Milton Margai

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Sir Milton Margai

Milton Margai.png
1st Prime Minister of Sierra Leone
In office
14 August 1958 – 28 April 1964
MonarchElizabeth II
Preceded byposition established
Succeeded bySir 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 byPosition created
Succeeded bySir Albert Margai
Personal details
Milton Augustus Strieby Margai

(1895-12-07)7 December 1895
Gbangbatoke, Moyamba District, British Sierra Leone
Died28 April 1964(1964-04-28) (aged 68)
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Resting placeAt the Sierra Leone House of Parliament compound Tower Hill, Freetown, Sierra Leone
NationalitySierra Leonean
Political partySierra Leone People's Party (SLPP)
ProfessionMedical 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.[1] He was titled Chief Minister from 1954 to 1960, and then Prime Minister from 1961 onwards.[1][2] 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.[3] Margai enjoyed the support of Sierra Leoneans across classes, who respected his moderate style, friendly demeanor, and political savvy.[4]

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.[1][5][6] Sir Milton was the oldest of eighteen children.[7] His father was M.E.S. Margai an affluent trader from Bonthe District.[6] His grandfather was a Mende warrior chief.[5][6] At the time of his birth, Sierra Leone was a British protectorate.[6]

Margai received his primary education at the Evangelical United Brethren School in Bonthe, Bonthe District.[3][6] He graduated from St. Edward's Secondary School in Freetown.

In 1921, he earned his bachelor's degree in history from Fourah Bay College.[3] Margai went to medical school in England and graduated as a medical doctor from the Durham University College of Medicine (which went on to become Newcastle University Medical School) in 1926.[8] Margai also attended the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.[3] He became the first doctor from the Protectorate.[9] He was the first Protectorate man to become a medical doctor.

Margai also played the piano, violin and organ.[3]

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.[6] He served in 11 of 12 districts in the protectorate.[3] He waged informational campaigns on social welfare and hygiene.[6]

Women's health reform[edit]

Margai trained health care workers to instruct female community leaders in the Mende women's religion, the Sande.[10] The Sande religion served as a facilitation system of practical knowledge about midwifery passed down by generations of women in the region.[10] In 1948, Margai wrote an article for African Affairs entitled "Welfare Work in a Secret Society," in which he discusses the difficulties of spreading English medical knowledge in the Protectorate of Sierra Leone due to local traditions.[11]

Working in concert with local women's groups, Margai helped introduce health and hygiene training into puberty initiation ceremonies.[10] He also trained midwives and was the author of an instruction manual on midwifery in the Mende language.[3] The women whom Margai trained became known as "Mamma Nurses," and were respected for their prowess in midwifery due to Margai's training.[10]

Political career[edit]

Early Work[edit]

Margai's entry into politics occurred in the 1930s when he became a nonchief member of the Protectorate assembly representing the Bonthe region.[12] By 1950, he was in charge of the Sierra Leone Organization Society.[12] In 1951, Margai 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, Margai 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.

Path to independence[edit]

Though Margai was pro-British and conservative in his political views, he felt that Sierra Leone would fare better as a self-determined state.[13] In 1951, Margai oversaw the drafting of a new constitution which triggered the process of decolonisation.[13] In 1953 Sierra Leone was granted local ministerial powers and Margai was made Chief Minister.[13] The new constitution ensured Sierra Leone a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations and was formally adopted in 1958.[13]

Margai led the Sierra Leone delegation at the constitutional conferences that were held with British Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod in London in 1960.[4] On 27 April 1961, Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to independence from the United Kingdom.[13] The nation held its first general elections on 27 May 1962 and Margai was elected Sierra Leone's first Prime Minister by a landslide.[13] His party, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) won majority of seat in parliament.[13] Margai then sought to heal divides between Sierra Leone's ethnic groups, as several northern ethnic groups felt underrepresented in the SLPP. To ameliorate their concerns, Margai appointed several elites from northern ethnic groups to key ministerial positions. However, this did little to lessen poverty in the north, and forced the SLPP to engage in clientelism in order to ease tensions with northern ethnic leaders.[14]


While Margai was only Prime Minister for three years, he served as a crucial first figurehead for Sierra Leone at the time of democratization.[2] In large part, Margai sought to unite the country and build a sense of national identity while becoming a member of the British Commonwealth.[2] Margai gained the respect of the country's large illiterate population for his reputation as a skilled explainer. He also garnered support from local chiefs, who wielded significant social power at the time, because they respected the work he had done to achieve independence for the country.[4] However, Margai faced criticism for suppressing the political activities of the All People's Congress (APC), Sierra Leone's opposition political party.[15] Margai focused heavily on modernization, particularly in the areas of education, health, and agriculture.[15] Margai allowed local councils and governments to spearhead many improvement projects, but they were ultimately accountable to the central government, and Margai sometimes withheld funding from councils controlled by the opposition party.[15]

