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Sir Albert Margai and Dr. Siaka Probyn Stevens

8 May 2008 at 01:25 | 4295 views

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SIR ALBERT MARGAI AND PRESIDENT SIAKA STEVENS: THE STORY OF TWO POLITICIAN FRIENDS WHO TURNED IRRECONCILABLE FOES IN SIERRA LEONE POLITICS AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR FALL-OUT IN THE POLITICS OF PRESENT DAY SIERRA LEONE.

ANTHONY KAMARA (SR) NARRATES THE STORY FROM WINNIPEG CANADA.

To understand the relationship between Sir Albert Margai 2nd Prime Minister and President Siaka Stevens 3rd Prime Minister and 1st Executive President of Sierra Leone, the writer has to go back to the year 1950 when the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party was formed in Bo. Both Sir Albert and Siaka Stevens were founding members along with names like Karefa Smart, Chief Julius Gulama of Kaiyamba Chiefdom in Moyamba District.

There were many similarities between the two men, both born in Moyamba in the Southern Province- Sir Albert from Gbangbatoke in Banta Chiefdom, while President Stevens from Moyamba town itself. Sir Albert was born October 10, 1910, the son of a wealthy trader from Bonthe and Stevens August 24, 1905 the son of Limba/Mende parents then resident in Moyamba. While Sir Albert received a catholic education, having attended St Edward’s Secondary School in Freetown, Siaka Stevens attended the Albert Academy Secondary school also in Freetown from where he joined the Sierra Leone Police Force and subsequently rose to the rank of First Class Sergeant.

From 1931 to 1946, Siaka Stevens worked on the construction of the Sierra Leone Development Company (DELCO) railway, linking the Port of Pepel with the Iron ore Mines at Marampa. In 1943 he helped to found the United Mine Workers Union and was appointed to the Protectorate Assembly in 1946 to represent workers’ interests. Later in 1947, Stevens travelled to study Labor relations at Ruskin College, Oxford.

Albert on the other hand, became a registered Nurse from 1931 to 1944, later travelled to England and read Law at the Inner Temple Inns where he qualified in 1948.

In 1951, both Sir Albert and Siaka Stevens were elected to the Legislative Council, and in the first SLPP Government of Sir Milton Margai ( 1952 to 1957) both held cabinet positions, with Margai holding the Portfolio of

Local Government ( this entails the control of Chiefs ), Education and Social Welfare. Stevens on the other hand held the portfolio of Lands, Mines, and Labor ( which covered all diamonds arrangements). In 1957, Siaka Stevens was elected as a Member of Parliament for a Port Loko constituency, but lost his seat as a result of an election petition. The same year Albert Margai was also elected Member of Parliament for the Moyamba Costituency. During the years from 1952 and 1957, there was much discontent within the SLPP over Sir Milton’s conservative policies and his heavy reliance on the Natural Rulers- the Paramount Chiefs on their role in government much to the displeasure of both Siaka Stevens and Albert Margai who felt the chiefs should be divorced from politics and be concerned with their chiefdoms and peoples . But Sir Milton used the chiefs as his support base for power.

As a result, a leadership struggle began between Sir Milton on the one hand, and his half brother Albert and Siaka Stevens on the other; the two men having now become political allies, initiated an aggressive campaign calling for a leadership review. Albert was now more aligned to Siaka Stevens than to his brother Sir Milton. The two brothers became irreconcilable, one being conservative in his policies while the other favours a radical agenda; tensions became so high that Sir Milton had to convene a leadership convention in 1958 for the people to decide. Albert Margai was now 48 years old while Sir Milton was 62. At the Convention, Albert defeated his brother for the Party leadership. However Albert out of respect for his brother and also realizing that the chiefs were not ready to support his radical policies, declined the leadership position , and instead broke away from the SLPP to form his own party the Peoples’ National Party (PNP). Many of the youngmen of the SLPP including Siaka Stevens, who became Secretary-General and Deputy Leader, Maigore Kallon, S T navo, Abu Koroma, T J Ganda to name a few also left the SLPP to join him in the new PNP.

