Archaeological finds show that Sierra Leone has been inhabited continuously for at least 2,500 years, populated by successive movements 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 largely protected it from the influence of any precolonial African empires and from further Islamic colonization, which were unable to penetrate through it until the 18th century.
European contacts with Sierra Leone were among the first in West Africa. In 1462, Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra mapped the hills surrounding what is now Freetown Harbour, naming shaped formation Serra de Leão (Portuguese for Lion Mountains). Its Italian rendering is Sierra Leone, which became the country’s name. Soon after Portuguese traders arrived at the harbour and by 1495 a fort that acted as a trading post had been built. The Portuguese were joined by the Dutch and French; all of them using Sierra Leone as a trading point for slaves. In 1562 the English joined the trade in slaves when Sir John Hawkins bought 300 slaves.
In 1787, a plan was implemented to settle some of London’s Black Poor in Sierra Leone in what was called the “Province of Freedom”. A number of Black Poor and White women arrived off the coast of Sierra Leone on May 15, 1787, accompanied by some English tradesmen. This was organized by the St. George’s Bay Company, 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 promised their freedom for joining the British Army during the American Revolution, but also included other African and Asian inhabitants of London.
Disease and hostility from the indigenous people nearly eliminated the first group of colonists. Through intervention by Thomas Peters, the Sierra Leone Company was established to relocate another group of former slaves, this time nearly 1,200 Black Nova Scotia’s, most of whom had escaped slavery in the United States. Given the most barren land in Nova Scotia, many had died from the harsh winters there. They established a settlement at Freetown in 1792 led by Peters. It was joined by other groups of freed slaves and became the first Afro-American haven for ex-slaves.
Though the English abolitionist Granville Sharp originally planned Sierra Leone as a utopian community, the directors of the Sierra Leone Company refused to allow the settlers to take freehold of the land. Knowing how Highland Clearances benefited Scottish landlords but not tenants, the settlers revolted in 1799. The revolt was only put down by the arrival of over 500 Jamaican Maroons, who also arrived via Nova Scotia.
Thousands of slaves were returned to or liberated in Freetown. Most chose to remain in Sierra Leone. These returned Africans were from many areas of Africa, but principally the west coast. They joined the previous settlers and together became known as Creole or Krio people. Cut off from their homes and traditions, they assimilated some aspects of British styles of inhabitants and built a flourishing trade of flowers and beads on the West African coast. The lingua franca of the colony was Krio, a creole language rooted in 18th century African American English, which quickly spread across the region as a common language of trade and Christian mission. British and American abolitionist movements envisioned Freetown as embodying the possibilities of a post-slave trade Africa.
In the early 20th 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.
During Sierra Leone’s colonial history, indigenous people mounted several unsuccessful revolts against British rule and Krio domination. The most notable was the Hut Tax war of 1898. Its first leader was Bai Bureh, a Temne chief who refused to recognize the British-imposed tax on “huts” (dwellings). The tax was generally regarded by the native chiefs as an attack on their sovereignty. After the British issued a warrant to arrest Bai Bureh alleging that he had refused to pay taxes, he brought fighters from several Temne villages under his command, and from Limba, Loko, Soso, Kissi, and Mandinka villages. Bureh’s fighters had the advantage over the vastly more powerful British for several months of the war. Hundreds of British troops and hundreds of Bureh’s fighters were killed. Bai Bureh was finally captured on November 11, 1898 and sent into exile in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), while 96 of his comrades were hanged by the British.
The defeat of the natives in the Hut Tax war ended large scale organised resistance to colonialism; however resistance continued throughout the colonial period in the form of intermittent rioting and chaotic labour disturbances. Riots in 1955 and 1956 involved “many tens of thousands” of natives in the protectorate.
One notable event in 1935 was the granting of a monopoly on mineral mining to the Sierra Leone Selection Trust run by De Beers, which was scheduled to last 99 years.
An independent nation
The 1924 Sierra Leone constitution was replaced in November 1951 by a new one which united the formerly separate Colonial and Protectorate legislatures and — most importantly — provided a framework for decolonization. In 1953, an African cabinet was installed (although the expatriate ministers it replaced remained in the legislature as advisers); and Dr. (later Sir) Milton Margai, an ethnic Mende and the leading politician from the Protectorate, was named Chief minister. His title was changed to Prime Minister in 1956. After the completion of constitutional talks in London in 1960, independence came on 27 April 1961, the anniversary of the start of the Hut Tax War of 1898. Sierra Leone opted for a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations.
Milton Margai’s political party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), won by large margins in the nation’s first general election under universal adult suffrage in May 1962. Upon his death in 1964, his brother, Sir Albert Margai succeeded him as prime minister. Sir Albert was highly criticized during his three-year rule as prime minister. He was accused of corruption and of favouritism toward his own Mende ethnic group. He also tried to establish a one-party state but met fierce resistance from the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) and ultimately abandoned the idea. During Albert Margai’s administration, The Mende increased their influence both in the civil service and the army. Most of the top military and government positions were held by Mendes, and Mende country (the South-Eastern part of Sierra Leone) received preferential treatment.
