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). The Italian rendering of this geographic formation 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 human beings when Sir John Hawkins shipped 300 enslaved people, acquired 'by the sword and partly by other means', to the new colonies in America.
Freedom From Enslavement
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 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 formerly enslaved Africans, this time nearly 1,200 Black Nova Scotians, most of whom had escaped enslavement 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 Africans and became the first African-American haven for formerly enslaved Africans.
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 formerly enslaved Africans 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. In the 1790s, blacks voted for the first time in elections, as did women.
After the collapse of the Sierra Leone Company, the newly-formed African Institution met in 1807 to achieve more success by focusing on bettering the local economy, but it was constantly split between those British who meant to inspire local entrepreneurs and those with interest in the Macauley & Babington Company which held the (English) monopoly on Sierra Leone trade.
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, Bai Bureh declared war on British in Northern Sierra Leone, with the full support of several prominent native chiefs, including the powerful Kissi chief Kai Londo and the Limba chief Almamy Suluku. Both chief sent warriors and weapons to aide Bai Bureh.
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 11 November 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 98 years.
An Independent Nation Lead by Sir Milton Margai
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 Creoles, lead by Isaac Wallace-Johnson, naturally opposed the proposals, whose effect would have been to diminish their political power. It was due to the astute politics of Sir Milton Margai, an ethnic Mende and the leading Protectorate politician, that the educated Protectorate elite was won over to join forces with the paramount chiefs in the face of Creole intransigence. Later, Sir Milton used the same skills to win over opposition leaders and moderate Creole 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 majority of the seats in Parliament. Margai was also re-elected as Chief Minister by a landslide.
Margai led the Sierra Leonean delegation at the constitutional conferences that were held with British Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod in London in 1960. All members of the Sierra Leonean delegation were prominent and well-respected politicians including Sir Milton's younger brother Sir Albert Margai, John Kareefa Smart, Lamina Sankoh, Kande Bureh, Sir Banja-Tejan Sie, Ella Koblo Gulama, Amadu Wurie, Mohamed Sanusi Mustapha and Eustace Henry Taylor Cummings. Two notable absentees from the delegation were Siaka Stevens, the leader of the opposition APC, and the veteran Creole politician Isaac Wallce-Johnson who were placed under house arrest in Freetown, charged with disrupting the Independence movement.
On 27 April 1961, Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to independence from the United Kingdom. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans across the nation took to the streets to celebrate their independence. The nation held its first general elections on 27 May 1962, and Margai was elected Sierra Leone's first Prime Minister by a landslide. 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.
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. Milton 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. Sir Milton successfully built coalitions from in the 1950s to attain independence without bloodshed. With his genteel nature, Sir Milton Margai employed a brokerage style of politics by sharing political power between political groups and the paramamount chiefs in the provinces.
Upon Margai's death on 28 April 1964, an internal crises within members of the Sierra Leone People's party irrupted as who to succeed Margai as Prime Minister. The parliament of Sierra Leone held an emergency session to elect a new prime minister, the person must be a member of the rulling SLPP party. One of the two leading candidates to succeed Margai as Prime minister was Sir Albert Margai, Sierra Leone's Finance minister and also the younger brother of Sir Milton Margai. The other was Dr.John Karefa-Smart, Sierra Leone's Foreign minister and a close ally of Sir Milton. Sir Albert Margai was elected by a majority vote in Parliament to be the new leader of the SLPP and the next prime minister of Sierra Leone. Sir Albert Margai's leadership was briefly challenged by Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister John Karefa-Smart, an ethnic Sherbro, 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.
Albert Margai Administration
Sir Albert was sworn in as Sierra Leone's second Prime Minister the same day his brother died at a ceremony held at the Sierra Leone's parliament in Freetown. Soon after Margai was sworn in as Prime Minister, he immediately dismissed Karefa-Smart and several other 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. Sir Albert appointed the Creole politician Cyril B. Rogers-Wright to replcad Karefa-Smart.
