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Siaka Probyn Stevens (24 August 1905 – 29 May 1988) was the 3rd prime minister of Sierra Leone from 1967–1971 and the 1st president of Sierra Leone from 1971–1985. Stevens is generally criticised for dictatorial methods of government in which many of his political opponents were executed; but on a positive note, he reduced the ethnic polarisation in the government of Sierra Leone by incorporating members of various ethnic groups into his all-dominating APC.
Stevens was born on August 24, 1905 in Moyamba, Moyamba District in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone to parents from the Limba ethnic group. He completed secondary school at the famous Albert Academy in Freetown, the same secondary school Sierra Leone's first Prime Minister Sir Milton Margai attended. He attended Ruskin College in Oxford, England where he studied Trade Unionism. Stevens jointed the Sierra Leone Police Force From 1923 to 1930. He rose to the rank of First Class Sergeant.
Stevens and his All People's Congress (APC) party won the closely contested 1967 Sierra Leone general elections over the incumbent Prime Minister Sir Albert Margai of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP). In April 1971, Stevens introduced a Republic form of Government and he became the first President of Sierra Leone a day after the constitution had been ratified by Parliament.
Stevens served as Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) from 1 July] 1980 to 24 June 1981, and engineered the creation of the Mano River Union, a three country economic federation of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Stevens retired from office at the end of his term on 28 November 1985. After pressuring all other potential successors to step aside, he chose Major-General Joseph Saidu Momoh, the commander of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces as his successor.
Siaka Probyn Stevens was born on August 24, 1905 in Moyamba, Moyamba District in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, to Limba parents. Although born in Moyamba, Stevens was largely raised in Freetown. Stevens completed his primary education in Freetown and completed secondary school at Albert Academy in Freetown, before joining the Sierra Leone Police Force. From 1923 to 1930, Stevens rose to the rank of First Class Sergeant and Musketry Instructor.
From 1931 to 1946, he worked on the construction of the Sierra Leone Development Company (DELCO) railway, linking the Port of Pepel with the iron ore mines at Marampa. In 1943, he helped co-found the United Mine Workers Union and was appointed to the Protectorate Assembly in 1946 to represent worker interests. In 1947, Stevens studied labor relations at Ruskin College.
In 1951, Stevens co-founded the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and was elected to the Legislative Council. A year later, he became Sierra Leone's first Minister of Mines, Lands, and Labor. In 1957, he was elected to the House of Representatives as a member for Port Loko constituency, but lost his seat as a result of an election petition.
After disagreements with the SLPP leadership, Stevens broke ties with the party and founded the People's National Party (PNP), of which he was the first secretary-general and deputy leader. In 1959, he participated in independence talks in London. When the talks concluded, however, he was the only delegate who refused to sign the agreement on the grounds that there had been a secret defense pact between Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom. Another point of contention was the Sierra Leonean government's position that there would be no elections held before independence, which would effectively shut him out of the political process. He was promptly expelled from the PNP upon his return from the talks. Stevens then launched the Elections Before Independence Movement (EBIM), which was later transformed into the All People's Congress (APC).
After successfully exploiting the disenchantment of northern and eastern ethnic groups with the SLPP, along with the creation of an alliance with the Sierra Leone Progressive Independence Movement (SLPIM), the APC became the main opposition party following elections held in 1962. Stevens was later elected mayor of Freetown.
In elections held on 17 May 1967, the APC won by an extremely narrow margin, and Stevens was appointed Prime Minister, but he was arrested only days after taking office during a military coup.
After a brief period of military rule, Stevens reassumed the post of Prime Minister on 26 April 1968. In April 1971, a republican constitution was introduced. He became President of the Republic a day after the constitution was ratified by the House of Representatives.
In 1973, the first elections under the new constitution were held. The polls were marred by violence and were boycotted by the SLPP, which gave the APC all 85 seats in the House of Representatives. In March 1976 Stevens was re-elected President unopposed by the House. Stevens's vice-president from 1971 until leaving office in 1985 was Sorie Ibrahim Koroma.
Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, Stevens continued to consolidate his power, which culminated in a 1978 referendum on a new constitution that would create a single-party state. On 12 June, 97.1% of voters were reported to have voted for the new one-party constitution, but observers agreed that the elections had been manipulated by the government. High percentages in favor of the one-party state were reported, even in areas where the opposition SLPP Party was clearly dominant. Following the election, all opposition members of the House of Representatives were required to join Stevens's APC or lose their seats. Two years after being re-elected for a five-year term, Stevens was sworn in for an additional term of seven years, having by then adopted the title of "Dr."
President Stevens served as Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) from 1 July 1980 to 24 June 1981, and engineered the creation of the Mano River Union, a three country economic federation of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. He was criticized by some as running a corrupt government that was incapable of improving the economy, and he thwarted several coup and assassination attempts.