Doctor and First Prime Minister of Sierra Leone
According to colonial and historical records, Sir Milton Augustus Strieby Margai worked in most of the government hospitals in Sierra Leone. In fact, while working as a government medical doctor, he was involved in modernizing midwife service. He trained local instructors who taught the sande women about hygiene, delivery, child care, and literacy. He also prevailed on the women to include the literacy program in their initiation ceremonies. Consequently, he wrote a book (Mavulo Golei) that explained midwifery methods among the native women.
Margai retired from active government medical service in 1950 and established his own private practice in Bo; he was a well-reputed surgeon. During his free time, he engaged himself in politics, and he was listed as a Bonthe district council representative in the protectorate assembly in 1947. He was also a founding member of the first protectorate newspaper, The Sierra Leone Observer in 1949. Margai participated actively in the Protectorate Educational Progressive Union. A skillful politician, he was able to convince Etheldred
N. Jones (Lamina Sanko) to merge his People’s Party with the Sierra Leone Organization Society to form the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) with the slogan “One country, one people”; Margai became the party’s first chairman. He became leader of government business after the 1951 elections. There were six other members of his party who were given government departments to administer.
A tactful politician, Margai’s rise witnessed an atmosphere of antagonism and acrimony between the Krio (Creole) educated elite and the protectorate politicians and chiefs. In 1947, when the colonial administration ushered in constitutional reforms that would give the protectorate assembly members a majority of the seats in the legislative council, the Krio community vehemently opposed the idea. Led by Bankole Bright, the Krio looked down on the illiterate chiefs, whom they described as savages and unfit to sit in the same legislative council. Margai rebuked the Krio faction, and the protectorate chiefs and educated elite united against them. With the introduction of the Stevenson’s constitution in 1951, which provided for an African majority in the legislative and executive councils, it was not surprising to see the SLPP emerge victorious in the subsequent general elections. The party captured 41 seats (versus 9 for the opposition). The protectorate chiefs supported the SLPP overwhelmingly; in fact, it was widely believed that any political party that won the support of the populous protectorate would emerge as the winner. This was why the SLPP had an edge over the Krio opposition forces.
In 1954, Margai became chief minister. He held the post until 1957, when he was appointed premier. Due to personal problems between Margai and his younger brother, Albert (later, Sir Albert), the latter broke with the SLPP and formed the People’s National Party (PNP). In 1959, Margai skillfully used tactful methods to win the support of the moderate Krio opposition elements and his brother Albert; they joined Margai’s United Front coalition. The aim of the coalition was to proceed to London for the constitutional conference.
Margai rewarded the Krio opposition leaders C. B. Rogers Wright (leader of the United People’s Party, or UPP) and G. Dixon Thomas with cabinet positions in his government. His brother Albert was appointed minister of agriculture. All of them then became members of the SLPP. The coalition was now ready to proceed to London for constitutional talks for Sierra Leone’s independence.
In 1959, Margai was awarded a knighthood. The only opposition force remaining was that of Siaka Stevens, who formed the All People’s Congress Party in 1960 with the slogan “Elections before independence.” He tried to win the support of young men, women, and teachers in the urban areas.
The Sierra Leone constitutional conference was held in Lancaster House, London, in 1960 and a new constitution was drawn up for the country. The independence constitution provided for a governor general as head of state with ceremonial functions, and a prime minister, and a cabinet. Sierra Leone became independent on April 27, 1961, with Margai as prime minister. Sierra Leone also became the 100th member of the United Nations. Margai’s cabinet was broadly based; Kandeh Bureh became minister of transport and communications, while Dr. John Karefa Smart was appointed minister of external affairs. Ahmadu Wurie was appointed minister of education, and Albert Margai minister of finance. G. Dixon Thomas, Mohammad Sanusi Mustapha, and paramount chief Madam Ella Koblo Gulama were also given cabinet position; Gulama became the first female cabinet minister of Sierra Leone.
Margai’s ministership witnessed the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh to Sierra Leone in 1961. Njala University College was established in 1963. Sierra Leone was a stable and progressive nation during Margai’s tenure as prime minister. He died on April 28, 1964, a day after the third anniversary of Sierra Leone’s anniversary. His brother Albert Margai succeeded him as prime minister.
Michael J. Jusu
See also: Sierra Leone: Christianity, Education, Krio Diaspora; Sierra Leone: Stevens, Siaka and the All People’s Congress.
Born December 7,1895 at Gbangbatoke, Moyamba district. Attended the Evangelical united Brethren School,
Bonthe and Albert Academy, Freetown. Subsequently attended Fourah Bay College, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921, becoming the first candidate from the protectorate to earn a degree at the institution. Entered King’s College in England, where he graduated with a Master’s degree in 1926. Set another record by becoming the first protectorate man to earn a degree in medicine, from the Armstrong School of Medicine. Appointed medical officer for Sierra Leone in 1928. Named prime minister of Sierra Leone upon its independence in 1961. Died on April 28, 1964.
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