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. This made him unpopular with the powerful paramount chiefs, most of whom were founding members of the SLPP. To strengthen support for his reform agenda for the party and the country the new Prime Minister brought into the executive of the SLPP and his government younger, western-educated, and more radicallised members of the party including Salia Jusu Sheriff (PhD). The party was thus divided with the traditionalist and more powerful old guard against the new and younger leaders. As Prime Minister Sir Albert Margai opposed Creole domination of the civil service and many ethnic Creoles lost their positions in the civil service as a result. Sir Albert Margai was highly criticized during his tenure as prime minister. He was accused of corruption and of a policy of affirmative action in favor of the Mende ethnic group. 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. Sir Albert also tried to establish a one-party state but with very little support in Parliament, even among his fellow SLPP members and was also met by fierce resistance from the main opposition the All People's Congress (APC), which had become suddenly more popular than the rulling SLPP and ultimately abandoned the idea.
APC political rally in Kabala, Koinadugu District outside the home of supporters of the rival SLPP in 1967.
Under Albert Margai's government, Sierra Leone enjoyed freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Sir Albert tolerated criticism of his government, even by his political opponent. Not a single journalist or politician was killed during his term in office. Sir Albert tolerated criticism or written a libel claim against his government. Under Albert Margai, all Sierra Leoneans had equal access to free and fair trial .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 a free and fair elections.
Three Military Coups, 1967-1968
After the closely contested general election in March 1967, Sierra Leone Governor General Sir Henry Josiah Lightfoot Boston declared the new prime minister to be Siaka Stevens, an ethnic Limba, the candidate of the All People's Congress (APC) and the mayor of Freetown. Stevens had defeated the incumbent prime minister, Sir Albert Margai, by a narrow margin. Stevens won the majority of the vote in the north of the country and in the western area, including in Freetown. Albert Margai on the other side, won the vast majority of the vote in south-eastern Sierra Leone. Sir Albert conceded defeat and handed power to Siaka Stevens. Stevens was sworn in as Sierra Leone's third prime minister on 17 May 1967 in Freetown. Mere hours after he took office, soldiers stormed the State House and abducted Stevens at gunpoint. The coup was led by Brigadier General David Lansana, an ethnic Mende and the commander of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. Brigadier David Lansana was a prominent supporter of Albert Margai, who had appointed him to the top command in 1964. Brigadier Lansana declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law. He insisted that the determination of the winner of the election should await the election of the tribal representatives in Parliament, mostly from Mende chiefdoms in South-Eastern Sierra Leone.
On 23 March 1968, however, a group of senior army officers led by Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith, an ethnic Creole, in turn seized control of the government, arrested Lansana and suspended the constitution. Martial law was maintained. The group constituted itself as the National Reformation Council (NRC) with Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith as its chairman. In April 1968, the NRC was in turn overthrown by a third group of senior army, who called themselves the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement (ACRM), led by Brigadier General John Amadu Bangura, an ethnic Limba. The ACRM imprisoned Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith and other senior NRC members and restored the constitution. In Bragadier Bangura's first speech, he urged Sierra Leoneans to stay calm and appealed to the military to respect the constitution and stay out of politics. Bangura invited Stevens to the state house and reinstated him as prime minister in a special ceremony. Brigadier Bangura was accused of tribalism in favor of Siaka Stevens.
Stevens Government and One Party State
Stevens assumed power again in 1968 with a great deal of promise and ambition. Much trust was placed upon him as he championed multi-party politics. Upon taking power from the military, however, he drove the SLPP from competitive politics in general elections using violence and intimidation. To gain 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, Stevens declared a state of emergency after disturbance in the provinces.
Stevens had campaigned on a platform of socialist principles. However, when he became Prime Minister he abandoned his pre-election promises and employed an authoritarian model of governance.
