First name/s: Siaka Probyn
Last name: Stevens
Known names / nicknames:
Date of birth: 24/08/1905
Year of birth: 1905
Life before Ruskin
Date and place of birth: Tolobu, Moyamba district, Sierra Leone, on 24 August 1905
Family: Son of James Tibin Stevens, a former soldier in the West African Frontier Force, later a shopkeeper, and his wife, Miatah, née Massaquoi. In 1940, Stevens married Rebecca (1908–1990), and they had twelve children (seven sons and five daughters).
Work: Colonial policeman 1923–1931, then worked in the iron ore mines at Marampa, becoming station master.
Politics/Trade union activity: Stevens was one of the founders (and first secretary-general) of the United Mine Workers’ Union. He was appointed to the Sierre Leone protectorate assembly in 1946 to represent the interests of workers.
Trade Union membership (at time of entry to Ruskin) ~ other Trade Union
Life at Ruskin
Dates at Ruskin: 1946
Source of funding: Fabian Society
Campaigns/political activity: Unknown
Subjects studied at Ruskin: Unknown
Life after Ruskin
Education: Awarded an honorary DCL of the University of Sierra Leone in 1969, and appointed honorary GCMG in 1980.
Politics/trade union activity: Founding member of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in 1951, and on the legislative council 1951–1957. Appointed minister of mines, lands, and labour 1952–1957. Lansana Gberie writing in the Oxford DNB, notes: ‘In government Stevens was known to be an able but avaricious man: riots by unemployed youth in Freetown in 1955 singled out his property, since he had already gained a reputation for ostentatious corruption.’ Stevens was associated with a breakaway faction of the SLPP, the People’s National Party, included in the United Front government of 1959. He attended the constitutional talks in London in 1960, but denounced the final independence agreement on the grounds that Freetown was to remain a naval base for the UK. Back in Sierra Leone Stevens launched the Elections Before Independence Movement, renamed the All People’s Congress (APC). Shortly before independence in 1961, he circulated an ‘appraisal’ to British MPs warning of chaos, and alleging abuse of power by the prime minister’s office as well as corruption. With 28 others, he was charged with criminal libel, sedition, and conspiracy. The APC won elections in 1967, but a brief coup was unseated to be replaced by the National Reformation Council, itself overthrown a year later and he was handed power. Stevens had the original (1967) coup leaders executed. These were the the first political executions of an independent Sierre Leone. Stevens passed a republican constitution and announced himself executive president. After rigged elections in 1970 and 1978, he declared a one-party state, and himself ‘president for life’. In 1985, he handed executive power to his favoured successor, Major-General Joseph Momoh.
Place & date of death: Died at home in Freetown on 29 May 1988, after a stroke at the end of 1987.
Date of death: 29/05/1987
Year of death: 1987
Achievements / Publications
Prime minister and president of Sierra Leone
Material in archives or already published articles
Notes on Image/s
Comment of contributor/s and sources
As a comment on Stevens’ abuse of power, Gberie (2009) asserts:
Stevens effectively degraded every state institution, institutionalized corruption, and in effect criminalized the state. Often jovial in public, and a grandfatherly figure, Stevens was in fact a prodigy of forms of excess and creative autocracy that helped to neuter the state, paving the way to a brutal civil war. He replaced legitimate but inconvenient chiefs with hand-picked hustlers[, and] connived with Lebanese businessmen to loot the country’s alluvial diamond mines[,]
[w]ith Stevens the line between pragmatism and opportunism was hard to draw, but there is little debate about his legacy in Sierra Leone: he introduced a corrupt autocracy, ruined the country’s economy, and created the conditions for a destructive civil war.
Gberie L (2009), ‘Stevens, Siaka Probyn (1905–1988)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, available at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/93427 [accessed 24 Nov 2013].