The first PNP Executive included the following:
1. Albert Margai (Mende) Leader
2. Siaka Stevens ( Limba , Union Organizer) Secretary-General.
3. Maigore Kallon (Mende) Organizing Secretary
4. S. T. Navo (Mende)
5. H. I. Kamara (Temne)
6. M. S. Turay ( Mende)
7. T. J. Ganda (Mende)
8. Gershon Collier (Creole)
9. Berthan Macauley (Creole)
10. Dr. Claude Nelson-Williams (creole)
11.Abu Koroma (Kono)
12. Ken During ( Creole)
13. A. J. Massally (Mende).

The domination of the first PNP’s thirteen-man executive by the Mende (6), as against one Temne, was a matter of serious concern to politically conscious Northerners who could see little reason to support a Mende dominated party.

The first major test of the PNP’s support came with the 1959 District Council Elections. The results indicated a

general acquiescence in SLPP rule. Of a total of 309 Seats, the PNP won only 29 seats, 13 of which were in

Albert’s home district of Moyamba: 219 were taken by the SLPP while 59 went to Independents. The PNP made

a particularly poor showing in the North, and a poor showing in the Freetown City Council elections.

The PNP’s defeat in the District Council’s elections and the collapse of the Creole party the UPP came at a

critical time. The final constitutional talks which would lay down the constitution under which Sierra Leone

would become independent were scheduled for early 1960. Sir Milton was able to persuade the PNP to

participate in the final talks in London. On March 1960 the Prime Minister announced that the opposition leaders

had agreed to join a United Front Government for the completion of the pending constitutional talks. By this

Sir Milton was able to decapitate all opposition within the country.

There were few substantive issues though that divided the Government and opposition such as the position

of the Paramount chiefs on whom the Prime Minister heavily relied for support; Siaka Stevens’ refusal to

sign the Agreement reached in London on the grounds that there had been a secret defense pact between

Sierra Leone and the UK. Another point of contention was the govt’s position that there would be no elections

before independence. As a result of his opposition, Siaka Stevens was promptly expelled from the PNP upon

his return from the talks. In response Stevens launched his Elections Before Independence Movement (EBIM)

later to be transformed into the All Peoples’ Congress.( APC ). From the time of its formation the APC was led

entirely by Northerners with Stevens and Secretary-General of the party C. A. Kamara-Taylor being Limba, while

S.I. Koroma, S.A.T. Koroma, S.A. Fofana, M.O.Bash-Taqi and Ibrahim Bash-Taqi were all Temne.

As the govt continued to ignore the APC’s demands for an election, the APC leaders turned to violent

means of persuasion. On Februery 19, 1961, a severe clash took place in Freetown between APC and SLPP

Supporters. A number of APC leaders were subsequently charged with incitement and three eventually found

guilty. The ring leader M.O.Bash-Taqi was sentenced to one year.

Finally on April 18, 1961, nine days before Independence, the Govt. proclaimed a state of emergency and

detained 18 of the leaders of the APC including Siaka Stevens, C.A. Kamara-Taylor, M.O. Bash-Taqi, I.T.A.

Wallace-Johnson, the veteran Creole politician, Ibrahim Bash-Taqi, the motivational APC politician Borbor

Kamara and all the rest of the APC Executive on the grounds that they were planning to commit acts of sabotage

just before Independence Day. In all 43 were detained. All those detained were released by mid May and the

emergency regulations revoked.

Shortly before Independence the Mende tribal Headman in Freetown A.B. Paila at a meeting of the Mende

Community, appealed to Albert to bring the PNP back into the SLPP; this act helped to demonstrate the

identification between the SLPP and the Mende tribe, and shortly afterwards, Albert responded by

agreeing to merge his PNP with the SLPP. This merger was seen by Siaka Stevens as act of gross betrayal by

Albert whom he regarded as a reliable political ally in the struggle to dislodge the SLPP and can also be seen

as the genesis of power struggle between the two men, a struggle which continued up to 1967 and beyond.