In closely contested general elections in March 1967, Sierra Leone Governor General Henry Josiah Lightfoot Boston declared the new prime minister to be Siaka Stevens, candidate of the All People’s Congress (APC) and Mayor of Freetown. Hours after taking office, Stevens was ousted in a bloodless coup led by Brigadier David Lansana, the Commander of the Armed Forces, on grounds that the determination of office should await the election of the tribal representatives to the house. Stevens was placed under house arrest and martial law was declared. But a group of senior military officers overrode this action by seizing control of the government on March 23, 1968, arresting Lansana and suspending the constitution. The group constituted itself as the National Reformation Council (NRC) with Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith as its chairman. In April 1968, the NRC was overthrown by a group of military officers who called themselves the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement (ACRM), led by Brigadier John Amadu Bangura. The ACRM imprisoned senior NRC members, restored the constitution and reinstated Stevens as Prime Minister. Under the APC regimes headed by Stevens, The Limba, Stevens own ethnic group, retained strong influence in the government and civil service. During the 1970s, the other major ethnic group, the Temne joined the Mende in opposition to the APC government. But after Stevens appointed an ethnic Temne, Sorie Ibrahim Koroma as vice-president in 1978, the Temne appeared to have emerged as the second most influential group in the government, after the Limba.
The return to civilian rule led to by-elections beginning in fall 1968 and the appointment of an all-APC cabinet. Calm was not completely restored. In November 1968, Stevens declared a state of emergency after provincial disturbances. In March 1971 the government survived an unsuccessful military coup and in July 1974 it uncovered an alleged military coup plot. The leaders of both plots were tried and executed. The opposition SLPP boycotted the 1973 general election, alleging widespread intimidation and procedural obstruction. In 1977, student demonstrations against the government disrupted Sierra Leone politics.
On April 19, 1971, parliament declared Sierra Leone a Republic. Siaka Stevens, then prime minister, became the nation’s first president. Guinean troops requested by Stevens to support his government were in the country from 1971 to 1973. An alleged plot to overthrow president Stevens failed in 1974, its leaders were executed, and in March 1976 he was elected without opposition for a second five-year term as president. In the national parliamentary election of May 1977, the APC won 74 seats and the main opposition, the SLPP won 15. The SLPP, who condemned the election, alleged widespread vote-rigging and voter intimidation. In 1978, parliament approved a new constitution making the country a one-party state. The 1978 referendum made the APC the only legal political party in Sierra Leone.
Siaka Stevens retired in November, 1985 after being President for 14 years, but continued to be chairman of the APC. The APC named a new presidential candidate to succeed Stevens. He was Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh, the commander of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, and Stevens’ own choice to succeed him. like Stevens, Momoh was also a member of the minority Limba ethnic group. Joseph Saidu Momoh was elected President in a one-party referendum on November 28, 1985. An inauguration was held in January 1986, and a one party parliamentary elections beween APC members were held in May, 1986.
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.
Multi-party constitution and RUF rebellion
In October 1990, president Momoh set up a constitutional review commission to review the 1978 one-party constitution. Based on the commission recommendations a constitution re-establishing a multi-party system was approved by Parliament; becomming effective on October 1, 1991. But there was great suspicion that Momoh was not serious, and APC rule was increasingly marked by abuses of power.
Civil war broke out, mainly due to government corruption and mismanagement of diamond resources. Besides the internal ripeness, the brutal civil war going on in neighbouring Liberia played an undeniable role for 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. In return, Taylor received diamonds from Sierra Leone. The RUF, led by Sankoh and backed by Taylor, launched its first attack in villages in Kailahun District in eastern Sierra Leone from Liberia on March 23, 1991. 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 from Liberia, the RUF controlled much of the Eastern Province. Forced recruitment of child soldiers was also an early feature of the rebel strategy.
On April 29, 1992, a group of six young soldiers in the Sierra Leonean army, apparently frustrated by the government’s failure to deal with rebels, launched a military coup which sent president Momoh into exile in Guinea. They were second lieutenant Solomon A.J. Musa, Colonel Tom Nyuma, Brigadier-General, Julius Maada Bio, Colonel Yahya Kanu, Captain Samuel Komba Kambo, Lieutenant Colonel Komba Mondeh and were led by a 25 year old captain Valentine Strasser. The soldiers established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) with Yahya Kanu as its chairman. But Kanu was assassinated by fellow NPRC members, who accused him of trying to negotiate with the toppled APC administration. On May 4, 1992, 25 year old Valentine Strasser took over as chairman of the NPRC and Head of State of Sierra Leone. S.A.J Musa, one of the leaders of the coup and a close friend of Strasser took over as Vice-Chairman of the NPRC. Many Sierra Leoneans nationwide rushed into the streets to celebrate the NPRC’s takeover from the 23 year dictatorial APC regime, which they perceived as corrupt. The NPRC junta immediately suspended the 1991 Constitution, declared a state of emergency, limited freedom of speech, and freedom of the press and enacted a rule-by-decree policy. The army and police officers were granted unlimited powers of administrative detention without charge or trial, and challenges against such detentions in court were precluded.
