Sierra Leone History

Sierra Leone History

Medieval to modern times

From the 8th century AD the area of ​​what is now Sierra Leone was populated by the Bulom cattle breeding and farming. Over the centuries, the peoples of the Temne, Sosso, Limba, later the Mende, Fulbe and the Malinke immigrated.

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The Portuguese Pedro de Cintra was the first European to enter what is now Sierra Leone in 1462. A little later, the Portuguese founded their first branches on the coast and established trade relations with the Mende (gold, ivory and slaves were traded). In the 16th century the coast of Sierra Leone became the center of the slave trade, in which the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English took turns. In 1787, a society founded in England against slavery by the philanthropist Granville Sharp acquired a commercial branch on the Sierra Leone peninsula and founded the city of Granvilletown there. The society declared this area a settlement area for freed slaves (Great Britain officially prohibited slavery in English territory in 1808).

19th and early 20th centuries

In 1808 the city of Freetown became a British crown colony. Over the next few decades, around 50,000 former slaves were settled around Freetown, and there was a partial intermingling with the local peoples. The Creole ethnic group that emerged from the former slaves played an important role in the development of the hinterland. In 1896, Great Britain declared the interior of the country to be a British protectorate, which was administered separately from the Crown Colony of Freetown on the coast.

After several uprisings by the Creole population in the protectorate, which called for more responsibility and participation in the government in the crown colony, both areas received a common government with limited self-government in 1951. According to AbbreviationFinder, Sierra Leone’s first governor-general in the mid- 1950s was Milton Margai of the anti-colonial and anti-Creole “Sierra Leone People’s Party” (SLPP). Sierra Leone gained full internal autonomy in 1958, and in 1961 the country became independent with membership of the British Commonwealth.


Milton Margai became the first Prime Minister of Sierra Leone, followed in 1964 by his son Albert Margai. In 1967, the opposition All People’s Congress (APC, founded in 1960) under Siaka Stevens won the elections, but in the same year the military coup and the newly elected prime minister was ousted. The coup under General David Lasana was followed by a counter-coup after a few days, as a result of which the political parties were dissolved, the constitution was overridden and a National Reform Council (National Reformation Council, NRC) led by the Creole Colonel Juxon-Smith led the political power took over in Sierra Leone. Several violent changes in government followed in 1968, and Siaka Stevens was declared Prime Minister again in April 1968. The ongoing domestic disputes worsened the already miserable economic situation in the country,

In 1971 Siaka Stevens proclaimed the presidential republic and declared himself president. With the support of the military, Stevens governed authoritarianism, had opposition figures persecuted and imprisoned, and oriented himself towards foreign policy towards the socialist states and the Arab camp. In 1978, a new constitution was enacted to lay down the one-party system – with the APC as the only legal party – and to abolish the post of prime minister. The government repeatedly used force of arms against the unrest in the country caused by the poor economic situation.

In 1985 Joseph Saidu Momoh took over the government.

Civil ware

In the early 1990s, the diamond mining areas in the south-east of Sierra Leone (diamonds were the country’s most important export commodity alongside bauxite and rutile) led to heavy fighting between government troops and the left-wing extremist Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under Foday Sankoh that led to a wave of refugees among the civilian population. Joseph Saidu Momoh was replaced in 1992 by Valentine Strasser as President after a military coup. Strasser, like his predecessor, promised democratic reforms within a certain period of time, but he too failed to make peace with the rebel organization RUF. A nationwide civil war between government forces as supporters of the military government and supporters of the RUF,which controlled the diamond mining areas and bought arms through the proceeds from the sale of the gemstones in neighboring Liberia. (Liberian troops led by rebel leader Charles Taylor, who later became President of Liberia, had repeatedly raided the diamond mines in Sierra Leone since the late 1980s).

Strasser was ousted by a military coup in January 1996 and free parliamentary and presidential elections were held under his successor, Captain Julius Maada Bio. The SLPP became the strongest party with over 36% of the vote. Its leader Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, former UN diplomat, became the new president of Sierra Leone. That same year, Kabbah signed a peace treaty with the RUF rebel movement, but the fighting did not end in the coming years.

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In May 1997, President Kabbah was overthrown by another military coup. Major Johnny Paul Koroma became self-proclaimed head of state, and President-elect Kabbah fled to Guinea, from where he tried to achieve military intervention by Guinea and Nigeria in Sierra Leone. In fact, Nigeria, Guinea and Ghana sent troops to Sierra Leone in 1997 but had to withdraw them. As a result, the states tightened the economic embargo against the country that had been imposed since the May 1997 coup, which led to a dramatic deterioration in the food situation of the civilian population. In November 1997, another troop organization from several West African countries (ECOMOG) advanced against Sierra Leone. After bloody battles with Koroma’s government forces, the ECOMOG troops captured the capital Freetown and arrested a large number of the coup leaders. President-elect Ahmad Tejan Kabbah returned to the country. He signed a new ceasefire agreement with the rebel organization RUF in 1999, which at that time controlled almost all of the country’s diamond mines; the rebel organization was recognized as a party in November of this year under the name Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP). Compliance with the agreement should be ensured through the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force (UNAMISIL). The civil war, which had been going on for almost ten years at the time, had already cost several thousand lives, the RUF rebels were feared for their cruel behavior against the civilian population.

But attempts to calm the situation in Sierra Leone failed. The RUF rebels, supported by neighboring Liberia, continued to control most of the diamond deposits in Sierra Leone. Several hundred UN soldiers were temporarily under violence by the rebels (May 2000). The UN troops (the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force was stationed in Sierra Leone at the time) could not do their job. From 2001, the mining of diamonds in the east of Sierra Leone was temporarily banned to undermine the rebels’ source of money. In April 2001, the RUF again agreed to peace negotiations with the government and disarmament; this was completed in January 2002; President Kabbah officially declared the civil war ended this month.In May 2002 Kabbah was confirmed as president; in the parliamentary elections, the RUFP went away empty-handed. Mismanagement, the consequences of the economic embargo and rapid population growth despite completely inadequate medical care led to repeated supply shortages and famines among the population.

Way to normality

Nevertheless, the country is on the way back to normal. The mandate of the UN peacekeeping force UNAMISIL ended at the end of 2005. The presidential and parliamentary elections of August 2007 were fair and peaceful. They ushered in a phase of stabilization: the opposition party All People’s Congress (APC) received a stable majority and its candidate Ernest Bai Koroma became the new president. Five surviving leaders of the civil war were sentenced to long prison terms in front of the UN-supported Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown. With the pronouncement of judgment against the last three out of eight defendants, the Court completed its work in Freetown in November 2009. Koroma was confirmed in office in the November 2012 presidential election.

Sierra Leone President