Many senior officers in the Sierra Leone military were disappointed 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. Bangura was a magnetic and popular figure among Sierra Leoneans. The army was devoted to him and this made him potentially dangerous to Steven's new agenda in the shifting political climate of Sierra Leone. In January 1970, Bangura was arrested and charged with conspiracy and plotting to commit a coup against the Stevens government. He was convicted and sentenced to death by execution. On 29 March 1970, Bangura was hanged at the Kissy Road in central Freetown. In March 1971, a group of senior military officials attempted an unsuccessful military coup. The coup leaders were convicted and executed, including several senior officers in the army and some senior government officials.
On 19 April 1971, parliament declared Sierra Leone a republic, with Siaka Stevens as president and Sorie Ibrahim Koroma as Vice President. Under the APC regimes headed by Stevens, the Limba, Stevens' own ethnic group and the Creoles, enjoyed strong influence in the government and civil service. Another 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, the Temne appeared to have emerged as an influential group in the APC government. Guinean troops requested by Stevens to support his government were in the country from 1971 to 1973. In May 1973, general elections were held throughout the country, but the main opposition, the SLPP, boycotted the 1973 general election, alleging widespread intimidation and procedural obstruction.
In 1973, president Stevens and president William Tolbert of Liberia signed a treaty forming the Mano River Union to facilitate trade between Sierra Leone and Liberia, with Guinea joining in 1980 under president Sekou Toure. In 1975, Sierra Leone joined the Economic Community of West African States (commonly known as ECOWAS).
An alleged plot to overthrow president Stevens failed in 1974 and its leaders were executed. In March 1976, Stevens was elected without opposition for a second five-year term as president. On 19 July 1975, 14 senior army and government officials including Brigadier David Lansana, former cabinet minister Mohamed Sorie Forna, Brigadier General Ibrahim Bash Taqi and Lieutenant Habib Lansana Kamara were executed after being convicted for allegedly attempting a coup to topple president Stevens' government.
In early 1977, a major anti-government demonstration by students and youth occurred throughout the country against the APC government and deteriorating economic conditions. Police and the army put down the demonstration.
In the national parliamentary election of May 1977, the APC won 74 seats and the main opposition, the SLPP, won 15. The SLPP condemned the election, alleged widespread vote-rigging and voter intimidation. In 1978, the APC dominant 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. This move lead to another major demonstration in many parts of the country but again it was put down by the army and the police.
Stevens is generally criticised for dictatorial methods and government corruption, but reduced ethnic polarisation in government by incorporating members of various ethnic groups into his all-dominating APC government.
Siaka Stevens retired in November, 1985 after being in power for 18 years, but continued to be chairman of the APC. 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 commander 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. Joseph Saidu Momoh was elected President in a one-party parliament as the only contesting candidate. Momoh was sworn in as Sierra Leone's second president in Freetown on 28 November 1985 with Francis Minah (an ethnic Mende) as Vice president. A one party parliamentary elections between APC members were held in May, 1986.
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 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.
Multi-Party Constitution and Revolutionary United Front Rebellion
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. By November 1991, political oppostion became active once again in Sierra Leone. In late November 1991, president Momoh proposed a multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in the country in October 1992.
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 like Dr. Salia Jusu Sheriff, Dr. Abass Bundu, J.B. Dauda and Dr. 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.
Civil war broke out, mainly due to government corruption and mismanagement of diamond resources and abuse of power by various governments since independence from Britain (Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Report). The brutal civil war 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 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 Freetown who were opposed to his rebel movement in Liberia.In 2003 Foday Sankoh was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for war crimes and crimes against humanity and died under UN custody before the trials could be concluded. Charles Taylor, who is a former president of Liberia, is currently in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague facing charges of war crimes committed by Sankoh's RUF in Sierra Leone. Taylor is the first former president to face the ICC.
