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Sir Milton Augustus Streiby Margai

Sir Milton Augustus Strieby Margai (December 7, 1895 - April 28, 1964) was a Sierra Leonean politician and the first prime minister of Sierra Leone. He was the main architect of the post-colonial constitution of Sierra Leone and guided his nation to independence in 1961.


Margai was born on December 7, 1895 in the small rural town of Gbangbatoke, in what is now part of Moyamba District in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone to Mende parents. At the time of his birth his country was a British Protectorate. His father, M.E.S. Margai, hailed from Bonthe District and was an affluent businessman. Margai received his primary education at the Evangelical United Brethren School in Bonthe, Bonthe District. and his secondary education at Albert Academy in Freetown. He earned his bachelors degree in history and was the first Protectorate man to graduate from Fourah Bay College in 1921. Margai went to medical school in England and became doctor in 1926 at King's College Medical School, University of Durham . Margai also attended the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He was the first Protectorate man to become a medical doctor.


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

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


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.

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.


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.


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


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


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 April 27, 1961, and won the ensuing election in 1962. He appointed the youngest Queens Council 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.


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


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

Sir Milton Margai