surrendered on November 11, 1898, to end the destruction of his people’s territory and dwellings. Although the British government recommended leniency, Cardew insisted on sending the chief and two allies into exile in the Gold Coast; his government hanged 96 of the chief’s warriors. Bai Bureh was allowed to return in 1905, when he resumed his chieftaincy of Kasseh.
The defeat of the Temne and Mende in the Hut Tax war ended large-scale organised resistance to the Protectorate and colonial government. But resistance continued throughout the colonial period in the form of intermittent, wide-scale rioting and chaotic labor disturbances. For instance, riots in 1955 and 1956 involved “many tens of thousands” of natives in the protectorate.
Domestic slavery, which continued to be practiced by local African elites, was abolished in 1928. One notable event in 1935 was the granting of a monopoly on mineral mining to the Sierra Leone Selection Trust, run by De Beers. The monopoly was scheduled to last 98 years. Mining of diamonds in the east and other minerals expanded, drawing laborers there from other parts of the country.
In 1924, the UK government divided Sierra Leone into a Colony and a Protectorate, with separate and different political systems constitutionally defined for each. The Colony was Freetown and its coastal area; the Protectorate was defined as inland areas dominated by tribal chiefs. 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 leaders of the Protectorate, whose population far outnumbered that in the colony. The Creoles (Krios), led by Isaac Wallace-Johnson, opposed the proposals, as they would have resulted in reducing the political power of the Krios in the Colony.
In 1951, the educated protectorate leaders from across different ethnic groups, including Sir Milton Margai, Lamina Sankoh, Siaka Stevens, Mohamed Sanusi Mustapha, John Karefa-Smart, Kande Bureh, Sir Albert Margai, Amadu Wurie and Sir Banja Tejan-Sie joined together united with the powerful paramount chiefs in the protectorate to form the Sierra Leone People’s Party or SLPP as the party of the protectorate. The SLPP leadership, led by Sir Milton Margai, negotiated with the British and the educated Krio-margdominated colony based in Freetown to achieve independence
Owing to the astute politics of Sir Milton Margai, an ethnic Mende, 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 to achieve independence from the UK.
In November 1951, 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 Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), which was then the most popular political party in the colony of Sierra Leone and was supported by the powerful paramount chiefs in the provinces, won the most seats in Parliament, and Margai was re-elected as Chief Minister by a landslide.
On April 20, 1960, Sir Milton Margai led a twenty four member Sierra Leonean delegation at constitutional conferences that were held with Queen Elizabeth II and British Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod in negotiations for independence held in London. On the conclusion of talks in London on May 4, 1960, the United Kingdom agreed to grant Sierra Leone Independence the following year.
On April 27, 1961, Sir Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to independence from Great Britain and became the country’s first Prime Minister. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans took to the streets in celebration. Sierra Leone retained a parliamentary system of government and was a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The leader of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC), Siaka Stevens, along with Isaac Wallace-Johnson, another outspoken critic of the SLPP government, were arrested and placed under house arrest in Freetown, along with sixteen others charged with disrupting the independence celebration.
In May 1962, Sierra Leone held its first general election as an Independent nation. The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) won a plurality of seats in parliament, and Sir Milton Margai was re-elected as prime minister.
Sir Milton was very popular among Sierra Leoneans during his time in power. Sir Milton was known for his self-effacement. He was neither corrupt nor did he make a lavish display of his power or status. He based the government on the rule of law and the 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 to represent various ethnic groups. Margai employed a brokerage style of politics, by sharing political power among political parties and interest groups; and with the powerful paramount chiefs in the provinces, most of whom were key allies of his government.
Upon Sir Milton’s unexpected 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. Karefa-Smart lead a prominent small minority faction within the SLPP party in opposition of Albert Margai as Prime Minister. However, Kareefa-Smart failed to receive strong support within the SLPP and the SLPP dominated members of parliament in his attempt to have Albert Margai stripped of as the leader of the SLPP and prime minister of the country. The large majority of SLPP members backed Albert Margai over Kareefa-Smart. Soon after Albert 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 a threat to his administration, including Kareefa-Smart.