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 1995 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. During this time corruption had erupted within senior NPRC members. On July 5, Strasser dismissed his childhood friend Musa as deputy charman of the NPRC and appointed Julius Maada Bio to succeed him. Some senior NPRC members, including Bio, Nyuma and Mondeh, were unhappy with Strasser’s handling of the peace process. In January 1996, after nearly four years in power, Strasser was ousted in a coup by fellow NPRC members led by his deputy Maada Bio. Bio reinstated the Constitution and called for general elections. In the second round of presidential elections in early 1996, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, candidate of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) defeated John Karefa-Smart of the United National People’s Party (UNPP) and a member of the minority Sherbro ethnic group. Bio fulfilled promises of a return to civilian rule, and handed power to Kabbah, who was from the Mende-dominated Kailahun District in the south-east of Sierra Leone and a member of the minority Mandingo ethnic group. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s SLPP party also won majority of the seats in Parliament.
In 1996, Major General Johnny Paul Koroma was allegedly involved in an attempt to overthrow the government of president Kabbah. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned at Freetown’s Pademba Road Prison. But some top rank Army officers were unhappy with this decision, and on May 25, 1997, a group of soldiers who called themselves the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) overthrew Kabbah. The AFRC released Koroma from prison and installed him as their chairman and Head of State of the country. Koroma suspended the constitution, banned demonstrations, shut down all private radio stations in the country and invited the RUF to join his government. After 10 months in office, the junta was ousted by the Nigeria-led ECOMOG forces, and the democratically elected government of president Kabbah was reinstated in March 1998. Hundreds of civilians who had been accused of helping the AFRC government were illegally detained. Courts-martial were held for soldiers accused of assisting the AFRC government. 24 of these were found guilty and were executed without appeal in October 1998. On January 6, 1999, AFRC made another unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government, causing many deaths and much destruction of property in and around Freetown.
In October, 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.
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, Kabbah was reelected president. 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 a majority of votes. A runoff election was held in September, and Ernest Bai Koroma was elected president.
|Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. The current system of government in Sierra Leone, established under the 1991 Constitution, is modeled on the following structure of government: the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary .
Within the confines of the 1991 Constitution, supreme legislative powers are vested in Parliament, which is the law making body of the nation. Supreme executive authority rests in the president and members of his cabinet and judicial power with the judiciary of which the Chief Justice is head.
The president is the head of state, the head of government and the commander-in-chief of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Police. The president appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers, which must be approved by the Parliament. The president is elected by popular vote to a maximum of two five-year terms.
To be elected president, a candidate must gain at least 55% of the vote. If no candidate gets 55%, there is to be a second-round runoff between the top two candidates. Presidential candidates must be Sierra Leonean citizens by birth; must be at least 40 years old; must be able to speak, read and write the English language; must be a member of a political party and must not have any past felony criminal conviction. The current president of Sierra Leone is Ernest Bai Koroma, who was sworn in on September 17, 2007, shortly after being declared the winner of a tense run-off election over the incumbent Vice president, Solomon Berewa of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
Next to the president is the Vice president, who is the second-highest ranking government official in the executive branch of the Sierra Leone Government. As designated by the Sierra Leone Constitution, the vice president is to become the new president of Sierra Leone upon the death, resignation, or removal of the president by parliament and to assume the Presidency temporarily while the president is abroad, or otherwise temporarily unable to fulfill his or her duties. The vice president is elected jointly with the president as his or her running mate. Sierra Leone’s current vice president is Samuel Sam-Sumana, sworn in on September 17, 2007.
The Parliament of Sierra Leone is unicameral, with 124 seats. Each of the country’s fourteen districts is represented in parliament. 112 members are elected concurrently with the presidential elections; the other 12 seats are filled by paramount chiefs from each of the country’s 12 administrative districts.
The current parliament in the August 2007 Parliamentary elections is made up of three political parties with the following representations; the All People’s Congress (APC) 59 seats, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) 43 seats, and the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) 10 seats. The most recent parliamentary elections were held on August 11, 2007. The All People’s Congress (APC), won 59 of 112 parliamentary seats; the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) won 43; and the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) won 10. To be qualified as Member of Parliament, the person must be a citizen of Sierra Leone, must be at least 21 years old, must be able to speak, read and write the English language with a degree of proficiency to enable him to actively take part in proceedings in Parliament; and must not have any criminal conviction .
Since independence in 1961, Sierra Leone’s politics has been dominated by two major political parties, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), and the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), although other minor political parties have also existed but with no significant supports.
The judicial power of Sierra Leone is vested in the judiciary, headed by the Chief Justice and comprising the Sierra Leone Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the country and its ruling therefore cannot be appealed; High Court of Justice; the Court of Appeal; the magistrate courts; and traditional courts in rural villages. The president appoints and parliament approves Justices for the three courts. The Judiciary have jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matters throughout the country. The current Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice is Umu Hawa Tejan Jalloh, who was appointed by President Ernest Bai Koroma and took office on January 25, 2008 upon his confirmation by parliament. She is the first woman in the history of Sierra Leone to hold such position