History

Sierra Leone was founded by returned slaves from Britain and North America in 1787. The colony of Sierra Leone (roughly the current day Western Province around Freetown) was administered by the British. In 1896 the hinterland came under British control as a protectorate. Following the Second World War, the indigenous populations of the protectorate gained greater political voice, culminating in the election of Dr (later Sir) Milton Margai of the Sierra Leone's People's Party (SLPP) as Chief Minister in 1953 and later Prime Minister in 1958. He led the country to full independence on April 27th 1961.

The SLPP ruled until 1967 when the electoral victory of the opposition All People's Congress (APC) was cut short by the country's first military coup. But the military eventually handed over to the APC and its leader Siaka Stevens in 1968. He turned the country into a one -party state in 1978. He finally retired in 1985, handing over to his deputy, General Momoh. Under popular pressure, one party rule was ended in 1991, and a new constitution providing for a return to multi-party politics was approved in August of that year. Elections were scheduled for 1992. But, by this stage, Sierra Leone's institutions had collapsed, mismanagement and corruption had ruined the economy and rising youth unemployment was a serious problem. Taking advantage of the collapse, a rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) emerged, with backing from a warlord, Charles Taylor, in neighbouring Liberia, and in 1991 led a rebellion against the APC government. The government was unable to cope with the insurrection, and was overthrown in a junior Officers coup in April 1992. Its leader, Captain Strasser, was however unable to defeat the RUF. Indeed, the military were more often than not complicit with the rebels in violence and looting.

Strasser was deposed in January 1996 by his fellow junta leaders. His replacement, Major Maada Bio, under international pressure, agreed to organise elections in February 1996. The RUF refused to take part and continued the conflict. The elections were won by Tejan Kabbah and the SLPP. The new government signed a peace agreement with the RUF in Abidjan 1996 but it failed to stop the rebellion. Kabbah's government was subsequently overthrown in a further coup in 1997 and took refuge in neighbouring Guinea. The military junta, headed by Major Johnny Paul Koroma, invited the RUF to join government. But the junta was complicit in looting and violence, often in association with the RUF, and was unable to consolidate its position. It was eventually overthrown and The Kabbah government was re-instated in 1998 with the help of troops (ECOMOG) from the Economic Community Of West African States Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS).

The destructive force of the rebellion reached Freetown for the first time when the RUF, combined with renegade elements of the army, invaded the capital in January 1999, committing appalling acts of violence against the civilian population in the process. They were repulsed by the Nigerian troops of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), but at great human cost. A second peace agreement, the Lome Accord of 1999, to be supervised by a UN peacekeeping force, brought the RUF officially into government. But this collapsed in 2000 when the RUF attacked UN peacekeepers upcountry and threatened to invade Freetown again. Some UN peacekeepers were killed and others detained by the rebels. Security was restored with the intervention of British troops in May 2000 and RUF ministers, including its leader Foday Sankoh, were arrested. The signing of the Abuja peace agreement in November 2000, together with the deployment of United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) across the country, allowed the gradual restoration of government authority throughout the territory. The war was officially declared over in February 2002.