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 23 March 1991. The government of Sierra Leone, overwhelmed by a crumbling economy and corruption, as well as a demoralised army, was unable to put up significant resistance against the incursion of the RUF. Within a month of entering Sierra Leone from Liberia, the RUF controlled much of Eastern Sierra Leone, including the cash crop production areas of Kailahun and the government diamond mines in Kono District. Forced recruitment of child soldiers was also an early feature of the rebel strategy.
On 29 April 1992, a group comprising a colonel and seven junior officers in the Sierra Leonean army, apparently frustrated by the government's failure to deal with the rebels and to pay salaries, launched a military coup which sent president Momoh into exile in Guinea. The officers were Colonel Yahya Kanu, an ethnic Temne; the ethnic Mendes Captain Solomon A. J. Musa; Captain Julius Maada Bio, and Lieutenant Sahr Sandy; ethnic Konos Captain Samuel Komba Kambo and Captain Komba Mondeh; the Creole Captain Valentine E. M. Strasser; and the ethnic Kissi Second Lieutenant Tom Nyuma. Sandy was said to have insisted to his colleagues on the second day of the action that theirs would no longer be a revolt over pay but a revolution to overthrow the APC and the system of one-party politics. Sandy was the only soldier killed during the coup, allegedly by his adoptive uncle, APC member Colonel S.I.M. Turay. Turay was declared wanted for the murder of Sandy by the NPRC junta, but managed to escape to Guinea, where he joined the exiled president. Colonel Yahya Kanu was the very popular commander of the fearless Tiger Battalion which was at the forefront in the war against the RUF under president Momoh. The officers established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). Kanu was not formally declared head of the new junta. In an interview with the BBC Focus on Africa program, he even refused to acknowledge that the revolt was a coup by his men, yet he was seen as the de facto leader of the NPRC.
Later, however, Kanu was arrested and imprisoned by his junior officers, who accused him of trying to negotiate a compromise with the toppled APC administration. Kanu's arrest divided the army into two rival groups, namely, his Tiger Battalion and Tom Nyuma's Cobra Battalion and their respective supporters. On April 29, 1992, Valentine Strasser took over as leader and chairman of the NPRC and Head of State of Sierra Leone. Strasser became the youngest Head of State in the world, just three days after his 27th birthday. 25 year-old S.A.J. Musa, a close friend of Strasser and an officer in Kanu's feared Tiger Battalion, was named 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, 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 ECOWAS and strengthened support for Sierra Leone-based ECOMOG troops fighting in Liberia. In his first speech as head of state, Strasser reassured the world of meeting his country's obligations to her creditors, and making a commitment to the IMF and the World Bank to accelerate the economic reform process started by Momoh's government in 1989 aimed at stabilizing the severely crippled economy. Shortly after that, Strasser negotiated a Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) with these two institutions. The junta formed the Supreme Council of State (SCS), made up of only members NPRC—the six surviving leaders mentioned above—chaired by Strasser himself. They also appointed an advisory council of retired senior civil servants and academics, chaired by a retired UN administrator Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. These men were all regarded as untainted by the 23 years of alleged APC mismanagement, corruption and abuse of power.
In December 1992, an alleged coup attempt against the NPRC administration of Strasser, aimed at freeing the detained Colonel Yayah Kanu, was foiled. Sgt. Lamin Bangura (an ethnic Temne) and some junior army officers of the Tiger Battalion were identified as being behind the alleged plot. It led to the execution of seventeen Sierra Leone soldiers, including Sgt. Bangura and Yayah Kanu, and some senior members of the overthrown APC government who had been in detention at the Pa Demba Road prison. These included the notorious Inspector General of Police James Bambay Kamara, key former APC ministers, senior party members and thugs. By mid 1993 Captain Strasser announced a plan to hand over the government to civilian rule by 1996. Dr. James Jonah, who was by then Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, was appointed by the NPRC Junta as the chairman of the new Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC), which was in charge of the demarcation of electoral boundaries and voter registration. In 1994 the NPRC junta proposed a change in the age restriction in the 1991 Sierra Leone constitution which stated only Sierra Leoneans over the age of 40 are eligible for the presidency, thus excluding Strasser and others in the NPRC.