Then came the first post Independence elections in May 25, 1962. The results of the 1962 elections were not very

satisfying to the govt. The official candidates of the SLPP won less than a majority of the ordinary members’

Seats, and only eight more than the APC opposition party. The results of the 1962 elections were as follows:

The SLPP won 28 seats with 4 unopposed, APC 16, with 2 unopposed, while the Sierra Leone Peoples’

Independence Movement ( SLPIM) won 4, and Independents 14, with 1 unopposed. With the 12 Paramount

Chiefs, the govt. could count on a majority to form the government.

When he died on April 28, 1964,Sir Milton had left no clearly designated successor. But in the leadership contest

in 1957, Albert had been chosen the SLPP leader though he declined the post. But his re-entry into the govt

was viewed by some observers as opening the way for his succession. Through the persuasion of Berthan

Macauley now the Attorney-General, the Governor-General Sir Henry Lightfoot-Boston summoned Albert on April

29 to be sworn in as Prime Minister. Both the choice of Albert and the speed with which Sir Henry announced

his decision aroused considerable suspicion that Margai had threatened to use force if the Governor-General

had done otherwise. The appointment of Albert as PM caused a polarisation along Mende-Temne lines.

The fact that a Mende was succeeding another Mende was enough in itself to cause a scare to Northerners.

His first act was to purge Northern Ministers, leaving only three in his Cabinet. Those retained were Kande Bureh

Chief Yumkella and Amadu Wurie the Minister of Education. The purge was followed by the promotion of

Mendes to key positions in the Sierra Leone Civil Service, and this further increased Temne fears. It must be

mentioned Amadu Wurie the Minister of Education in the Albert Margai govt will be remembered for his attempt

to change the names of two Secondary schools in Freetown- the Annie Walsh Memorial School which he

named after himself as Amadu Wurie Memorial School and the former AME Boys’ High School (Now St Helena

High School) which he also named Albert Margai High School in 1966. The change of names ended with the fall

of the SLPP in March 1967.

Seven weeks after his appointment, the SLPP annual conference was held in Makeni. At this convention, and

at the instigation of the Prime Minister, a proposal was put forward that the central Committee of the Party

should select candidates in consultation with local committees. This motion was shouted down by the conventio

which saw it as a veiled effort by the new PM to purge the party of the ardent supporters of the Late Prime

Minister and flood the central committee with his former PNP colleagues. The motion was however referred for

further consideration.

The supporters of Sir Milton also did not forgive him for quiting the SLPP to form the PNP. His actions showed

that the PNP group was gaining ascendancy with the SLPP. His appointment of Maigore Kallon as Minister

of the Interior with control over the Paramount Chiefs was one indication; also the increased reliance on

Berthan Macauley his Attorney-General was another. At the Makeni Convention an attempt to replace an old

guard SLPP Executive member with a PNP man was rebuffed. So from the very start of his rule, Albert Margai

had strong opposition even within his party. His many opponents within the party included Kutubu Kai-samba,

Salia Jusu Sheriff, Sahr L. Matturi, Y.D. Sesay, C.B. Rogers-Wright and Luseni A. M. Brewa while his main

Supporters included R.G.O. King, Gideon Dixon-Thomas, Ella Koblo-Gulama, John Nelson-Williams his

Information Minister, Kande Bureh and Maigore Kallon.

The second post Independence Elections were due in March 1967. To ensure his victory, Sir Albert made sure

that some of his former PNP Executive members occupied key advisory positions in the government notably

Berthan Macauley as Attorney-General, Gershon Collier as Ambassador to the USA and the UN; S T Navo as

Judicial Advicer on local Affairs. Also the Prime Minister drew the District Officers and Provincial Secretaries

deeply into political affairs. For example, in Koinadugu district, the District Officer arranged with Paramount

Chiefs for a number of cows to be given as tribute ( 200 in all ) to the PM during his visit to the district in

February 1965.

Sir Albert’s eagerness to purge suspected opponents from key positions was shown by his sacking on December

30, 1964 of the Acting Chief Electoral Commissioner M A Khazali, a Northerner.

As the prospect of an Election drew nearer in 1965, a large number of former PNP men began seeking SLPP

nominations in seats already held by SLPP members who were not close supporters of the Prime Minister.

