Sir Albert was born October 10 1910G , at Gbangbatoke Banta Cheifdom ( now in the Moyamba District) and was educated at St Edwards Secondary School Freetown. He first worked as a nurse from 1931 to 1944 , then proceeded to Britain to study Law at the inner Temple inns of court where he qualified in 1948. He returned to Sierra Leone and enrolled as solicitor and advocate in the supreme court and set up private practice. Sir Albert played an active role in the debates over the Stevenson Constitution and was one of the chief spokesmen for protectorate interests. Margai was elected first protectorate member of the legislative council in 1951. In 1952 he became a Cabinet Minister and sierra Leone first Minister of Education. In 1957 he was elected Member of Parliament for the Moyamba constituency . shortly after the elections, he challenged his brother for the leadership of the party and was elected leader of the SLPP, but later stepped down for his elder brother after he had been guaranteed that his closest ally, Siaka Stevens would return to the Cabinet. It was Sir Milton’s failure to honour this pledge and other pledges that led Albert to refuse the cabinet position he had been offered and to form his own party called the People’s National Party in September 1958. During the year from 1952 and 1957 ,there was much discontent within the SLPP over Sir Milton’s conservative policies and his heavy reliance on the Natural Rulers- the Paramount Chiefs on their role in government much to the displeasure of both Siaka Stevens and Albert Margai who felt the chiefs should be divorced from politics and be concerned with their chiefdoms and peoples . But Sir Milton used the Chiefs as his support base for power. As a result a leadership struggle began between Sir Milton on the one hand and his half brother Albert and Siaka Stevens on the other; the two men ( Albert and Siaka) having now become political allies initiated and aggressive campaign calling for a leadership review. Albert was now more aligned to Siaka Steven than to his brother Sir Milton. The two brothers became irreconcilable, one being conservative in his policies (Milton) and while the other favours a radical agenda (Albert) . Albert was now 48 years old while Sir Milton was 62. At the convention Albert defeated his brother for the party leadership . However out of respect for his brother and also realizing that the chiefs were not ready to support radical policies declined the leadership position and instead broke away from the SLPP to form his own part the People’s National Party (PNP). Many of the young men including Siaka Stevens, who became Secretary – General and Deputy Leader of the PNP left the SLPP to form the PNP.
Sir Albert Margai was appointed Minister of Agriculture in the United Front Coalition in 1959. In 1962, he was returned as Member of Parliament for Moyamba South Constituency and was appointed Minister of Finance. As Minister of Finance he established the Leone (Le) as a legal tender , and created the bank of Sierra Leone as the country’s central and national bank in 1963( the leone was launched on 4th August 1964 when Sir Albert was now Prime Minister.)
Sir Milton died in office on 28 April 1964, a day after the country’s third independence anniversary. The 1961 constitution had provided for the appointment of a Prime Minister. It is said , inter alia , that the Governor – General shall appoint as Prime Minister a member the of the House of Representatives who in his opinion was likely to command the support of the majority of the members of the house. In the exercise of this power, the Governor – General shall act in accordance with his own deliberate judgement. Armed with this constitutional instrument the Governor –General , Sir Henry Light Boston ( and perhaps under the influence of former influential members of the PNP) appointed Albert Margai Prime Minister on 29 April , a day after his half – brother’s death .The Attorney General , Berthan Macauley , endorsed the Governor – General’s action.
At the time he became leader of the SLPP and Head of Government, Sir Albert was no longer a young man, but he did not enjoy the reverence which old age had bestowed upon his elder brother. As the first up – country lawyer, he was highly respected but, unlike Sir Milton, did not enjoy the support and confidence of all factions of his party. As the recognized leader of the progressive wing of the SLPP he advocated a faster pace of development for Sierra Leone and took and “African” stand on most international issues. Sir Albert was also known to have less attachment to traditional institutions, and while he was leader of the Peoples National Party (PNP), he openly asked traditional rulers to stay out of politics.