Sir Albert resorted to increasingly authoritarian actions in response to protests and enacted several laws against the opposition All People’s Congress (APC), whilst attempting to establish a one-party state. Sir Albert was opposed to the colonial legacy of allowing executive powers to the Paramount Chiefs, many of whom had been key allies of his late brother Sir Milton. Accordingly, they began to consider Sir Albert as a threat to the ruling houses across the country. Margai appointed many non ethnic Creole to the country’s civil service in Freetown, in an overall diversity of the civil service in the capital, which was previously dominated by members of the Creole ethnic group, as a result Albert Margai became unpopular in the Creole community, many of whom had supported his older brother Sir Milton. Margai was accused of favoring members of his own Mende ethnic group for prominent positions.
In 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. Although Sir Albert had the full backing of the country’s security forces, he called for free and fair elections.
The APC, with its leader Siaka Stevens, narrowly won a small majority of seats in Parliament over the SLPP in a closely contested 1967 Sierra Leone general election. Stevens was sworn in as Prime Minister on March 21, 1967.
Within hours after taking office, Stevens was ousted in a bloodless military coup led by Brigadier General David Lansana, the commander of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. He was 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 that the determination of the Prime Minister should await the election of the tribal representatives to the House. Upon his release, Stevens went into exile in Guinea.
On March 23, 1967, a group of military officers in the Sierra Leone Army led by Brigadier General Andrew Juxon-Smith, overrode this action by a coup d’état; they seized control of the government, arresting Brigadier Lansana, and suspending the constitution. The group set up the National Reformation Council (NRC), with Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith as its chairman and Head of State of the country.
On April 18, 1968, a group of corporals in the Sierra Leone Army who called themselves the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement (ACRM), led by Brigadier General John Amadu Bangura, overthrew the NRC junta. The ACRM junta arrested many senior NRC members. They reinstated the constitution and returned power to Stevens, who at last assumed the office of Prime Minister.
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 or 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 across the country. Many senior officers in the Sierra Leone Army were greatly disappointed with Stevens’ policies and his handling of the Sierra Leone Military; but none could 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 Bangura, and this made him potentially dangerous to Stevens. In January 1970, 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, Bangura was convicted and sentenced to death. On March 29, 1970, Brigadier Bangura was executed by hanging in Freetown.
After the execution of Brigadier Bangura, a group of soldiers loyal to the executed Brigadier Bangura held a mutiny in the capital Freetown and in some other parts of the country in opposition of Stevens’ government. Dozens of soldiers were arrested and convicted by a court martial in the capital Freetown for their participation in the mutiny against president Stevens; and among the soldiers arrested was a little known army Corporal Foday Sankoh, a strong supporter of the executed Brigadier Bangura. Corporal Sankoh was convicted and jailed for seven years at the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown.
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.
An alleged plot to overthrow president Stevens failed in 1974 and its leaders were executed. In mid-1974, Guinean soldiers, requested by Stevens, were in the country to help maintain his hold on power. As Stevens was a close ally of then Guinean president Ahmed Sekou Toure. In March 1976, Stevens was elected without opposition for a second five-year term as president. On July 19, 1975, 14 senior army and government officials including Brigadier David Lansana, former cabinet minister Mohamed Sorie Forna (father of writer Aminatta Forna), Brigadier General Ibrahim Bash Taqi and Lieutenant Habib Lansana Kamara were executed after being convicted of allegedly attempting a coup to topple president Stevens’ government.
In 1977, a nationwide student demonstration against the government disrupted Sierra Leone politics. The demonstration was quickly put down by the army and Stevens’ own personal Special Security Division (SSD) force, a heavily armed paramilitary force he had created to protect him and to maintain his hold on power. The SSD officers were very loyal to Stevens and were deployed across Sierra Leone to put down any rebellion or protest against Stevens’ government. A general election was called later that year in which corruption was again endemic; the APC won 74 seats and the SLPP 15. In 1978, the APC-dominant parliament approved a new constitution making the country a one-party state. The 1978 constitution made the APC the only legal political party 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 Stevens’ SSD forces. Stevens is generally criticized for dictatorial methods and government corruption, but on a positive note, he kept the country stable and from going into civil war. He built several government institutions that are still in use today. Stevens also reduced ethnic polarization in government by incorporating members of various ethnic groups into his all-dominant APC government.