For example, S T Navo the Judicial Advicer to the govt was canvassing in Bo North; George Panda the secretary

to the Prime Minister and Head of the Civil Service was gathering support in Kenema West while E J I During

Private Secretary to Sir Albert was canvassing for the SLPP symbol in Kenema Central Constituency. This was

the Constituency of the Late Sir Milton’s Minister of Agriculture Kutubu Kai-Samba. Sir Albert though now SLPP

Leader was bent on’ PNP-nizing’ the party with all those he considered loyal to him thereby antagonizing not

only the APC and Northerners, but also all of Sir Milton’s loyalists.

By a new law, the Prime Minister moved to bring the Paramount Chiefs more tightly under his direct control.

The new law clearly opened the way for the PM to install his personal supporters in key positions. Many people

resented the fact that a positions which had formerly been elective were now filled by appointment.

Another extension of Central control was the PM’s announcement in January 1965 that the Paramount Chiefs had

the right to openly take part in politics. After this announcement any chief who did not openly work for the

Central govt could be suspected of being against it and as a result be subjected to sanctions.

Sir Albert kept a very close eye on local govt affairs. Although he divested himself of the Ministry of the Interior,

giving it to his trusted friend Maigore Kallon, he insisted that all local disputes with political implications be

brought directly to him for settlement.

Also in a speech in Bonthe in March 1965, Sir Albert reminded his audience that he had all the power and talked

about shooting down the opposition. Two weeks later in Parliament he threatened to withdraw recognition

from the APC as an official opposition.

On May 4, 1965 the Prime Minister introduced an amendment to the standing orders of the House of

Representatives which appeared designed to remove four (4) APC members as well as his chief rival in the

SLPP Dr John Karefa-Smart. The amendment provided that any member who was absent for a period of thirty

(30) days during an annual session of the House of Reps without reasonable excuse would lose his seat.

A month later, Dr John Karefa-Smart announced that he was quitting the SLPP and joining the APC. Earlier the

SLPP Secretary-General had warned Dr Karefa-Smart that anyone associating with him would incure the

Govt’s displeasure. Dr Karefa-Smart’s departure from the SLPP gave a major boost to the tribal polarisation

which was already taking place.

By mid 1965, the govt also tried to make sure that little was heard about the APC activities. By now the SLBS

had stopped mentioning anything about the APC, after a directive had been circulated through the Ministry of

Information saying that no publicity was to be given to the opposition. The Daily Mail also became an SLPP

Propaganda after the govt announced that it was considering buying the paper from the London DAILY MIRROR.

On November 9, 1965, following a meeting of the Freetown City Council at which Stevens had been reelected

Mayor despite an attempt by the SLPP to disrupt the meeting by force, there was absolutely no mention on the

National news of the afternoon’s events. The first reference to the election of Stevens as Mayor came on the next

night’s news when it was announced that the Minister of Information and Broadcasting John Nelson-Williams

was taking legal action the Freetown Council to have the election rule null and void. A later event, the Makeni

Town Council elections on April 1, 1966 was fully publicised up to polling day but the public only became aware

that the APC had swept all three seats because no mention was made on the SLBS news broadcast after the

results had been known. But the APC was able to put its views across through its own newspaper the WE YONE.

Albert Margai’s behaviour as Prime Minister clearly pointed towards one goal: the destruction of organised

Opposition parties and the imposition of a one-party state. His build-up as the great national leader, his attempt

to draw everyone into the SLPP, and his intensification of the campaign to suppress the APC all suggested that

a competitive party system was not to his liking.

In March 1965, in a speech at Bonthe, he told the APC MPs that "the tide is ebbing fast" and said it would be

easy to "liquidate" them. His main advocates of the One-party included three Ministers- Maigore Kallon,

M J Kamanda-Bongay and PC Ella Koblo-Gulama. The one-party issue was fiercely opposed in all parts of the

country including parts of Mendeland and the Western Area. Because of the fierce opposition to the one-party

he abandoned the whole idea. By June 1966, he started a new campaign to change Sierra Leone into a

Republic. But here again he was stalled by the Constitutional provisions of the Independence Constitution

which provided that Sierra Leone’s monarchical form of govt could only be changed by the passing of the

Republic bill by a two-thirds majority, then dissolving the House of Representatives and holding an election,

then passing the bill again. He could not , in short create any kind of republic without holding a general

election. In any case a further entrenched clause provided that the House of Representatives should stand

dissolved five years after its election, which meant that a general election must take place by mid-1967.