Sir Albert was highly criticized during his tenure. He had a penchant for extravagant pageantry and was accused of corruption and of a policy of affirmative action in favour of the Mende tribe. The tantrum – prone Minister was nick named “Akpata”, a Mende word meaning ” Our wild fat man” . Margai was also nick named ” Big Albert” and ” Albert of Africa”. Margai endeavoured to change Sierra Leone from a democracy to a one party state. The one – party system of government was slowly gaining momentum in Independent Africa and Sir Albert was fascinated by the idea. However , responding to congratulatory messages by a cross section of the Judiciary soon after he became Prime Minister, he had said:
“I intend through the help of God and the assistance and help of the people of Sierra Leone
To make this beloved country of ours a free state. I am not convinced by the idea in some African circles that to make way for progress, we must have a one- party system of government. As a member of the Government I have always adhere to the theory that we must follow the principle of good democracy, by having a two-party system. I have a special privilege as a citizen to vote and express my opinion and that privilege must be extended to all. I am sure that when the opposition Leader speaks up he does a world of good by criticizing the Government.
POLITICS AND DIPLOMACY
Until Sir Albert came on the scene, SLPP politics was largely a conservative affair left to chiefs, elders and opinion leaders. Sir Albert added glamour by increasing pomp and pageantry in the office of Prime Minister. In his attempt to project himself as a symbol of national unity and as catalyst for mobilizing the progressive forces of the country, Sir Albert found himself in the same dilemma in which African leaders of his time found themselves. His impatience with the gradualism of the older generation, and his revolt against their authority, not only alienated him from a section that still had considerable sway but also opened him to attacks from younger elements who perceived his efforts as not going far enough.
Sir Albert (knighted in 1965) made a number of attempts to broaden his base of strength. First he increased the size of the Freetown city council and changed its tenure of office. His confidence that the SLPP could carry the election and take control of the Freetown City Council was misplaced, for the APC won 11 seats on the enlarged council as against the SLPP seven. Sir Albert went on to dismissed 4 ministers who opposed the governor – General’s action, on the grounds that he had acted unconstitutional for appointing him (Albert), a blunder that led to his demised.
Next he embarked on a strong effort to counter the APC, Provincial Chiefs were advised to discourage the party from entrenching its position in the chiefdoms and the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) was direct not to publicize the APC.A rule was change was pushed through Parliament depriving four APC members of their seats for absenteeism ; these members were then in jail and could hardly being absent . (the APC was to use the same legislation in 1977 against four SLPP members, one of them being Sir Albert’s son , Charles).
Sir Albert also determined to reorganize the SLPP. To this end he called for a national headquarters, a party press a clear – cut policy on how candidates were to be appointed and organization of the party at the local level . This attempt at reorganization was vehemently opposed by many of the SLPP old guard who had never forgiven Sir Albert for his departure from the SLPP in 1958, which led to the near collapse of the SLPP. They viewed the changes as an attempt by the Prime Minister to strengthen his position. Sir Albert pushed most of this old guard aside and brought in more of his former PNP colleagues into the cabinet, some acting as advisers to the government.
FLOATING THE ONE- PARTY DEBATE
Sir Albert, spurred by some of his supporters and following and exchange of visits with President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, began to extol the virtues of a one-party state a proposition he was highly against when he was appointed Prime Minister.
On 20 December 1965, Paramount Chief Bai Maroh( representing Tonkolili District), introduced a Private Member’s motion in Parliament which read:
To ensure the solidarity and rapid development of the country, be it resolved that Government gives serious consideration to the introduction of a one –party system of government in the country.
The motion was seconded but the Leader of the Opposition, Siaka Stevens, opposed it because he felt that a one-party system of government would not be in the interests of the people of Sierra Leone and a violation of the entrenched clauses in the constitution. However, instead of voting against the motion, the opposition abstained and so the motion was carried without dissent. Stevens later comment that as leader of the APC and as an individual citizen , he abhorred and detested the one – party system.