April 28, 2014

Sir Milton Margai Remembered


Sir Milton Margai, Sierra Leone ’s first Prime Minister, was honoured at ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death, on Monday, April 28th, 2014. The Margai family, which reportedly includes some 200 grandchildren of the late man, turned out in their numbers to pay tribute to independent Sierra Leone’s founding father, who died in 1964, a day after the third anniversary of the country’s independence from Great Britain. He served just three years as Prime Minister, although he had been Chief Minister in Parliament for several years prior to the eventual handover of power by Britain on April 27th, 1961.


King Memorial service for Sir Milton MargaiAt a well-attended memorial service at King Memorial Church in Freetown, the late man’s accomplishments were extolled by Bishop J.C. Humper, Bishop Emeritus of the UMC denomination. His time in office could be summarized as a period of good governance, the Bishop maintained; the country was at peace, the economy was strong and Pa Margai, the founder leader of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party, SLPP, bred political tolerance. Contrasting the situation with the disunity and infighting within the current SLPP, Bishop Humper urged the leadership of the party, well represented in the front pews of the church, to put aside their differences and unite. On the other side of the aisle from the SLPP leadership, one of the sources of the party’s disunity, Mr Charles Margai, nephew of Sir Milton and current patriarch of the Margai family, listened intently. Mr Margai broke away from the SLPP to form his own party, the PMDC, in 2007 after losing a leadership struggle against the then vice President, Solomon Berewa. The PMDC and Mr Margai are credited with enabling the then opposition All Peoples Congress, APC, to wrest power from the SLPP in the 2007 general elections. In the runoff elections for the Presidency, Mr Margai threw his weight behind the then opposition candidate, current President Ernest Bai Koroma.


The King Memorial congregation listened to a detailed summary of the life and works of Sir Milton from noted Sierra Leone historian, Professor Joe A.D. Allie. Sir Milton was the first man from the Provinces to enter Fourah Bay College and when he graduated M.D. from Durham University in 1926 he was the first Provincial doctor. The historian highlighted Sir Milton’s long and patient work as a doctor practicing in the Provinces before he entered politics.

Goboi devil at Bank of Sierra Leone complex 

After the church service the congregation was invited to refreshments at the Bank of Sierra Leone complex, Kingtom. A sumptuous feast was laid on for the 500 or more guests who thronged the main banquet hall and garden terrace, but they first had to listen to a long, partisan speech from the Chairman of the SLPP, Chief Somano Kapen, speaking from the high table. “The government has failed us,” Chief Somano reported, “It has failed the people”. In what was increasingly seen as political campaigning by an audience tantalized by the delicacies on display, Chief Kapen appealed for unity within the SLPP. As the food and drinks began to flow, lighter entertainment was provided by Freetong Players, with a specially composed song extolling Sir Milton, and by a musical group from the Milton Margai School for the Blind, which was founded by the late man.


Carefully to one side, but consulted at critical stages was Mr Charles Margai, and as the afternoon wore on one noticed increasing interaction between him and the SLPP heavyweights present. Even though family members went out of their way to stress that this was not a political affair, but about a great man and his legacy, one could not help but wonder whether there was a political design behind it. Taking the stage for the first time late in the day, Mr Margai delivered the vote of thanks. The event was climaxed by the thunderous appearance of the famed Goboi devil.