The 1967 election was clearly the event which could make or break Sir Albert.

In preparation for the General Election due in march 1967, the Elections Commission meanwhile had been

" purified" under the guidance of the Chief Electoral Officer, a kinsman of Sir Albert. A number of Creoles whose

political loyalty to the SLPP was doubtful were replaced by Mendes. In compiling the voting registers, the

Commission’s employees were alleged to have omitted some Limba and Temne voters who could be assumed

to be pro-APC.

In January 1967 the govt served a sharp warning to the Northern Paramount Chiefs, some of whom were

becoming apprehensive about their positions if they failed to swing over to the APC. The SLPP Member of

Parliament for Koinadugu North A H Kande held a meeting in the Chiefdom of his father-in-law PC Gbawuru

Mansaray. As a result of the meeting an argument arose between the two men, the result of which was a

summons to the chief to attend the District Officer’s Headquarters. Several hundreds of the Chief’s people

accompanied him, and when the District Officer insisted on seeing the chief alone the people started throwing

stones at the office. The govt promptly suspended the chief, and a few weeks later was deposed and banished.

The chief was believed to be a pro-APC and his deposition was meant to be a lesson for the others who might be

tempted to resist the govt in any way.

On February 8, 1967, just a few hours after announcing the one-party state issue was being dropped for good,

the Prime Minister startled the nation with a broadcast claiming a plot had been uncovered to assasinate

himself, the Force Commander Brigadier David Lansana, and several ministers and Senior Civil servants. He

alleged that the plotters were military personnel incited by pronouncements made by Siaka Stevens, Dr Sarif

Easmon and other leaders opposed to his rule. They had planned, according to the broadcast, to set up an

Advisory Committee including Stevens, Dr Easmon and Dr Davidson Nicol the Principal of Fourah Bay College.

The following day, it was learnt that seven senior army officers, including the Deputy Force Commander

Col John Bangura had been detained. Whether there was a plot or not may never be known, but since

John Bangura was the only Northerner among the top half-dozen army officers, his removal served to eliminate

a potential source of resistance to the army’s being used to keep up Sir albert in power.

On February 16, 1967 the Prime Minister announced that the elections for ordinary members would be held on

March 17, and the Paramount chiefs on March 21. Intense campaign along ethnic lines began. As the campaign

wore on, more dangerous emotions came to the surface.The Prime Minister himself allegedly did his part in

stirring up these emotions, charging that a " Temne-Creole Axis" which constituted the APC would "cut the

the Mende man’s throat" if it came to power. One Mende town chief claimed Sir Albert had told a meeting in

Moyamba district that all who wanted to vote for the APC must go the North, the land of the Temnes. His

supporters echoed these sentiments. One SLPP woman in Kenema told a Mende meeting that Independent

Candidates had taken an oath in the North to support the APC. The APC also used occasional appeals to

Northern solidarity against " Mende dominance ", but for the most part concentrated its attacks on the personal

corruption of Sir Albert and his ministers. The campaign stirred considerable antipathy in Freetown and in the

North against the Fula who leaned heavily on the SLPP and whom the APC alleged were Guineans not entitled

to vote in Sierra Leone. Numerous cases of Fulas being attacked were reported.