Siaka Stevens retired from politics in November 1985 after being in power for eighteen years. The APC named a new presidential candidate to succeed Stevens at their last delegate conference held in Freetown in November 1985. He was Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, the head of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and Stevens’ own choice to succeed him. 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 was elected President as the only contesting candidate, without any opposition, and was sworn in as Sierra Leone’s second president on November 28, 1985, in Freetown. A one-party parliamentary election between APC members was held in May 1986. President Momoh appointed his former military colleague and key ally, Major General Mohamed Tarawalie to succeed him as the head of the Sierra Leone Military. Major General Tarawalie was also a strong loyalist and key supporter of president Momoh. President Momoh named James Bambay Kamara as the head of the Sierra Leone Police. Bambay Kamara was a key loyalist and strong supporter of President Momoh. Momoh broke away from former president Siaka Stevens, by integrating the powerful SSD into the Sierra Leone police as a special paramilitary force of the Sierra Leone police. Previously under President Stevens, the SSD was a personal force of Stevens to maintain his hold on power, and the SSD was very powerful and was independent from the Sierra Leone military and Sierra Leone Police Force, and the SSD was directly under the control of President Stevens. The Sierra Leone police under Bambay Kamara leadership, was accused of physical violence, arrest and intimidation against critics of President Momoh’s government.
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.
The next couple of years under the Momoh administration were characterized by corruption, which Momoh defused by sacking several senior cabinet ministers. To formalize 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 of plotting the coup, and executed by hanging in 1989 along with 5 others.
In October 1990, owing to mounting pressure from both within and outside the country for political and economic reform, President Momoh set up a constitutional review commission to assess 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 October 1, 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.
The brutal civil war that was going on in neighboring Liberia played a significant 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 Foday Saybana Sankoh, an ethnic Temne from Tonkolili District in Northern Sierra Leone. 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.
On April 29, 1992, a group of young soldiers in the Sierra Leone Army, and lead by its seven coup ring leaders consisting of Lieutenant Sahr Sandy, Captain Valentine Strasser, Sargent Solomon Musa, Captain Komba Mondeh, Lieutenant Tom Nyuma, Captain Julius Maada Bio and Captain Komba Kambo that launched a military coup, which sent president Momoh into exile in Guinea and the young soldiers established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) with twenty five year old Captain Valentine Strasser as its chairman and Head of State of the country.
Sargent Solomon Musa, a childhood friend of Strasser, became the deputy chairman and deputy leader of the NPRC junta government. Strasser became the world’s youngest head of state when he seized power just three days after his 25th birthday. The NPRC junta established the National Supreme Council of State as the military highest command and final authority in all matters, and was exclusively made up of the highest ranking NPRC soldiers, included Strasser himself and the original soldiers who toppled president Momoh.
One of the highest ranking soldiers of the NPRC junta, Lieutenant Sahr Sandy, a trusted ally of Strasser, was assassinated, allegedly by Major S.I.M. Turay, a key loyalist of ousted president Momoh. A heavily armed military manhunt took place across the country to find Lieutenant Sandy’s killer, however, the main suspect Major S.I.M Turay went into hiding and fled the country to Guinea, fearing for his life. Dozens of soldiers loyal to the ousted president Momoh were arrested including colonel Kahota M Dumbuya and Major Yayah Turay. Lieutenant Sandy’ was given a state funeral and his funeral prayers service at the cathedral church in Freetown was attended by many high ranking soldiers of the NPRC junta including Strasser himself and NPRC deputy leader Sergeant Solomom Musa
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 junta maintained relations with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and strengthened support for Sierra Leone-based ECOMOG troops fighting in Liberia. On December 28, 1992, an alleged coup attempt against the NPRC government 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. Several Junior army officers lead by Seargen Mohamed Lamin Bangura were identified as being behind the coup plot. The coup plot led to the firing squad execution of seventeen soldiers in the Sierra Leone Army including Colonel Kahota M Dumbuya, Major Yayah Kanu and Seargent Mohamed Lamin Bangura. Several prominent members of the Momoh government who had been in detention at the Pa Demba Road prison, including former inspector general of police Bambay Kamara were also executed.
On July 5, 1994, the deputy NPRC leader Seargent Solomon Musu, who was very popular with the general population, particularly in Freetown, was arrested and sent into exile after he was accused of planning a coup to topple Strasser. An accusation Seargent Musa denied. Strasser replaced Musa as deputy NPRC chairman with Captain Julius Maada Bio, who was instantly promoted by Strasser to Brigadier.
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.
With Strasser’s two most senior NPRC allies and commanders Lieutenant Sahr Sandy and Lieutenant Solomon Musa no longer around to defend him, Strasser’s leadership within the NPRC Supreme Council of State was not considered much stronger. On January 16, 1996, after about four years in power, Strasser was arrested in a palace coup at the Defence Headquarter in Freetown by his fellow NPRC soldiers 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 civil war were his motivations for the coup. 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 opened dialogue with the RUF and invited RUF leader Foday Sankoh for peace negotiations.