When Margai became Prime Minister, he left control of the Sierra Leone national army in the hands of the British.[16] Slowly, Margai gave more control of the army over to Sierra Leoneans, and by 1964, the army was fairly ethnically heterogenous, with 26% of officers being Mende, 12% Temne, and 64% other groups.[16] Once Margai died, however, his brother Sir Albert Margai took power and sought to make the army homogeneously Mende.[16]

Margai struggled to handle issues of illegal immigration of the Fula people from Guinea.[12] In 1962, his government rounded up several "strangers" under the assumption that they were illegal immigrants from Guinea, but released them upon learning they were local chiefs.[12]


Sierra Leone 1964 Half Cent coin featuring 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. In 1964, Sierra Leone released ½, 1, 5, 10 and 20 cent coins, all of which featured portraits of Margai.

Sir Milton Margai School for the Blind[edit]

In 1961 Margai appealed for funding to build a school for the blind in Freetown.[17] In 1962, he set the foundation stone for the building at Wilkinson Road.[17] The school motto is: "We cannot see but we will conquer".[17] In 2006, the school was the subject of a three-part documentary on BBC News.[18] The Milton Margai School for the Blind Choir has toured the UK twice in 2003 and 2006.[19]

Milton Margai College of Education and Technology[edit]

In 1963 the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology was established.[20] The first incarnation of the school was the Milton Margai Teacher's College[20] but as the school grew and the curriculum expanded the name was changed to the Milton Margai College of Education.[20] In 2000, the school merged with the Freetown Technical Institute.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Sir Milton Margai, prime minister of Sierra Leone". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Sir Milton Margai Dead at 68; Prime Minister of Sierra Leone; Physician and Peoples Party Leader Guided Nation in 3 Years of Independence". Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g " | CBSi". Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "Sierra Leone's Leader; Milton Augustus Strieby Margai". The New York Times. 28 April 1961. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  5. ^ a b Seisay, Manya (8 February 2019). "The role of the Mende in Sierra Leonean politics". Manya Seisay. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Sir Milton Margai Dead at 68; Prime Minister of Sierra Leone; Physician and Peoples Party Leader Guided Nation in 3 Years of Independence". The New York Times. 29 April 1964. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  7. ^ Ketema, Makonnen (2001). "Bio Section 5 Sierra Leone". Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  8. ^[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Harrell-Bond, Barbara A. (1975). "THE INFLUENCE OF LEGISLATIVE CHANGE ON BEHAVIOUR: A CASE STUDY ON THE STATUS OF ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN IN SIERRA LEONE on JSTOR". Verfassung und Recht in Übersee / Law and Politics in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 8 (3/4): 447–464. JSTOR 43108481.
  10. ^ a b c d Jambai, Amara; MacCormack, Carol (1996). "Maternal Health, War, and Religious Tradition: Authoritative Knowledge in Pujehun District, Sierra Leone on JSTOR". Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 10 (2): 270–286. JSTOR 649331.
  11. ^ MARGAI, M. A. S. (October 1948). "Welfare Work in a Secret Society". African Affairs. 47 (189): 227–230. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a093668. ISSN 1468-2621.
  12. ^ a b c d author., Jalloh, Alusine, 1963- (2002). Muslim Fula business elites and politics in Sierra Leone. ISBN 9781580461146. OCLC 1006316899.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Advocate Nations of Africa: Sierra Leone Archived 27 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Kandeh, Jimmy D. (1992). "Politicization of Ethnic Identities in Sierra Leone". African Studies Review. 35 (1): 81–99. doi:10.2307/524446. JSTOR 524446.
  15. ^ a b c Carrie. "Sierra Leone TRC - Volume Three A, Chapter Two". Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Harkness, Kristen A. (2016). "SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 60 (4): 587–616. doi:10.1177/0022002714545332. hdl:10023/9391.
  17. ^ a b c Sir Milton Margai School for the Blind
  18. ^ "Africa school swap". 27 February 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  19. ^ Milton Margai School for the Blind Choir
  20. ^ a b c d Milton Margai Old Students Association Archived 5 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Prime Minister of Sierra Leone
Succeeded by
Albert Margai