The election results showed the APC won 32 Seats with 286,585 of the popular vote and 44.25 % while the

SLPP won 28 seats with 231,567 of the popular vote with 35.76 %. Independents won 6 seats with a total of

129,429 votes getting 19.99% of the votes. The results showed an ethnic dimension to the elections; the SLPP

tended to be supported by the Mende, Sherbro, and Fula, whilst the APC was more popular amongst the Temne

Limba, Susu, Loko, Mandinka and Creoles. Seeing this dangerous ethnic divide, the Governor-General Sir

Henry Lightfoot-Boston proposed that the APC and SLPP form a coalition in the light of what he regarded as

tribal pattern of voting which could do serious harm to the country. But Stevens, as one would expect, rejected

the proposal on the grounds that it would be " a betrayal of the electorate and political suicide", and pointed out

that the APC had won a clear majority of the contested seats, and had received support in nearly all parts of the

Country. Tuesday March 21, a day after the Governor-General’s coalition proposal, four elected candidates

Kutubu Kai-Samba, L A M Brewah, Prince Williams and J B Francis sent a letter to the Governor-General stating

that they were willing to support either party, but on condition that Sir Albert was replaced as party leader.

Sir Albert was unwilling to work under an APC led govt with Stevens as Prime Minister. The Governor-General

therefore took the only correct course and on Tuesday morning March 21, summoned Stevens to State House

and swore him as Prime Minister. Four hours later, a military coup led by Brigadier David Lansana and

Lieutenant Hinga Norman took place in Freetown and put both Stevens and the Governor-General under

House arrest on the grounds that the results of the Paramount Chiefs had not been released and according to

to him, the G-G’s action was illegal.

But there was more to it than just the Governor-General’s action. There were marital ties involved. Komeh

Gulama the sister of Madam Ella Koblo Gulama was married to Brigadier David Lansana, and at the same time

the Brigadier was the elder brother of Lady Esther Margai (Nee Lansana) the mother of the PMDC Leader

Charles Margai; David Lansana was therefore the brother-in-law of the Prime Minister. David Lansana’s action

was not just to keep the SLPP in power, but to protect his position, and most importantly to ensure Mende

hegemony. David Lansana was himself overthrown two days later in what is described as a’ Sergeants coup’

and incercerated at Pademba prisons followed by the establishment of an " Anti Corruption Revolutionary

Movement" , later to be replaced by the National Reformation council to be led by Andrew Huxton-Smith.

The blame for sowing the seeds of tribalism, nepotism, corruption and violence lay squarely on the shoulders of

Sir Albert and his SLPP. The violence the country experienced in 1967 in places like Blama, Kenema and Bo

Town in particular is unparalled in the electoral history of Sierra Leone.

In point of fact apart from the 1962 elections under Sir Milton, The SLPP had never won a free and fair election.

Both the 1996 and 2002 elections were marred by serious irregularities. But James Jonah, Kabba’s old friend

unilaterally declared Kabba President even though Dr Karefa- Smart who contested the run-off election,

documented a number of irregularities enough to prevent him from forming a govt. But Solomon Berewa

was able to dissuade Dr Karefa-Smart from challenging the results in court in the interest of peace after a civil

Conflict.

The PMDC Leader Charles Margai was 22 years old when his dad Sir Albert fell from power and is very well

acquainted with all the ills associated with his regime. For him to describe the APC under President Ernest

Koroma as "Tribalistic Party" and practising tribalism to the maximum degree is unfortunate; but needs to re-

visit Sir Albert’s corrupt and tribalistic rule in Sierra Leone. On his recent visit to Kenema Charles Margai said

"Tribalism has raised its ugly head; if someone did not come from the north, he/she did not have the credentials

for any position". Sir Albert is the architect of all the evils which have continued today in Sierra Leone politics.

If Sir Albert had not sown the seeds of discord and hate perhaps the SLPP could probably have given the party

leadership to a third Margai. But the SLPP would rather lose an election than see the return of a third

Margai, divisive like the second to the leadership of their party and cause further division to the Party and

continue with the corruption and tribalism of his father. Such an act would be suicidal to the SLPP. His

decision to quit his ancestral party was just another ploy like Sir Albert to have him recalled and promised

the leadership of the SLPP and suffer worse disaster that would lead to the complete annihilation of the party.

The malice and hate in the SLPP leadership is so in-built that instead of celebrating the country’s 47th

anniversary of Independence they celebrated the 57th anniversary of their discredited party.

Independence, they chose to celebrate their party’s 57th anniversary

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