On May 25, 1997, seventeen soldiers in the Sierra Leone army led by Corporal Tamba Gborie, 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 shocked 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.
Koroma suspended the constitution, banned demonstrations, shut down all private radio stations in the country and invited the RUF to join the new junta government, with its leader Foday Sankoh as the Vice-Chairman of the new AFRC-RUF coalition junta government. Within days, Freetown was overwhelmed by the presence of the RUF combatants who came to the city in thousands. 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 of Sierra Leone from the soldiers.
After nine months in office, the junta was overthrown by the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces, and the democratically elected government of president Kabbah was reinstated in February 1998. On October 19, 1998, twenty-four soldiers in the Sierra Leone army were executed by firing squad after they were convicted at a court martial in Freetown, some for orchestrating the 1997 coup that overthrew President Kabbah and others for failure to reverse the mutiny.
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. 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”.
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, the war was declared over. In May 2002, Kabbah was re-elected president by 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.
In August 2007, Sierra Leone held presidential and parliamentary elections. 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 main opposition APC, was elected president. Koroma was re-elected president for a second (and final) term in November 2012.
In 2014, an Ebola virus epidemic in Sierra Leone began, which had widespread impact on the country, including forcing Sierra Leone to declare a state of emergency. By the end of 2014, there were nearly 3000 deaths and 10 thousand cases of the disease in Sierra Leone. The epidemic also led to the Ouse to Ouse Tock in September 2014, a nationwide three-day quarantine. The epidemic occurred as part of the wider Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa. In early August 2014, Sierra Leone cancelled league football matches because of the Ebola epidemic.
Unlike other British colonies, stamps of Great Britain were never officially used in Sierra Leone although examples from ships of the anti-slavery West Africa Squadron exist with local cancellations. The first stamp of Sierra Leone was a 6 pence issued on September 21, 1859. It is regarded, along with Malta’s 1860 ½ penny yellow, as one of the most advanced stamp designs of the time.
A new set portraying Queen Victoria was issued in 1872 (Scott #6-10), and this design continued in use until 1896. In 1896-7, a Victorian key type set of thirteen was issued (Scott #34-46). In 1897, 1 penny, 3 pence, 6 pence, 1 shilling, and 2 shilling fiscal stamps were overprinted POSTAGE AND REVENUE and additionally surcharged 2½ pence (Scott #47-63A); the 1 penny was never surcharged. All King Edward VII stamps are key types.
In 1912-16, a King George V set was issued. All values up to 10 pence (except for the 3 pence) were key types. The 3 pence and 1 shilling to £5 showed the King and the badge of the colony — an elephant (Scott #103-139). In 1932, a new definitive set was issued portraying the king and a rice field (½ penny to 1 shilling) or palm and cola trees (2 shillings to £1, Scott @140-152). This was followed by a set of 13 issued in 1933 commemorating the centenary of abolition of slavery and the death of William Wilberforce (Scot #153-165). In 1935, the Crown Agents omnibus issue commemorating The King’s Silver Jubilee was issued (Scott #166-169).
Like many British colonies, the first King George VI set was the Crown Agents omnibus issue of the 1937 coronation (Scott #170-172). A definitive was issued between 1938 and 1944 (Scott #173-185), and was followed by the omnibus issues of Victory on October 1, 1946 (Scott #186-187), Royal Silver Wedding on December 1, 1948 (Scott #188-189) and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union on October 10, 1949 (Scott #190-193). The first stamp issue of Queen Elizabeth II was the coronation omnibus (Scott #194), followed by a definitive set issued between 1956 and 1961 (Scott #195-207).
The first stamps of independent Sierra Leone were a definitive issue with the coat of arms instead of the Queen (Scott #208-220). In 1964, the new currency of cents and leones replaced the old British currency. This resulted in a large number of stamps overprinted with the new currency. Sierra Leone issued the first world’s self-adhesive stamps in February 1964, made by British printer Walsall (Scott #257-263). Many stamps issued between 1964 and 1971 were in strange shapes, as those of Tonga. The country became a republic in 1971, and although the republic’s first issue was in the shape of a lion’s head (Scott #422-435), later stamps were rectangular. Sierra Leone regularly issues both thematic and commemorative stamps.
Scott #141 was released on March 1, 1932, and is a 1 penny dark violet engraved stamp, perforated 12½, picturing a rice field.