Milton Margai

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The Right Honourable
Sir Milton Margai
Milton Margai.png
1st Prime Minister of Sierra Leone
In office
14 August 1958 – 28 April 1964
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by position established
Succeeded by Sir Albert Margai
Chief Minister of Sierra Leone
In office
9 July 1954 – 14 August 1958
Leader of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP)
In office
Preceded by Position created
Succeeded by Sir Albert Margai
Personal details
Born Milton Augustus Strieby Margai
(1895-12-07)7 December 1895
Gbangbatoke, Moyamba District, Sierra Leone Colony and Protectorate
Died 28 April 1964(1964-04-28) (aged 68)
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Resting place

At the Sierra Leone House of Parliament compound

Tower Hill, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Nationality Sierra Leonean
Political party Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP)
Profession Medical Doctor

Sir Milton Augustus Strieby Margai PC (7 December 1895 – 28 April 1964) was a Sierra Leonean doctor and politician who served as the country's head of government from 1954 until his death. He was titled Chief Minister from 1954 to 1958 and then Prime Minister from 1958 onwards. Margai studied medicine in England, and upon returning to homeland became a prominent public health campaigner. He entered politics as the founder and inaugural leader of the Sierra Leone People's Party. Margai oversaw Sierra Leone's transition to independence, which occurred in 1961. He died in office aged 68, and was succeeded as prime minister by his brother Albert.[1][1]

Milton Margai is widely considered[by whom?] the least corrupt and the best Sierra Leonean leader to present.[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Margai was born on 7 December 1895 in the village of Gbangbatoke, Moyamba District in the Southern Province of British Sierra Leone to Mende parents. Sir Milton is the oldest of eighteen children [1]. At the time of his birth, Sierra Leone was a British Protectorate.[2] His father, M.E.S. Margai, hailed from Bonthe District and was an affluent businessman.[2] Margai received his primary education at the Evangelical United Brethren School in Bonthe, Bonthe District.[1] and his secondary education at St Edward's Secondary School in Freetown.[2] He earned his bachelor's degree in history and was the first Protectorate man to graduate from Fourah Bay College in 1921.[1] Margai went to medical school in England and in 1926, graduated as a medical doctor from the Durham University College of Medicine (which went on to become Newcastle University Medical School).[3] Margai also attended the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.[1] He was the first Protectorate man to become a medical doctor.[2]

Margai played several musical instruments: the piano, violin and the organ.[1]

Medical career[edit]

Margai returned to Sierra Leone in 1928 after earning his medical degree and enjoyed an exceptional career in the Colonial Medical Service.[2] He served in 11 of 12 districts in the protectorate.[1] He waged informational campaigns on social welfare and hygiene.[2]

Women's health reform[edit]

Margai trained health care workers to instruct female community leaders in the Mende women's association, The Sande, to give courses in hygiene, literacy and child care to young female members.[2]

Working in concert with local women's groups, Margai trained midwives and was the author of an instruction manual on midwifery in the Mende language.[1]

Political career[edit]

In 1949 he founded the nationalist Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) with Siaka Stevens, which won the 1951 election to the Legislative Council. After heading the departments of Health, Agriculture, and Forestry, he was elected chief minister in 1954. Although the SLPP won elections again in 1957, the following year Margai's leadership of the party was challenged by his younger brother, Albert, but even though he narrowly won the internal party election, he declined the leadership of the party, and left to form the opposition People's National Party, rejoining his brother in a coalition government in 1960.


Though Margai was pro-British and conservative in his political views, he felt that Sierra Leone would fare better as a self-determined state.[4]

1958 Constitution[edit]

In 1951 Margai oversaw the drafting of a new constitution which triggered the process of decolonisation.[4] In 1953 Sierra Leone was granted local ministerial powers and Margai was made Chief Minister.[4] The new constitution ensured Sierra Leone a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations and was formally adopted in 1958.[4]


Margai led the Sierra Leone delegation at the constitutional conferences that were held with British Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod in London in 1960.[5] On 27 April 1961, Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to independence from the United Kingdom.[4] The nation held its first general elections on 27 May 1962 and Margai was elected Sierra Leone's first Prime Minister by a landslide.[4] His party, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) won majority of seat in parliament.[4]


Over the next two years, as Sierra Leone headed for independence, Margai oversaw the creation of a new constitution for the colony, and upon its adoption in 1958, he became Prime Minister.


Knighted in 1959, he was prime minister at the time of independence on 27 April 1961, and won the ensuing election in 1962. He appointed the youngest Queens Counsel attorney in the Commonwealth at that time, Berthan Macaulay, to serve as his Attorney General. Margai died in office in Freetown in 1964 and was succeeded as prime minister by his brother Albert Margai.


Today, Sierra Leoneans regard Sir Milton Margai as a man of honesty and high principle, and look back to his time in office as a period of prosperity and social harmony. Sir Milton is the only post-Independence leader of Sierra Leone still universally admired and respected by the people of that country. He was a member of the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Sir Milton Margai School for the Blind[edit]

In 1961 Margai appealed for funding to build a school for the blind in Freetown.[6] In 1962, he set the foundation stone for the building at Wilkinson Road.[6] The school motto is: "We cannot see but we will conquer".[6] In 2006, the school was the subject of a three-part documentary on BBC News.[7] The Milton Margai School for the Blind Choir has toured the UK twice in 2003 and 2006.[8]

Milton Margai College of Education and Technology[edit]

In 1963 the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology was established.[9] The first incarnation of the school was the Milton Margai Teacher's College[9] but as the school grew and the curriculum expanded the name was changed to the Milton Margai College of Education.[9] In 2000, the school merged with the Freetown Technical Institute.[9]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Preceded by
Prime Minister of Sierra Leone
Succeeded by
Albert Margai