Sierra Leone History Part 1

By | March 23, 2021

Sierra Leone History

Sierra Leone History

Independence Day: 04/27/1961

Head of state: Julius Maada Bio

Political system: Presidential Democracy

Democracy Status Index (BTI): Rank 54 of 137 (2020)

Corruption Perceptions Index: Rank 119 of 180 (2019)

Ibrahim Index of African Governance: Rank 24 of 54 (2020)

History

Archaeological finds of prehistoric ceramic shards

Archaeological finds of prehistoric ceramic shards

Archaeological finds show that the Sierra Leone area has been inhabited for thousands of years. The ancestors of the Sherbro (Bulom), Limba and Loko lived there in 1000 AD. Groups of the Temne ethnic group immigrated in the 14th century. In the 15th century the Mane settled near the eastern border with Liberia and for decades conquered areas in what is now south-eastern Sierra Leone, a country located in Western Africa according to travelationary. Groups of today’s Mende immigrated in the 18th century from what is now Liberia and settled in southern Sierra Leone.

Slave trade

Fort Bunce in historical illustration

Fort Bunce in historical illustration

With the arrival of the Portuguese in Sierra Leone and the conquest of parts of the American continent by the Europeans, there was a demand for labor, which was met by slaves from West Africa. The slave trade began in 1562 with the first slave ship under the responsibility of the English slave trader John Hawkins. Sierra Leone developed on the one hand to be the main area from which people were deported to America and at the same time to become a collection point for slaves who came from more distant areas. The English dominated the slave trade on the West African coast, from 1672 it was the British Royal African Company. The company established fortified bases on the offshore islands of Bunce and Sherbro. The most important fort was Fort Bunce, built on the island of Bunce Island in 1640. The most important commodity was slaves.

Many slaves tried to take their fate into their own hands and fought for their freedom. One of the most prominent freedom fighters was Joseph Cinque / Sengbe Pieh. His story was published in book form and made it to theaters with the Hollywood adaptation Amistad. In Sierra Leone, Sengbe Pieh is now a national hero. His rebellion on the ship “Amistad” drew the attention of the abolitionists (whites who campaigned for the abolition of slavery) to his case, and they campaigned for the ship’s slaves. The process was then decided in favor of the slaves and strengthened the positions of the abolitionists. In 1807 slavery was officially banned in England.

Sengbe Pieh, Peace and Cultural Monument

Sengbe Pieh, Peace and Cultural Monument

Islamization

The spread of Islam in Sierra Leone began in the north of the country in the early 18th century. The Muslim missionaries reached these areas during their expansion from the kingdom of Fouta Djallon, which is in northern Guinea. The religion spread through missionary activities, trade and armed conflicts. Islamization increased rapidly in the north of the country due to the Fouta Djallon jihad, while the missionary efforts of the Europeans to spread Christianity on the coast showed little success.

Colonial times

At the end of the 18th century, around 10,000 former slaves lived in English cities, but often in extreme poverty. The abolitionists then developed the idea of resettling the former slaves in one place on the African continent. The choice fell on the territory of today’s capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. The attempt at settlement by the abolitionists initially failed due to insufficient agreement on the lease agreements with the local rulers and insufficient equipment of the former slaves against tropical diseases such as malaria. A second attempt was made in 1791, this time with the aim of establishing a colony of former slaves from Nova Scotiawho fought on the British side in the American Revolutionary War. These settlers were ultimately responsible for founding Freetown. After several unsuccessful uprisings against the British, the settlement colony existed in this form until it was officially taken over by the British Kingdom in 1808.

In the same year Freetown came under the control of the British Crown as a colony, administered by a governor. At that time there were around 2,000 settlers and 30-40 white British in the colony. As a result of the successive settlement of former slaves, 25,000 people were already living in the small colony in 1825. Freetown became a melting pot for people with the most varied of languages, cultural and religious backgrounds, who originally came from different areas of Africa, but who also got to know the European way of life. They developed their own language, the Krio, which is now the lingua franca of Sierra Leone and integrated parts of other European and African languages on an English basis. The Krioslived a lifestyle very much influenced by the British. Their children’s education was very important to them, and many were members of the Protestant Church. During this period the Krios had political and monetary power. This made them feel superior to the majority population of the protectorate. The former hinterland, which are now the provinces, became a British protectorate in 1896. Formal and structural differences, for example in the area of land law between the former protectorate and colony, still exist today.

The local population repeatedly protested against the British occupiers. The Temne ruler Bai Bureh (1840-1908) from the north of the country is considered to be the leader of the house tax war, which is sometimes referred to as the Mende-Temne war. In fact, several ethnic groups were involved, as the cross-ethnic men’s secret society Poro Society supported the war. While the British were trying to arrest Bai Bureh, he organized a ten-month guerrilla war against the British police and army. The Creoles collaborating with the British were also attacked by the insurgents. The uprising was finally put down by the British colonial rulers after Bai Bureh was found. Bai Bureh is considered a national hero, so his image can often be found in public spaces.

Origin and development of today’s state

Wall painting in Lung

Wall painting in Lung

The name of Sir Milton Margai is closely related to the creation of today’s state. He led Sierra Leone to independence on April 27, 1961 after negotiations with Great Britain on constitutional issues and became the first Prime Minister for his party Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). After Sir Milton Margai’s death in 1964, he was succeeded by his half-brother Sir Albert Margai. The 1967 election was held by Freetown’s Mayor and leader of the All Peoples Congress (APC) party, Siaka Stevens narrowly won, accordingly he was appointed Prime Minister by the British Governor General. A few hours later, however, the first military coup took place, and Stevens fled into exile. A year later there was a successful counter-coup and Siaka Stevens was finally able to take office as Prime Minister. During his tenure, he changed the constitution so that the multi-party system was replaced by a one-party system in favor of the APC. He also proclaimed the Republic and became the first President of Sierra Leone. As a result, there was increasing political tension. His government was accused of corruption and inability to solve economic problems. There were several coup attempts, but they failed. Finally, on October 28, 1985, Stevens resigned in favor of his preferred candidate, Major General Joseph Saidu Momoh. This led the Stevens style government with political repression and economic exploitation of the country. The following period was marked by political instability, ten years of civil war and changing military regimes.

Siaka Stevens on an old bank note

Siaka Stevens on an old bank note