Like many African leaders at independence, Sir Milton Margai, Sierra Leone's first prime minister, knew what was coming. He saw the urgent need for national cohesion after the deep divisions that had marred the run-up to independence. There had been tensions between the "countrymen" (people from the inland "protectorate") and the Krios in the Western Area who had had a better relationship with the colonial administration, probably because of their education and adopted European lifestyle.
The taste and smell of politics during the run-up to the "independence conference" at Lancaster House in London (known locally as the Constitutional Talks) became unpleasant as rivalry among various political parties and interests became blatantly spiteful. But the time for independence had come. The British were ready to go and nothing could prevent the green, white and blue flag of the new Sierra Leone from replacing the Union Jack.
When Sir Milton led the nation, which was once called Romarong by the indigenous Mende people to independence on 27 April 1961, he was keen on reunifying the people. He was a man who did not know tribe or region. A medical doctor, he had worked in different parts of the country, made good friends, and gained the admiration of the people and their British colonisers. Sir Milton wanted to see a nation that was strongly united.
In his independence message on 27 April 1961, he made this clarion call to the people: "I ask you to deal fairly and honestly with your fellow men, to discourage lawlessness, and to strive actively for peace, friendship, and unity in our country."
Sir Milton's message sounded more like a priest's homily to a congregation on a Sunday morning. For him, being a leader at that point in time was more than just holding the country's highest office. He believed that the basic life principles of "honesty" and "fairness" in human relations were crucial to the growth of the nation.
At sixty-six at the Sir Milton knew and acknowledged that independence could not bring "sudden change". What was important was the fact that the people were "now in complete control of [their] destiny".
Unfortunately, the polite and conciliatory Sir Milton did not live long enough to actualise his dreams of making the country a place to he proud of. He died in 1964--barely three years into his reign. It was then that his younger brother, Sir Albert Margai, controversially took over as premier and succeeded in trashing Sir Milton's dreams of a united and development-driven Sierra Leone.
According to several accounts of history, the young Margai exuberantly turned everything upside down--firing some influential members of his elder brother's government; and...