Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (February 16, 1932 – March 13, 2014) was the third President of Sierra Leone, serving from 1996 to 1997 and again from 1998 to 2007. An economist and attorney by profession, Kabbah spent many years working for the United Nations Development Programme. He retired from the United Nations and returned to Sierra Leone in 1992.
In early 1996, Kabbah was elected leader of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and was the party's presidential candidate in the 1996 presidential election. He was elected President of Sierra Leone in the 1996 election with 59% of the vote, defeating his closest rival, John Karefa-Smart of the United National People's Party (UNPP), who had 40% in the runoff vote and conceded defeat. International observers declared the election free and fair. Kabbah campaigned on a promise to end the civil war, if elected president. During his inauguration speech as president, Kabbah repeated his promised to end the civil war, which he indeed achieved later in his presidency.
A devoted Muslim, Kabbah was born in Pendembu, Kailahun District in Eastern Sierra Leone, though he was raised in the capital Freetown. Kabbah was an ethnic Mandingo. Kabbah was Sierra Leone's first and currently the only Muslim head of state of the country.
Kabbah"s first wife Patricia Kabbah was a devout Christian from the Sherbro ethic group and a native of Bonthe District in Southern Sierra Leone. Together they had five children. Kabba and his wife Patricia Kabbah were married in 1965 and they remained married until Patricia Kabbah died from an illness in 1998. Kabbah was very closed to his wife Patricia and the two were often seen together in public before and during Kabbah"s presidency. Patricia Kabbah was very influential during her husband Kabbah"s presidency and she focused mainly on humanitarian issues and she was very outspoken for the ending of the civil war, though she did not live to see the end of the civil war in 2002.
A year after he left office as president, and ten years after the death of his wife Patricia, Kabbah married Isata Kabbah, an ethnic Mandingo and a Muslim in an Islamic wedding ceremony in Freetown. They remained married until Kabbah"s death in 2014.
Most of Kabbah's time in office was influenced by the civil war with the Revolutionary United Front, led by Foday Sankoh, which led to him being temporarily ousted by the military Armed Forces Revolutionary Council from May 1997 to March 1998. He was soon returned to power after military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), led by Nigeria. Another phase of the civil war led to United Nations and British involvement in the country in 2000.
As President, Kabbah opened direct negotiations with the RUF rebels in order to end the civil war. He signed several peace accords with the rebel leader Foday Sankoh, including the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord, in which the rebels, for the first time, agreed to a temporary cease fire with the Sierra Leone government. When the cease fire agreement with the rebels collapsed, Kabbah campaigned for international assistance from the British, the United Nations Security Council, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States to help defeat the rebels and restore peace and order in Sierra Leone.
Kabbah declared the civil war officially over in early 2002. Tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans across the country took to the streets to celebrate the end of the war. Kabbah went on to easily win his final five-year term in office in the presidential election later that year with 70.1% of the vote, defeating his main opponent Ernest Bai Koroma of the main opposition All People's Congress (APC). International observers declared the election free and fair.
Youth and education
Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was born on February 16, 1932, in the rural town of Pendembu, Kailahun District in the Eastern Province of British Sierra Leone. Kabbah's father, Abu Bakr Sidique Kabbah, who worked as a businessman and a deeply religious Muslim man, was an ethnic Mandingo of Guinean descent from Kambia District in northern Sierra Leone. Kabbah's mother, Haja Adama Coomber Kabbah, was also a deeply religious Muslim and a member of the Mende ethnic group from the Coomber family, a Chieftaincy ruling house based in the rural town of Mobai, Kailahun District in eastern Sierra Leone. A devoted Muslim himself, Kabbah's first name Ahmad means "highly praised" or "one who constantly thanks God" in Arabic language. Kabbah was a fluent speaker of several languages including English, French, Susu, Mende, Krio and his native Mandinka language. Though born in the Kailahun District, Kabbah grew up in the capital, Freetown.
Though a devoted Muslim, Kabbah received his secondary education at the St. Edward's Secondary School, the oldest catholic secondary school in Freetown. He also married a Catholic, the late Patricia Kabbah, who was an ethnic Sherbro from Bonthe District in Southern Sierra Leone. Together the couple had five children.
Kabbah received his higher education at the Cardiff College of Food Technology and Commerce and University College Aberystwyth, Wales, in the United Kingdom, gaining a Bachelor's degree in Economics in 1959. He later studied law, and in 1969 he became a practicing Barrister-at-Law and a member of the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, London.
Kabbah spent nearly his entire career in the public sector. He served in the Western Area and in all the Provinces of Sierra Leone. He was a District Commissioner in Bombali and Kambia (Northern Province), in Kono (Eastern Province) and in Moyamba and Bo (Southern Province). He later became Permanent Secretary in various Ministries, including Trade and Industry, Social Welfare, and Education.
Kabbah was an international civil servant for almost two decades. After serving as deputy Chief of the West Africa Division of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in New York City, he was reassigned in 1973 to head the Programme's operation in the Kingdom of Lesotho, as Resident Representative. He also headed UNDP operations in Tanzania and Uganda, and just before Zimbabwe's independence, he was temporarily assigned to that country to help lay the groundwork for cooperation with the United Nations system.
After a successful tour of duty in Eastern and Southern Africa, Kabbah returned to New York to head UNDP's Eastern and Southern Africa Division. Among other things, he was directly responsible for coordinating UN system assistance to liberation movements recognized by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), such as the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, and the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) of Namibia.
Before his retirement in 1992, Kabbah held a number of senior administrative positions at UNDP Headquarters in New York, including those of Deputy Director and Director of Personnel, and Director, Division of Administration and Management.
Political career in Sierra Leone
After the military coup in 1992, he was asked to chair the National Advisory Council, one of the mechanisms set up by the military to facilitate the restoration of constitutional rule, including the drafting of a new constitution for Sierra Leone. He reputedly intended his return to Sierra Leone to be a retirement, but was encouraged by those around him and the political situation that arose to become more actively involved in the politics of Sierra Leone.