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 (see www.petercusters.nl/file/60). 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. However, Captains Tom Nyuma (Secretary of State East) and Komba Mondeh (Secretary of State Defence), who were regarded outside Freetown as the only "fighters" in the NPRC who dared to lead the troops to attack RUF strongholds in the East and South, were widely credited with these successes against the RUF. During this time corruption had erupted within the senior ranks of both the NPRC and the military, and the junta had become divided between SAJ Musa, on the one side, against Nyuma and Mondeh, on the other. SAJ Musa had become very popular in Freetown for fighting grafts and enforcing strict discipline in the public service and his last-Saturday-of-the-month city cleaning exercises. Nyuma, nicknamed "The Ranger", was seen across the country as the daredevil of the NPRC and the "protector of the East." There was great suspicion among the SCS members that SAJ Musa was planning a coup to topple his friend Strasser, whom he accused of being subservient to the wishes of Nyuma and Mondeh. On 5 Jul 1995, under pressure from Nyuma, Captain Strasser dismissed SAJ Musa as deputy chairman of the NPRC and appointed an ally of Tom Nyuma, the Secretary of State for Information and Broadcasting Captain Julius Maada Bio, to the position. Musa was arrested by soldiers led by Nyuma's men, and was briefly placed under house arrest in Freetown before being sent on to exile in the UK. Senior NPRC members, including Bio (who by now had promoted himself to Brigadier), Nyuma and Mondeh (both promoted to Colonel), were becoming increasingly unhappy with (still-Captain) Strasser's handling of the preparation for the pending elections, the peace negotiation with the RUF, and the transition to democratic civilian rule.
In January 1996, after nearly four years in power, Captain V.E.M. Strasser was ousted in a bloodless "palace" coup led by his NPRC deputy Brigadier General Julius Maada Bio with the support of several senior NPRC members including both Tom Nyuma and Komba Mondeh. Bio claimed that Strasser was attempting to unilaterally amend the age restriction in the constitution in order to perpetuate his hold on power.
Return of Democracy and Civil War
Bio reinstated the Constitution and called for general elections. In the second round of presidential elections in early 1996, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, an ethnic Mandingo and the candidate of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), won 59% of the vote, over John Karefa-Smart, an ethnic Sherbro and the candidate of the United National People's Party (UNPP) who won 41%. Bio fulfilled his promise of a return to civilian rule, and handed power to Kabbah. President Tejan Kabbah's SLPP party also won a majority of the seats in Parliament.
For years Sierra Leonean soldiers in the lower ranks were not paid a good salary and they were denied privileges and benefits. Soldiers were killed in action and no provision was made for their families. Major Johnny Paul Koroma, an army officer who hailed from the Limba ethnic group, 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. On May 25, 1997, a group of seventeen junior army officers, loyal to Major Koroma, formed the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) led by Corporal Tamba Gborie and Sergent Alex Tamba Brima, both ethnic Kono. They launched a military coup which sent President Kabbah into exile in Guinea. Corporal Tamba Gborie quickly went to the SLBS FM 99.9 headquarters in Freetown to announce the coup and to alert all soldiers to report for guard duty. The AFRC released Koroma from prison and installed him as their chairman and Head of State, with Corporal Tamba Gborie as deputy in command of the AFRC. 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 their thousands. The Kamajors, a group of traditional fighters mostly from the Mende ethnic group under the command of deputy Defense Minister Samuel Hinga Norman, remained loyal to President Kabbah. The Kamajors defended Bo, the country's second largest city, from the Junter and continue their attack against the AFRC and RUF in south-eastern Sierra Leone
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. Twenty-four 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, killing an estimated 3,000 people, raping women and girls, abducting and subsequently conscripting children, amputating limbs, and destroying much of the 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.
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.
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.
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